Transit time

Life moves at a pretty fast pace. Though it looks like we’re slowing down in one area –  how long it takes for food to travel from your mouth out?

The term is whole gut transit time. We know too fast is bad  (diarrhea) and too slow is bad (constipation) so let’s talk about what’s “just right” in travel time.

First, we should remember that each of us is unique so what’s normal for one person may be out of the norm for the next. Second, remember babies  have a pretty rapid transit time and that’s normal; as we age, the gut slows down and that’s normal too. But let’s look beyond.

Whole gut transit time is the sum of stomach emptying time, small intestine travel time and large intestine travel time.

We like food to remain in our stomachs for awhile because that gives us a feeling of fullness. Average time for the stomach to empty is between 4 and 6 hours. Fiber is a perfect way to influence that. Plant foods remain in the stomach while our body tries to figure out what to do with it. Plants fibers are essentially unchanged in the stomach.

In the small intestine, we like the food mass to move at a pace that allows for final digestion and nutrient absorption; this will take about 5 hours on average. And then on to the all important large intestine or colon. The range for fecal matter transit is anywhere from 10 – 59 hours. So, a meal makes it out in 1 – 3 days.

And it’s that last segment that concerns researchers. The journal Nature Microbiology published a study suggesting that harmful break down products that linger in the colon are potentially harmful. These compounds may damage the colon’s inner lining.

So, to achieve “just right” transit time, prevent constipation. More plant foods, more water and more exercise will help your gut, to be well,




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Is more information helping?

A Minute ago we talked about the mandated calorie information on menus. Food package labels have been revised too. We’re kind of a “more is better” society.

So, here we go again: how is more nutrition information working out for us?

New York city has the longest history with posted calorie information which began there in July 2008. A study in 2009, conducted by NYU and Yale, showed fast food orders contained an average of 825 calories before calorie postings and 846 after the info was on the menus. Average calorie orders INCREASED!

Half of the people said that hadn’t even noticed the information. But about 14 percent of the patrons at four fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC) in a poor neighborhood, said the info influenced their orders. Unfortunately, when restaurant receipts were checked, people were actually ordering MORE calories.

So, first let’s admit self-reports are not reliable. (And when reading a study, even in a legit publication, note this red flag!)

It seems like we want info and healthy options, but we don’t use them.

Before adding to info overload, let’s answer a few questions:

  • Do we really expect nutritional content and total calories to be the most important consideration at a fast food restuarant?
  • If price is the reason we’re eating fast food do health considerations enter in to the equation at all?
  • Could there be just too much info on menu boards?
  • Has listing calories influenced restaurants to reduce portion size?
  • Have menu options changed for the better?

Will more info make a difference? It doesn’t look like it short term and it’s doubtful long term, but we’ll see.

Why bother considering these questions? Who does it hurt? Every new regulation costs us consumers and it doesn’t help.  Why continue down this path?

Perhaps using these tried and failed solutions prevent us from finding innovative solutions to be well.


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