I love talking turd, and I’m not ashamed to say it! Turd, turd, turd. It’s time we all stop hiding behind our toilet paper squares and start understanding one of the most important parts of our everyday well-being—healthy poop! Sure, it’s not the sexiest of subjects, but vibrant health is pretty darn hot, in my opinion. And whether you like it or not, your poo is part of that picture.
Without further a-doodoo …
The Scoop on Poop
Poop is made up of dead gut cells, leftover indigestible fiber and bacteria. As you know, your chow is processed in your intestines, which are lined with some very smart cells. These cells allow essential nutrients, such as sugars, amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals to be absorbed into your bloodstream. The leftovers (aka the waste) are shuttled through the rest of your digestive system, out of your body and into the toilet.
How often should you poop?
How often you poop probably varies, and each person has their own normal. You may go as often as two to three times per day (basically after each meal) or as little as every other day. However, if you’re going more than four times a day with loose or watery stools, only going a couple times per week and feel bloated/backed up on non-poop days, or if your poop “normal” suddenly changes, you should probably consult your doctor.
How should pooping feel?
Your poops should slide out pretty easily with a fairly effortless push. Chances are, if you’re regularly grabbing a book or magazine as you head into the WC, or if you’re getting red in the face, you’re working too hard to get that little waste log out of there. It shouldn’t be painful or difficult to produce a BM. Later in this article, you’ll get some great tips to help you grease the tracks, but please consult with your doc if you’re experiencing persistent discomfort.
The Glamour Shot: What Does Healthy Poop Look Like?
Decoding the shape of poop.
Ready for an anatomy lesson? Since poop curves around and around inside your winding intestines, a healthy poop should look like an “S” or a “C” as it lands in your toilet. Small round pellets, thick logs without curvature, shapeless mounds and pencil-thin wormy poops mean that your diet, stress level, hydration status or something else might be out of whack.
What does the color of your poop mean?
Healthy poop should be a medium-brown color, courtesy of the leftover bile from your gallbladder (which helps break down your food). White or grey poop can indicate a problem with your pancreas or gallbladder. Yellow stool may be a sign of an infection or inflammation in your intestines, especially if you observe mucus in your poop. I encourage you to talk with your doc if your poop is any of those colors!
Green poop typically means you’re eating a LOT of veggies (bravo!) and some have slipped through undigested. This isn’t a cause for concern unless your stool is watery and green for several days.
Black poops can result from iron supplements, but could also be a sign of blood in your stools. Now I know that sounds a bit scary, but it’s not necessarily cause for concern. It could be the result of hemorrhoids, which can be tender and start bleeding if you’re straining too much while pooping (Ouchies! Ease up, hotshot). In that case, you may see a couple of drops of bright red blood in the toilet water, on your toilet paper or on the outside of your poop.
But blood in your poop could be serious, so please don’t ignore it!
If you’re consistently seeing bright red blood (whether or not you have hemorrhoids), or if your poop is blackish-red or contains dark red blood, the blood is likely coming from higher up in your gut. This could be more serious, so I encourage you to check in with your doc post-haste.
And a final note on the color of your number twos: If you’ve eaten beets within the last 24 hours, you might have reddish poop or pee. This isn’t anything to worry about—just thank those deliciously colorful root veggies for adding some extra pizzazz to your poo.
What texture should your poop be?
A healthy poop will be formed but soft—think toothpaste consistency (sans the mint). Hard, dry, pellet poop indicates constipation. Loose, unformed or watery poop is diarrhea. If it’s foamy poop or floating on top of the toilet water, this could mean that you are not absorbing the fat in your diet very well—especially if it’s incredibly foul-smelling. This is another reason to trot to your doc. If the texture of your poop suddenly changes (becomes much thinner or thicker, or if mucus is present) and you haven’t recently made any dietary or activity changes, it might be a good time to check in with your doc.
How to be a Gold Star Pooper
The Four Fs are a general rule of thumb for happy bowel movements: fiber, fluids, flora and fitness!
What foods help you poop? Ones with dietary fiber for starters. As you learned in my guide to fabulous fiber, it comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Lack of either creates pooper pandamonium.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel in your intestines, which bulks up your poop and makes it smooth enough to keep the trains moving. Soluble fiber also helps regulate blood sugar and can lower cholesterol levels. Add these foods to increase soluble fiber: oatmeal, apples, oranges, pears, berries, flax, beans, peas, lentils and psyllium (corn husk).
Insoluble fiber does not absorb water, so it acts like the bristles in a broom to sweep poop along. It also has a mild laxative effect, which helps with healthy elimination. Add these foods to increase insoluble fiber: whole grains, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, dried fruit and root vegetable skins.
You’ll know you’re getting too much fiber (or an imbalance of soluble to insoluble fiber) if you have diarrhea. It’s also important to include whole grains in your diet because they add bulk and movement to your fibrous stools. You can get still get constipated on a high-fiber diet if your diet lacks sufficient whole grains!