Know what your poo means (it's the secret to your health)
TMI alert - today we’re talking about poop.
Not just because it’s really funny (I mean … #toilethumor, anyone?), but understanding what ends up in the toilet bowl can give us so much insight into our health.
Digestion is a complex process, and our gut health is largely determined by a combination of factors - diet, digestive factors and the health of the microbiome (aka the bacteria that live on and inside of our bodies). Poop is basically a mix of all these things - fiber, bile, bacteria and sloughed off intestinal cells.
Understand your bowel habits and you’re that much closer to understanding how you can best support your body.
How often should you go poop?
The goal is go at least once per day, if not more. Pooping up to 3-5 times per day (like a nice, healthy poo - see the bristol stool chart below) is completely normal.
The intestines have many jobs, but one of its most critical roles is supporting detoxification. The liver and gut work together - first the liver takes foreign compounds (aka ‘toxins’) and packages them up in forms that can easily leave the body - via pee, sweat or poop.
Constipation can actually reverse the flow of compounds back to the liver, which is why digestive regularity is so essential. The whole point is to support the body’s ability to eliminate them!
“Transit time” and why it matters
Transit time describes how long food takes to move through the system - from the mouth to toilet (sorry for this graphic // not sorry - it’s the truth!).
A few important things happen during this time frame. First, we digest large food molecules and absorb their nutrients. Then, bacteria ferment fiber (aka undigested food) in the colon to create compounds called ‘short chain fatty acids’ (SCFAs for short), which protect the colon and create a really healthy gut environment.
We want transit time to be jussstttt right because when it’s too fast (less than 12 hours), the body can’t fully digest food and extract their nutrients, nor do the bacteria have time to create SCFAs.
On the other hand, if transit time is too slow (more than 24 hours) it can lead to constipation (and the recycling of toxins, re: above notes) and create a growth platform for too many harmful bacteria to overgrow.
The ideal transit time is between 16-24 hours.
The harsh reality is that most Americans don’t get enough fiber and the average transit time is between 30 - 100 hours, which is like holding over 10 meals worth of food in your belly at once (ouch!).
Get a little curious and test your own transit time. It’s pretty easy to do this - corn on the cob, sunflower seeds or shredded beets (without chewing them!!) at your next meal + mark the time you ate it. Then pay attention - how long does it take to show up in the toilet?? That is your transit time.
What consistency should poop be?
If you aren’t yet familiar with the Bristol Stool Chart, you’re welcome for this :)
This chart is a fantastic visual reference and the best signs of intestinal health.
Types 1 + 2 are considered constipated. Constipation can be caused by several things such as stress, a low fiber diet, dehydration, medications and dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance). Understanding why you’re constipated is the first step, but there are also a lot of ways in which you can support yourself (see gut health cheat sheet below).
The most ideal poos are types 3-5 (if this is you, keep going!!). These may look like swiss cheese and be slightly fuzzy (this is sign of healthy bacteria fermentation). Aside from the occasional corn on the cob or tomato / potato peel, there should be almost no recognizable food in your stool.
Types 6 + 7 are officially considered ‘loose’. Like constipation, there are several underlying reasons why you may be experiencing diarrhea, but some common culprits include food sensitivities, an inflammatory diet that’s high in sugar (and even fake sugar) and fat or dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance, infection, etc).
This is a great indicator for understanding if your poos are ‘normal’. If you lean towards the side of constipation, or diarrhea, download this gut practices cheat sheet (so you can have the best poops ever).
Why do some poops sink and some poops float?
Sinkers versus floaters are one of the most controversial topics in the poo world.
While some sinkers are totally normal, a healthy poo should float most of the time. This is a direct indication of gut bacteria fermenting stool for food. If these floating stools are also greasy and you are experiencing foul smelling gas, this can be a sign of fat or sugar malabsorption and even lactose intolerance.
Whether it sinks or floats has to do with density (bacterial fermentation cause more aeration and make them less dense). Therefore, sinkers most likely need more soluble fiber (re: gut health practices for specifics).
What color should my poop be?
Brown - we are aiming for any shade of brown! If it’s colorful - re: below for some possible causes.
Yellow (also called ‘pale’ or ‘clay’) - can be a sign of either too much fat in the diet or fat maldigestion. Bile breaks down dietary fat - it is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Pale stools can indicate insufficient production of bile or a blocked duct.
Green every once in a while is OK. Green stools can be from eating too many green veggies or supplementing with a greens powder, spirulina or chlorophyll.
Red poos might be from food coloring or eating too many beets, but if this doesn’t ring a bell, it could indicate lower GI bleeding, which can be minimal like a scratch or hemorrhoid; or could be a more serious issue. If this continues, please check in with your GI doc.
Black can result from a few contributing factors. Supplements like iron or activated charcoal are known to cause black stools. However, black stools can also be from bleeding further up in the gut (ex: the stomach). If this continues, please check in with your GI doc.
Knowing how to identify a healthy poo is just the tip of the iceberg - there are so many things that we can’t see but that are still super valuable to understand in creating a roadmap for health.
By simply pooping in a cup and sending it in for analysis, we can gain much larger insights into what is happening on an inflammatory, digestive and microbial level - who knew shipping your poo across the country could be so informative?! :)
Even more fascinating, is we now have the technology to map out some of the DNA of the gut bacteria. While there are thousands of species and still so much research ahead of us, we are at a point where we can test some of the primary players in order to truly individualize the approach. Bacteria can be good or bad (and sometimes really ugly), but knowing what we are starting with helps us to selectively feed and inhibit the growth of bacteria, respectively.
If you want to learn more about how we can incorporate this testing into your wellness plan, it is an integral component of my completely customizable 90-day program. Here’s the link for more information.
And I know you want to be proactive … so download the guide below for super simple practices and ways to optimize your gut health (starting today).