Most of us probably don’t give a second thought about the quality of our poop, until something out of the norm happens. But what exactly is normal when it comes to bowel movements? What is healthy poop? And how do you know what’s normal and what’s not?
Read on to learn more about what normal poop is — and what you can do if your bowel movements aren’t quite what they should be.
Why Healthy Stool Is So Important
Your bowel movements can tell you a lot. The quality of your stool is important because it can indicate if your digestive tract is working as it should. Your digestive system, also known as your “gut,” impacts your health in many ways.1
According to The Bristol Stool Chart, a healthy stool is smooth and soft, shaped somewhat like a sausage (see number 4 on the diagram).2 It’s also easy to pass, requiring no pushing or straining.3 Normal poop will typically be free of undigested food particles. However, if you see fragments in your stool, you should not be concerned – unless you also have diarrhea or weight loss. Seeds, corn, and nuts commonly move through the digestive tract without being digested.5
The color of your poop is just as important as its texture.
Normal poop, for example, should have a light brown color. This is due to a substance produced in the liver known as bilirubin, which is an important part of the digestive process.6 Bilirubin has an orange-yellow color when it’s produced. As it moves through your colon, it mixes with bile, fiber, and other waste products, eventually giving stool its light brown hue.
Black, tarry stools may be a side effect of taking either nausea medication containing bismuth, or an iron supplement. It could also mean that you have bleeding in your digestive tract. If your stools continue to be black and tarry, get in touch with a doctor as soon as you can. If they seem to be oily or greasy, that could be an indication that your body isn’t doing a good enough job of digesting fat.7
And while it’s a fact that poop will usually have an unpleasant odor, if the smell is unusually pungent, or different, that could be a cause for concern. For example, it could be a sign of an infection.8
Bowel Travel Time
Another way to determine “What is healthy poop?” is to look at something called bowel travel time. This is the amount of time it takes your body to turn what you eat into solid waste, and it can be a window into your overall health status. For example, a normal bowel travel time is between 12 and 24 hours. If your bowel travel time is shorter or longer, that could indicate the development of health issues such as autoimmune problems. These issues will typically start in the digestive tract and move to other areas of the body.9
Food that sits in your digestive tract too long provides a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
This, in turn, can lead to inflammation. If stool moves too quickly through your digestive tract, you may not be getting the nutrients you need from the food you eat.10
You can test your bowel travel time very easily. All you’ll need is some sort of “marker,” such as beets. You’ll be able to tell when they pass through your system because your stool will have a reddish color. Eat a few small, fresh beets after your first bowel movement of the day, and write down the time you eat them. Then, simply check your poop until it turns red. You will now know your bowel travel time.11
Two Common Poop Problems – Constipation and Diarrhea
Just about everyone has had to deal with constipation or diarrhea at one time or another. Constipation occurs when your bowel movements don’t occur as frequently as they should, and you will typically have hard stools that are difficult to pass. Diarrhea is the opposite. You need to “go” more than usual, and your bowel movements are mainly liquid.
Eating high-fiber foods is one way to ease constipation. This adds “bulk” to your stool and helps it move through your intestines faster. Whole-grain cereals and breads, as well as many types of fruits and vegetables, are good sources of fiber.13
Staying hydrated can also help ease constipation by helping lubricate your intestines.
This should make it easier to pass stool.14 You may also want to consider adding probiotic supplements to your dietary regimen. Probiotics have been shown to help relieve not only constipation but diarrhea as well.15,16
Speaking of diarrhea, this is not only a very annoying (even embarrassing) problem, it can be a serious condition. Severe diarrhea, for example, can lead to dehydration. It may be a sign of a serious disorder of the digestive tract.17
There are a lot of reasons this problem occurs. For example, grains, such as wheat, can sometimes trigger diarrhea in people who are sensitive to them.18
Hormone imbalances can lead to diarrhea as well.
Hyperthyroidism, a condition associated with an overactive thyroid gland, can speed both metabolism and digestion and cause diarrhea.19 Women going through menstruation are also prone to diarrhea and constipation.20
There are two additions to your diet you might want to consider if you are suffering from diarrhea. One is turmeric. This spice is a staple of Indian dishes. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, could play a role in helping to reduce intestinal inflammation and relieving diarrhea.21 Bananas could help protect you from becoming dehydrated if you develop a diarrhea attack. The reason is that they are high in potassium, a mineral that plays a major role in making sure you have enough fluids in your body.22
Whether you suffer from constipation or diarrhea, don’t make any huge changes to your diet without first checking with your doctor.
What Is Healthy Poop? The Takeaway
As you can see, answering the question of “What is healthy poop?” is very important. Pay attention to your stool. It can give you an idea of the quality of your overall health. You know what’s normal for you. Take note of any major changes: they could be early signs of a problem that needs to be addressed by a doctor.