We all poop. It is one of those few reminders you get about your health on a (hopefully) daily basis, and yet you probably pay little attention to it. The truth is: if your poop is a little 'off' or not right, , it could be a subtle clue from your body that something may be going wrong.
If you are anything like me, you are probably spending a lot of time and energy to consume healthy, real food. Have you stopped to consider whether you are digesting it well? Are you breaking it down efficiently and absorbing all of the nutrients? The quality of your poop is a direct indicator of how well your digestive tract is or is not functioning.
If your poop is not healthy, your digestive tract is either moving too slow or too fast. This can lead to an increased risk of conditions including neurological disease, autoimmune disease and chronic inflammatory conditions.
There are also important short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) found in your colon, which have anti-inflammatory effects and increase insulin sensitivity.
Think of your poop as something similar to the check engine light in your car. It is never pleasant to see that light turn on, but at the same time, you understand that it means something important: your engine might need something simple like a new air filter, or it could be 2 miles before everything blows up. If you ignore it, you could get stranded on the side of the road with a huge repair bill.
If you are pooping well it could be a good sign your body is doing well and on the way to good health.
It becomes important to ask - Is Your Poop Healthy?
There are four indicators of a perfect poop. If you have experienced one, you understand this, but if you find yourself unsure, take this assessment and see where you stack up.
1. Does your poop look like a snake?
The most important part of a healthy poop is the quality, so you need to start checking it out to really see what is going on down the toilet. Fortunately for you, the folks at the University of Bristol published a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, which produced the Bristol Stool Chart.
Where does your most recent bowel movement rate? Anything between a Bristol 1-3 is considered constipated, while 6’s and 7’s are considered diarrhea.
What this means: A healthy poop looks like a sausage or a snake, and appears smooth and soft. If your poops are not close to #4 of the chart, it is probably trying to tell you something
2. How often are you pooping?
Everyone is different, but the research agrees we should all poop every day. The range of healthy is typically 1-3 times a day, and it can vary day-to-day. Poop is waste and you need to get rid of it on a daily basis to make sure that toxins are being effectively and properly removed. Some people even have bowel movements every time they eat.
What this means: If you find yourself pooping a couple times a week, chances are you are constipated. If you are going more than 5 times a day times a day, you are on the diarrhea side of things. Both could pose serious health risks over the long term.
3. How easy is it to poop?
The media has created a scenario where it is normal in our culture to take a newspaper to the bathroom and spend 30 minutes in there battling it out with your poop. In reality, a healthy poop should only take but a few minutes. It should be easy. Pushing typically leads to hemorrhoids, which are all too common today.
What this means: Normal poop strikes a balance between not having to push or strain, but also not having so much urgency you can barely hold it. If you regularly spend 10 or more minutes on the toilet or running to make it just in time, your bowel movements are not healthy.
4. Did you get it all out?
Part of a healthy poop is experiencing a full and complete evacuation of the bowels. Are you getting all your poop out when you sit down? Do you have to keep coming back over and over again? Or do you feel like there’s always something left behind making you feel uncomfortable?
What this means: A healthy poop is a complete one. If you never quite feel empty, then your bowel movements are not as optimal as they could be.
Improving Your Poop
If, based on the questions above, you determine your poop is not within the normal or optimal scope, you can conclude that your digestive health could probably use some improvement. Here are a few easy strategies to strengthen your digestive system and improve the quality of your poop.
1. Avoid common gut irritants
In my experience, one of the biggest problems I see with those eating a real food diet, like Paleo, SCD, WAPF, or GAPS, is having irregular and sub-optimal bowel movements. There could be a lot of different root causes behind that, but the first place to start troubleshooting are the 4 top gut irritants. These are the 4 most common foods that although not omitted on these plans, can cause a lot of problems. They are dairy, nuts/nut flours, eggs, and too much fruit/honey. For those eating a regular Western diet, the inflammatory foods also include grains, corn, soy and legumes and vegetable oils.
If you find yourself challenged with constipation and/or diarrhea, you need to start troubleshooting your diet first. The most important thing you can do is listen to what your poop is telling you and continue to make changes with the foods you are eating. Removing the extra four foods can sometimes transform your poop overnight.
2. Eat probiotic rich foods
Your gut contains a TON of bacteria (between 3-5 lbs worth for most people), and a healthy gut flora is critical for healthy poop.
Consuming probiotic rich foods every single day is vital for a strong, resilient, prolific microbiome. Start with foods like sauerkraut, kimchi or water kefir and see how well you tolerate them. No need to go overboard on day 1, build up slowly, but get them in. A high quality probiotic, is one supplement that can also boost the immune system in the gut and improve digestive health.
3. Eat more fat
Fat has a direct impact on peristalsis, the waves your body makes to move broken down food through the digestive tract and get rid of poop. Fat can be extremely helpful for people who are constipated. Increase your healthy fats from sources like coconut oil, animal fat, olive oil, and fermented cod liver oil.
4. Take a digestive enzyme
Increasing healthy fats can sometimes make diarrhea worse, which is I also recommend supplementing with a high quality digestive enzyme. Ensure the brand you choose contains Lipase, the enzyme that can help digest healthy fats.
If you are not having healthy poops right now, try these shifts for 3-4 weeks and monitor how you feel and any shifts in your toilet routine. The best part about poop is that it keeps giving you feedback, so you have regular signs of whether these changes are helping or not.