What Your Poop Should Look Like (Why Euphemize?)

As you probably guessed from the title of this blog post, I’m not a big believer in euphemisms. In spite of the fact that everyone talks about their poop (you know you do… we’ve seen your Facebook posts), few people know what “normal” is or what the end result of a healthy digestive system should look like. Digestive disorders are one of the top issues I see in my practice, yet few people realize their fatigue, acne, and achy joints originate in their gut.  So, let’s explore this topic further!

A growing number of health experts believe a healthy digestive system is the foundation of good health. This makes sense, since the nutrient building blocks needed to maintain health and create healing are absorbed through the digestive system. Few people realize 80% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract and that the digestive system is responsible for creating many hormones that affect mental health. Most would be shocked to learn their digestive tract was formed in the womb using the same types of cells used to create the brain. There’s a reason you get a “gut reaction” to things and that emotions can cause an upset stomach: the same type of brain cells that respond to emotions exist in the digestive tract and have similar responses.

The old saying, “You are what you eat” is not true. The truth is, you are what you absorb. Good absorption should create the following. In other words, here’s what your poop should look like:

  1. Transit time of 12-18 hours: The time lapse between eating a meal and eliminating the wastes from the meal should be 12-18 hours. This time frame allows food to pass through the digestive tract slowly enough for the nutrients to be fully absorbed, yet fast enough for the toxins and waste products to be efficiently eliminated. Faster transit time means nutrients may not be fully absorbed; slower transit time means that food is probably rotting in your large intestine and you are therefore absorbing toxins into your bloodstream that should have been eliminated. If your transit time is so fast that you often find yourself rushing to the restroom immediately following a meal, it may be an indicator of poor protein absorption or of a food sensitivity. People who are extremely sensitive to chemical pesticides and fertilizers may also notice that eating lettuce – even lettuce that was thoroughly washed – causes immediate and extreme diarrhea. Switching to organic lettuce often alleviates this problem.
  2. Two to three bowel movements per day: Yes. Seriously. Healthy digestion moves food through the digestive system efficiently and creates two to three bowel movements per day. Fewer movements mean you are potentially absorbing toxins; more than two to three movements per day may mean you are not fully absorbing the nutrients in the foods you eat.
  3. Stools that float: If your stools sink to the bottom of the toilet instead of happily floating on the surface, it indicates your diet lacks sufficient fiber or that your stools contain large amounts of undigested food. Fiber is an essential element of good digestion. Fiber helps waste move through the colon quickly and efficiently and absorbs toxins so they are not absorbed by the body. A lack of fiber can create sluggish digestion and will definitely create stools that sink.
  4. Stools that are solid (not hard) and well-formed: Stools should be solid, not watery, and should be easy to push out. Hard, round “pebbles” may indicate dehydration, a lack of fiber or other digestive issues. Drinking half your body weight (measured in pounds) in ounces of water on a daily basis is another factor that is essential for good digestion.
  5. Nothing recognizable: If foods exit your body in a form that is clearly recognizable, your system is probably not fully absorbing nutrients. Malabsorption and the resulting malnutrition it causes is far more common in the US than you might think. I often see chronic health issues greatly improve simply by improving digestion. Grandma’s old rule of chewing every bite 20 times can help with absorption. Using digestive enzymes and/or probiotics can also greatly assist digestion and absorption. One of my favorite probiotics is made by Garden of Life: Women’s Raw Probiotic. Eating fermented vegetables is also an excellent way of improving digestion. Although fermented veggies are very easy to make at home, most health food stores carry pre-made products.

That’s it! You now know what your poop should look like. My next post will cover how to keep your digestive system working properly.

By IndyHealer

Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Nutritionist with a burning passion for helping others achieve wellness using an integrative approach combining mainstream medicine with natural modalities. She has over 20 years of experience in natural medicine, has multiple certifications, and is currently completing a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine. She is part of the practice of The Logan Institute for Health & Wellness in Fishers, Indiana. She is available for consultations in person or over the phone and can be reached at 317.598.4325.

19 replies on “What Your Poop Should Look Like (Why Euphemize?)”

Anytime someone tells you that your body should do X, and everyone’s body should do X and any deviation of X is abnormal and you should do something about it, look around you. They’re selling you something.

Poop should do three things: 1)Not float on top of the water (fat malabsorption), 2) be midtone brown (not white -biliary troubles- or black -possibly blood, be could be iron overconsuption or malabsorption) and 3) come out soft (not hard -not enough water or fiber- or watery -colon irritation; #4 is true!).

That’s it. You could poop three times a day or three times a week and be healthy. Your poop could float under the water (trapped farts, seriously) or sink and be healthy. You could poop after every meal and be healthy (gastrocolic reflex, as the stomach distends the colon moves stuff along to prepare for the next incoming stuff, like an end-of-the-season-sale). You could have a transit time of more than 24 hours and be healthy (depending upon your own GI tract, it has it’s own pacing system, with a nerve network we don’t fully understand yet – plus, you’d never really know your transit time, unless you didn’t chew your corn, see next). You could have recognizable food stuffs and be healthy, but you should probably chew more (corn is the notorious culprit here, no amount of probiotics are going to help you digest the corn seed coat, unless those probiotics help you evolve fermenting capabilities; but then you’d digest all your fiber and your poop would be as soft as a fresh cow pie! And you’d be unhealthy again!). And you could have all of the things the author mentions and still be unhealthy if there’s blood or mucus in your stool or if your habits change or if your stool diameter gets thinner and thinner!

Although, as you can see, I do like thinking about poop. I agree we should talk about our bodies more. But maybe with slightly less reductive “normals”.

I am sorry for not replying to this sooner, I didn’t see it/I didn’t check back and I didn’t mean for my initial comment to sound glib, I just really appreciated your comment. As someone with pretty severe ibs, there is a pretty big difference between a “healthy poop” (one which doesn’t have blood or mucas and doesn’t indicate that something else is wrong) and whether or not I fall into a “normal” category in that particular area of health.

Going along with the floating vs. sinking, I usually have floaters when my stomach feels unsettled, and when I feel “normal” they sink.

@paperispatient: Me too, every morning aroudn 10am I need to search for a restroom or I find myself uncomfortable haha. At the same time though, I sometimes have up to 3 BM’s a day if I’ve been munching a lot of salads or other fiber for the past few days.

okay enough about that, but thanks for this post, I don’t think this is an issue people talk about enough.

#2 (heh) surprised me, since I’ve always read that the “normal” number of poos per day can vary from person to person – is that not true, to an extent at least? (I go every morning like clockwork, and my body seems pretty happy with that; I feel like I wouldn’t have enough food in me to go more frequently.)

Whooooooo Crohn’s tag! As a Chronie, I have also spent a lot of time looking into digestion, and my last metabolic panel came back perfect (the lab even put a smiley face on it.) Fortunately for me, the diet I have to follow is primarily comprised of foods I love. My digestion will never be perfect (three BMs a day would be amazing, but I can deal with 5.)

Question, though. I have heard conflicting reports on whether or not poop should float. I have heard that floating poos can be an indicator of having too much fat in the diet. Do you have any studies you can point to either way? All I know is that mine sink (but I also don’t digest everything) and my numbers are good… But I also make an effort to drink pureed veggies and eat tons of protein (60 grams seems to be about right)

Nutrition is something that I am always interested in learning more about, so I am loving these posts!

So sorry to hear about the Crohn’s, but congrats on your good numbers! It sounds like you’ve figured out what works for you and are doing everything right! Yes, excess fat and poor fat absorption can cause poop to float. In my experience, stools that float due to excess fat consumption or absorption have visible signs of fat in them. These signs could be an unusual color, lots of visible fat/mucous in the stools, etc. I know there are many conflicting opinions about the floaters issue. Everyone approaches health from a different perspective and has different opinions. I think the belief that stools should sink is primarily due to the fact that most people in the US are dehydrated and don’t eat enough fiber, so the “norm” is for stools to sink. The “norm” isn’t necessarily the best, but I don’t think the float issue is worth fretting about and I doubt it will be easy to work this question into a casual conversation. People who are well hydrated and who eat enough fiber rarely have stools that sink.

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