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8 Things to Know About Your Poop

Can we talk about our poop


By Mary Allenplantnasty, Allure

Mary Allen is a plant-based athlete and lifestyle blogger who is always game to chat about poop. Catch her at plantnasty.com and on Instagram.
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Can we talk about our poop? Are we there yet? This is the ultimate friendship litmus test for me: I know we’ve gone from casual acquaintances to BFFs when we can shoot the shit about shit. The thing is, poop is important. Our bowel movements are some of the most telling updates our bodies give us about our health, and many of us could stand to pay them more attention. To give you the 411 on defecation, I spoke with the integrative gastroenterologist and author Robynne Chutkan. Read on for her key points about your poop.

1. Constipation isn't gender-blind.

Obviously, men can be constipated too, but women are much more likely to be constipated than men. In fact, research suggests that up to twice as many women as men report suffering from constipation. According to Chutkan, that's due at least in part to our colons, which are 10 centimeters longer on average than men's — meaning it can take longer for our poop to make its way through. If you’re looking for a constipation antidote, upping your fruit, vegetable, and water intake is a good place to start. This shift in your diet will lead to softer, bulkier stools that evacuate more easily.

2. Your gut is connected to your mood.

The medical community is just starting to understand the connections between gut health and mental health. We do know that roughly 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, what Chutkan calls the “feel-good hormone,” is made in the intestine with the help of bacteria there. Research indicates that the mix of microorganisms in our guts (referred to as our "gut microbiomes") also influences the production of other neurochemicals, such as GABA and dopamine.

All signs point to importance of the health of your gut microbiome, which Chutkan says is influenced by "what you eat, what medications you take, your living environment, and your contact with nature." Eating fiber-rich plant foods and avoiding unnecessary rounds of antibiotics, which can disrupt your microbiome, appear to be good steps toward gut health.
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3. The consistency of your poop is more important than how often you go.

Whether you poop twice a day or once every two days, don’t stress too much about the schedule. According to Chutkan, “People who eat a high fiber plant-based diet may have up to three or four stools a day... Some people only go a few times a week because of slow motility.” Both ends of the spectrum — from as much as three times a day to as little as three times a week — are fine. (That is, as long as your pattern is relatively consistent — if, for example, you go suddenly from having two bowel movements a day to two a week, something could be awry).

What's important is the consistency of the stools you do produce. “Consistency tells us a lot about what’s going on inside: Very hard stools can be a sign of not enough plant fiber or water, and very loose stool can be a sign of an inflamed colon," Chutkan says. Generally speaking, you should strive for a smooth, soft, unbroken stool that is several inches long.

4. The waste products your body creates when you digest food should leave your body within about 48 hours after you eat that food.

Each time you pass a bowel movement, you’re ridding your body of biological debris. The longer is takes to clear these waste products out, the more unnecessary exposure you get to toxins in your stool. So although you need food to stay in your body long enough for you to effectively absorb nutrients, you don’t want it to linger too long. "Within 48 hours is considered a healthy transit time," Chutkan says. "People who eat a plant-based diet will generally have faster transit time compared to a diet high in animal protein and fat.” Doctors sometimes test colonic transit time for diagnostic purposes using high-tech markers and imaging tools. If you’re the DIY type, you can just eat corn, beets, or whole flax seeds and track how long it takes for that food to appear in your poo.
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5. The color of your poop is sending you a message.

Typically, you want poop that is a “deep, brown color that looks like melted chocolate,” Chutkan says. Other shades, including yellow, green, red, and black, are cause for concern if they persist. Yellow stool could signify the presence of a parasite, for example giardia; green stool could be evidence of a C. diff infection; red stool could be a sign of bleeding from the colon; and black stool could be the result of bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract.

6. However, sometimes colorful stool is perfectly fine. 

Beets can turn your poop red. Iron supplements can turn it black (consult a doctor about whether you need additional iron before you start popping supplements, since too much iron can make you sick.) Green leafy vegetables can turn your stool a gentle grassy green, while that blue raspberry slushie you grabbed at the gas station could also make for an unusually pigmented deuce. The bottom line is to stay attuned to inexplicable changes in the color of your poop, and don't hesitate to consult a doctor if anything seems out of whack.

7. Stool doesn’t have to stink.

Poop gets a bad rap for being malodorous, but according to Chutkan, "in general, if you eat a healthy, unprocessed plant based diet you’ll have healthy, non-smelly poo.” To achieve a less fragrant stool, cut back on high-sulfur foods, including meat, as well as high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods. A caveat: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage might make your bathroom trips a bit smellier, but their health benefits make it worth it.

8. We have a say in our gastrointestinal destinies.

“What comes out is a direct reflection of what goes in!" Chutkan says. "If you’re constipated, have smelly poo, lots of gas and bloating, or slimy loose stool, you need to take a good look at your diet and lifestyle, not just head for the medicine cabinet." A diet rich in unprocessed plant based foods is the surest ticket to achieving what Chutkan calls "Stool Nirvana": no- or low-odor, bulky, chocolatey brown poo, which passes cleanly and sinks to the bottom of the bowl. It’s a poo, she says, that leaves you feeling "cleansed" and "bright" — and who doesn't want that?

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