Co-written by Erin Judge, RDN and Aubrey Baker
Talking about poop may not be the most appealing conversation, but poop can be one our best indicators of what’s going on in our digestive system. Poop can come in many different forms and colors, as I am sure you’ve learned by now. Knowing the meaning behind these characteristics can not only help you understand what’s going on in your digestive system, but can also help you make changes for a healthier life.
We all poop, but do we really know what it is?
The medical dictionary defines poop as “The matter discharged from the bowel during defecation, consisting of the undigested residue of food, epithelium, intestinal mucus, bacteria, and waste material from the food.” In short, poop is the waste from digesting your food, mixed with parts of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
How the process works
After consumption of foods, your body starts to break down the nutritional components, including carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. After passing through the stomach, the nutrients turn into a substance called chyme. Chyme goes through the rest of the digestive process. Fats, however, are emulsified during this process by a product, produced by the liver, called bile. After chyme has been absorbed through the intestines and colon, it turns into a semi-solid product called feces, aka poop.Feces is stored in the rectum until the body is ready to release. Once the bowel movement is released from the rectum, it passes through your anus and out of your body. Hopefully into the toilet…
What is “normal” poop?
Poop can come in all shapes, colors and smells. Your poop may be unique and different from someone else’s. However, there are a few standard norms to look for when analyzing your poop each day.
Shape: The typical shape of poop is one long cylinder. Occasionally you will find a few smaller excess pieces trailing behind. (No pun intended)
The coloring of your poop should be a brown to dark brown hue, depending on what you have eaten during the day. A healthy bowel movement should be stress free with minimal to zero strain. Normal poop should be passed every 1 to 3 days, or for some people, poop is passed 1-3 times daily. The consistency of your poop will depend on your diet and lifestyle.
Poop the rainbow… sort of
Brown - medium to dark brown is the typical color of poop. The coloring is caused by a pigment called bilirubin.
Black - If you have ingested bismuth medications (Peptmo-Bismol) or iron tablets, they can be the culprits to the dark coloring of your stool. If you have not had any of these medications or black licorice, then this may be an indication that you have upper GI bleeding and you should seek medical attention asap.
White - This coloring, also seen as grey or clay colored, can be caused by a lack of bile due to medications or digestive complications. If this coloring is not written as a side effect on the container of your medications, then you should seek medical attention asap.
Green - This is typically due to a high consumption of leafy green vegetables, or green food coloring. This could be an indication that food is moving too quickly through your system, so you may benefit from adding a little more soluble fiber to your diet, like those found in oats and lentils.
Red - Red coloring could be the result of GI bleeding, or if it is in a small amount, this could be a sign of hemorrhoids. Either way, seek medical attention asap. If you eat a lot of beets or drink beet juice, you may notice a slight red tint to your poop, as well. No need to seek out help for that.
Orange - This could be caused by a high consumption of foods containing beta-carotene such as oranges and carrots.
Yellow -If your poop is leaning to yellow tint, then this is typically a sign of excess amount of poorly digested fat. Seek medical attention to make sure you are not malabsorbing fats, then consult a dietitian to decrease your overall fat consumption.
Shapes of poop
The color of your poop is not the only indicator of what’s going on with your GI system. The shape is also important. These are the different shapes, according to the Bristol Stool Chart, and what they may be trying to tell you.
Type 1 - Separate, hard lumps, resembling marbles or nuts. This shape is hard to pass and usually causes strain due to how dry and solid the poop is. Indicates that you are constipated, and should not be seen frequently. If it is frequent, see a GI doctor about possible causes and a dietitian for nutrition recommendations.
Type 2 - A lumpy, sausage or caterpillar shape. This type is long and cylinder-like, but also lumpy and not smooth. This is another sign of constipation and once again, should not be frequently seen. A more fibrous, plant-rich diet plus water and movement could be helpful to prevent this.
Type 3 -Sausage shaped, but with cracks on the surface. This is more normal-ish. The cracks could be an indicator of poor water intake.
Type 4 - Smooth and soft, like a snake. This shape is usually smooth like a snake and easily passed. This is your gold standard and is what you want to see most days. It can be a sign of a balanced diet, adequate water, and good movement!
Type 5 - Small blobs with clear edges. This type is soft and easy to pass, unlike Type 1. Although this shape is easy to pass, it is not a strong solid form, like Type 4. This can be a sign of inadequate fiber intake. Increase whole grains, fruits, and veggies.
Type 6- Soft, fluffy pieces with ragged edges. This type is mushy, and not very solid at all. The consistency is too smooth for normal poop and may be a sign of mild diarrhea. To prevent this, eat plenty of fiber-rich foods and manage that stress or anxiety in your life. When it happens, prioritize electrolytes and bland foods, like white potatoes, chicken, and rice.
Type 7 - Watery with no sign of solid pieces or definition - the runs, aka diarrhea. This is a sign that your stool has moved very quickly through your bowels and was not able to form a healthy poop. Again, deal with those stressors, assess whether or not you obtained food poisoning, get in your electrolytes, and balance your diet once the gut has settled down.
Poop is a great indicator of your GI health, so you should get into the habit of checking it out regularly. The more you learn about your poop, the better you can know what changes to make in your diet and lifestyle. Remember to find time to take care of yourself because stress can cause digestional issues and can alter the characteristics of your bowel movement. If you are experiencing complicated bowel movements and think it could be from your diet, you should make an appointment with a dietitian so they can appropriately guide you back to a normal bowel movement. If you suspect that this could be a serious medical health issue, then contact medical attention immediately.