Ben Warren, leading Clinical Nutritionist and Clinical Director of scientific, holistic health company BePure, shares what your poop can tell you about your health.
I know that this is an awkward topic to read about, let alone talk about! But your stool really is such an important indicator of your overall digestive function and gut health. By paying better attention to your poo you can learn which foods may or may not be serving you, along with whether your digestion is working effectively, and a multitude of other things.
It may sound like a strange thing to do, but next time you take a trip to the bathroom have a look to see what your stool has to say about your digestive system. Is your stool soft and sausage-like or is it hard and rocky? Is it loose and mushy, or even entirely liquid?
At a glance there are two main things your stool can tell you: 1) whether you are digesting and absorbing nutrients and 2) how the diversity of your microbiome is.
Your microbiome is the combination of bacteria in your digestive tract. You ideally want this to be in favour of good or beneficial bacteria that support breaking down your food and absorbing its nutrients. If you have a healthy looking stool, this is a good sign that your digestive system is running fairly smoothly. This also indicates that the balance of your microbiome is in favour of the 'good guys'.
So, what makes the 'perfect stool'?
- Banana shaped
- Consistent in contour
- Passes easily
- Light brown
- Natural smell
- Floats but does not need several attempts to flush
If yours does not resemble the 'perfect stool', it might be time to find out what this means for your digestion.
In my clinic experience, I've seen three main types of bowel movements that are associated with digestive issues; diarrhea, constipation and a slow transit time that takes longer than 12-24 hours - I'll discuss transit time in detail further down.
Diarrhea is something all of us would have experienced at some point in our life. A loose stool or diarrhea is when you have more than three bowel movements a day and your stool is unformed (or literally loose). This is a sign of impaired digestion and absorption of nutrients and/or your body getting rid of pathogens and toxins as quickly as possible.
If you are experiencing diarrhea this could be due to one or a combination of these reasons including; food intolerances and allergies, a damaged gut lining, an imbalance of bacteria and/or an invasion of pathogens in your gut.
Constipation is a massive problem in the modern world and often people are not even aware of it. I often hear of people who pass a stool only every 2 - 3 days, but this is how it has been their whole life so it is the 'norm'.
Constipation is when you find it difficult to go to pass your stool (requiring pushing or straining) and your stool resembles small rocks, hard lumps or a cracked sausage. It is important that you become aware of what is going on with your digestion - as it has a flow on effect further downstream.
Why is constipation such a problem in the modern world?
Hydration - this is the big one. Chronic dehydration means that your bowel will also be dehydrated, contributing to a slow transit time.
Modern processed foods - We are lacking in the fibre content we would usually get from nutrient rich whole foods.
Lack of digestive enzymes - the inability to break down foods.
Lack of microbiome diversity - the beneficial bacteria living in your gut.
I also see people who are 'going' every day but it is actually sitting in their system for too long (more than 24 hours). To figure out your transit time, eat corn or beetroot and record what time you ate. Keep an eye out each time you go to the bathroom and take note of when the corn or beetroot appears in your stool.
When fecal matter sits in the digestive tract for too long, your body begins to reabsorb the toxins that our body is trying to actually get rid of. Any longer than 24 hours and essentially you are becoming toxic from the inside out! If it sits in the digestive tract for too long and gets dehydrated it can actually get stuck, which can interfere with absorption of nutrients. It also pushes the balance of bacteria in favour of the bad guys.
Experiencing digestive dysfunction such as diarrhea, constipation or a slow transit time, can also contribute to a loaded liver, lack of energy, hormone imbalances and weight gain, which is why nurturing great digestive function and gut health is so important.
I know that when it can be be overwhelming knowing where to start when it comes to digestive health, so I've put together a list of 10 easy tips to support your digestive function and ultimately achieve the 'perfect stool'. Take a look at the list below.
10 tips to achieve the 'perfect stool'
1. Drink more water
Staying hydrated means your stool will also be less likely to become hard and compact (which makes it harder to pass).
2. Avoid gluten and processed foods
For many people, processed foods and gluten often lead to gut dysfunction. Try going gluten free for 1 month and take note of how you feel.
3. Consume flaxseed and chia seeds
This will boost the amount of fibrous foods you are eating - this is essential for a great stool.
4. Avoid processed refined sugar
Sugar feeds bacteria of the non-beneficial kind, leading to an unbalanced microbiome.
5. Support digestive enzyme production
Upping your intake of digestive enzyme stimulating foods such as bitter herbs, warm lemon water or apple cider vinegar will help your body to break down foods so you can absorb nutrients. You can also include a high-strength digestive enzyme nutritional support.
6. Include a daily probiotic
Probiotics support the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria, which are essential for great gut health and in turn a great stool.
7. Add fermented foods to your diet
Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and coconut yoghurt also help restore the correct balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
8. Include a magnesium support
Magnesium encourages water into the colon, which softens your stool.
Clearing out accumulated waste and toxins with a colonic gives the body a chance to restore balance.
10. Practice yoga / exercise daily.
Movement is important to stimulate your bowels. I recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Ben Warren is currently touring New Zealand with his 'Why Your Gut Health Matters' seminar series. To book tickets, visit www.bepure.co.nz/events.