Growing up, a cheeky employee of my parents had stuck what was called, “The Bristol Stool Chart” to the back of the ladies toilets at their office. The chart looked something like this:
It was meant as a joke, and it never ceased to horrify me whenever I used the bathrooms at their work, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to realise that that chart isn’t actually a joke chart — it’s a real chart that’s designed to help us learn more about our bowel health. I know it’s quite a squeamish topic (I am actually holding back my own immature gag reflex as I write) but the fact is that bowel movements are an important bodily function and are surprisingly insightful when it comes to our digestive health. So I thought I’d delve a little deeper into them (I know that “delve deeper” might not conjure up too nice an image when it comes to an article about poop, but my alternative was “get stuck into”) and what their different shapes, sizes, colours and yes, smells, say about our guts.
Yup, never thought I would write down those magic words, but here I am. It turns out that there is an ideal poop toward which all of our poops should aspire. When determining the perfect poop there are four things to consider: form, frequency, colour and smell(I really hope you aren’t eating whilst reading this).
So, in terms of form, I want you to look back to the chart. Doctors say that we should be aiming for 4s. No more No. 2s… we want No. 4s! It should be long, smooth and tubular, like a banana! It should exit with ease and there shouldn’t be too much to wipe up!
With regard to frequency, experts say we should be having at least one, proper, tummy-emptying bowel movement a day and no more than three. If everything is working as it should, depending on the speed of your metabolism, you should be going between one and three times a day.
For the ideal in terms of colour, think milk chocolate (or try to, without ruining the way you see actual milk chocolate). We’re talking a medium to dark brown.
And, finally, when it comes to smell, the perfect poop shouldn’t smell too bad at all. In fact, it should smell faintly like really ripe fruit!
Looking back to the chart, it’s better to be having 1s, 2s and 3s than 5s, 6s and 7s. The latter half of the stool chart generally falls into more of a diarrhea-type category, and diarrhea is, understandably, not a great indicator of good digestive health. Diarrhea, doctors tell us, could be an indicator of malabsorption. So, if you’re regularly dealing with the 5s, 6s and 7s, your body might not be able to absorb the nutrients it needs. To fix this, doctors recommend a high “tannin” diet like the “BRAT” diet; bananas, rice, apples and tea! Tannins help to firm up loose stools, so, by consuming more of them, you should find yourself heading more toward the lower end of the chart!
Coming to the lower end of the chart, however, I must inform you that we don’t want our stools to be too hard either. At best, really firm stools can reduce the frequency at which we use the bathroom and can cause blockages. At worst, firms stools can be indicators of thyroid problems. Doctors recommend magnesium supplements to get things moving. That or a couple of pears a day — apparently these work a treat at softening things up and getting things moving.
When it comes to colour, we need to watch out for anything black or anything yellow or green. We should be concerned of our stools are black in colour because this could be a sign of there being blood in our upper GI tract. If it’s yellow or green it could be either that our livers or gallbladders are stressed or that we aren’t absorbing fat properly. If you’ve eaten a lot of something with food-dye in it, don’t be too worried when you’re stools are any array of bright colours — though hilarious, this is actually quite normal I’m told.
Now, with regard to frequency, any more than three times a day and you’re entering diarrhea territory (the consequences of which I have already addressed) and if you haven’t gone in two or three days I’d be getting myself up to the chemist for some gentle laxatives. Having bowel movements is one of best ways our bodies get rid of toxins and acids and it needs to be ridding itself of these things regularly — once every two or three days is not enough.
Finally, and perhaps most off-putting-ly, when it comes to smell, the worse things are smelling the worse your general digestive health is likely to be. God-awful smells are usual indicators of fat malabsorption. Apparently beetroots are amazing for breaking down the fat in your diet. So… eat more beetroots (and don’t be alarmed when things turn purple).
Thankfully, I presume, for both me, the writer, and you, the reader, I’ve reached the end of my shitty article (see what I did there?). So, things to remember: we want No.4s if we can, we want milk chocolate if we can, we want ripe fruit if we can, and we want them all daily if we can! Bowel movements are important for our digestive health and can tell us a lot about how our insides are tracking — so we really should give a shit!
Yes, that was another poop pun.