Digestive upset is a hugely common problem. Often, we don’t even realize we have digestive issues until we make changes and suddenly the pain, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea is gone. Many of us think we have a healthy gut with normal bowel movements until we learn what should really be happening in the bathroom. It’s time to end the stigma and start talking about our poop!
Healthy Gut, Healthy Bowel Movements
Most of us have wondered at one time or another whether we’re having healthy bowel movements. We wonder if it looks right, if we’re going often enough, if it should smell the way it does. And these are important questions. A healthy gut is central to a healthy body. As Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Here’s what you need to know about poop:
- Frequency – Once or twice per day is generally considered normal. What may be more important is if you’re going consistently, on a fairly predictable schedule without much variation.
- Appearance – The perfect poop is one long “s” shape, but if they’re looking similar to a sausage or a peeled banana (in shape) you’re on the right track. That said, if it’s regularly broken, but you’re on a consistent schedule and don’t have any discomfort, you have nothing to worry about.
- Color – Color should be a dark to medium brown. If you’re getting black, yellow or red for several poops, go see a doctor (unless you eat a lot of beets or take charcoal).
- Smell – A smelly poop is not necessarily bad. But, if you have a sudden really bad smell, this might be a sign of a virus or other issue. If it continues for several days, consider seeing a doctor.
- Sensation – Having a bowel movement shouldn’t be a lot of work. If you’re straining or have a lot of little rocks in the toilet, you’re dealing with constipation. If you’re running to the toilet or have liquid or big fluffy bits, things are moving too fast.
5 Diet Tips For A Healthy Gut
There are a number of things you can do about digestive upset. Besides reducing stress level, learning to manage time, and getting more exercise, consider the following dietary changes.
- Eat more fiber. Hunter and gatherer societies eat over 100 grams of fiber per day. The average American eats less than 15 grams per day. Make some swaps for high-fiber foods like legumes, avocado, and raspberries. Add chia seeds and ground flax seeds to your food and psyllium husks to smoothies. Start slow as “bulking up” too fast can make things worse. Avoid non-food fiber products.
- Avoid inflammatory foods. Conventional dairy, gluten, soy and sugar can really aggravate your digestive system. Consider taking them out for a couple weeks and slowly trying one at a time to see which foods aggravate your gut. If there are other foods you suspect might be a problem for you, take them out at the same time.
- Reduce intake of alcohol and caffeine. These can also be taken out while you trial inflammatory foods, or you can trial them on their own. At the very least, try to keep your coffee intake to one or two cups per day, with no sugar or dairy creamer added. If you drink alcohol on a regular basis, cut that back as well.
- Keep hydrated. Many of us walk around dehydrated not realizing it. Simply drinking enough water (and avoiding dehydrating beverages like alcohol and caffeine) can be enough to get a person’s bowel movements regular. The rule of thumb is you should drink half your body weight in ounces per day. For example, a 150 pound person would have a daily water intake of 75 ounces. This is especially important as you increase your fiber intake.
- Try probiotic-rich foods. Try fresh sauerkraut (homemade or from the refrigerated section), kimchi or keffir. Start slow, as some people with digestive issues can either have symptoms increase at first, or have a histamine reaction to the fermentation.
Digestive problems are very common, and they can be key in indicating and controlling larger issues, like autoimmune conditions, allergies and behavior disorders. Following the above suggestions should help, but if problems persist don’t be afraid to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
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