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What Can Poop Reveal About Digestive Health?

6 min read

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We need to talk about the F-word: feces. Whether out of curiosity or necessity, few of us have escaped pondering the age-old query—typically instigated by a passing look into the porcelain throne—of whether or not our poop looks, well… normal.

And for good reason, too. Poop indeed provides a window into our digestive health, but without a guide to interpreting appearance, it can be difficult to know what you’re looking at.

Not to worry—we’re here to take the load off. Behold, a simple, visual tool to read stool.

Let’s roll!

So… What does normal poop look like?

While healthy poop appearance can differ depending on the person (we are individuals, after all), there are a few key markers that can provide insight into how our digestive system is doing. Enter: The Bristol Stool Chart, known more formally as the Bristol Stool Form Scale. Developed in 1997 as a clinical assessment tool, it classifies feces by form (i.e. shape and texture) into one of seven stool types, ranging from hard lumps to watery liquid. Think of it as a simple, overarching barometer to measure the way poop looks (or feels!) against a visual guide—and a helpful starting point for assessing intestinal transit time, which is an important piece of our overall digestive health picture.

The Bristol Stool Chart

  • Type 1: Separate hard lumps that are difficult to pass
  • Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy
  • Type 3: Sausage-shaped, but with cracks on the surface
  • Type 4: Sausage- or snake-like, smooth and soft
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (easy to pass)
  • Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, mushy
  • Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces (entirely liquid)

Bristol Stool Chart - Bristol Stool Form Scale - Ritual

Is there such a thing as normal poop?

Now that you have a visual guide (and you’ve peered into the toilet bowl), it’s time to apply the information in a practical way—how can you use what you’ve learned to better support the digestive tract? Here’s what to know about poop types.

Types 1 and 2: As a general rule, bowel movements that resemble types 1 and 2 generally point to some degree of slowed movement of stool through the large intestine and in conjunction with other symptoms, may be indicative of mild and occasional constipation.

→ Essential takeaway: Drink enough water, increase dietary fiber intake (i.e. whole grains, lentils, chia seeds), and get moving.

Types 3 and 4: If stools resemble types 3 and 4, they’re in the clear—because they’re well-formed and easy to pass, they’re considered normal.

→ Essential takeaway: Keep up the good work!

Type 5: Seeing amoebas? It might be an indication that dietary fiber is lacking or that someone is trending towards diarrhea.

→ Essential takeaway: Increase intake. Be sure to stay hydrated and keep a close eye on any shifts to types 6 and 7.

Types 6 and 7: Too-soft (or even watery) consistencies may point to stool moving too fast through the large intestine, leading to diarrhea, which has a variety of common causes.

→ Essential takeaway: Prioritize staying hydrated and monitor the situation. If it doesn’t go away in a few days, speak to a gastroenterologist.

Shades of poop and what they can mean

Poop comes in many pigments, and can be influenced by diet—here’s what stool color may indicate about what’s going on in the body.

  • Varying shades of brown: This is probably the first shade that comes to mind, and for good reason—it’s considered the norm.
  • Green poop: If stool has hints of green in it, don’t worry! It can be perfectly normal. If poop looks super green, it could either be due to increased consumption of green foods (like spinach), or due to the stool passing through the body too quickly. (Digestive issues can lead to a slower breakdown of bile, which can result in green poop due to the natural green color of bile.)
  • Yellow poop: Seeing yellow? It’s likely because of what is being eaten (a fatty diet, carrots, sweet potatoes, even snacks that are high in yellow food coloring), or it could indicate something more serious. If the color doesn’t go away, or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like a foul smell or intestinal discomfort, it’s worth seeing a doctor.
  • Red poop: Similar to green poop, if your stool is looking just a little red, it’s probably not something to stress over—especially if you’ve consumed red foods like cranberries, beets, or tomato juice recently. If it’s pretty red, take notice, since it may indicate something more serious.
  • Black poop: Black stool can be caused by black licorice, iron supplements, or even certain over-the-counter medications; if none of those ring any bells, it could also be a sign of a more serious issue, so keep an eye out and see a doctor if it does not resolve. (4)

Let’s talk frequency: How often should people poop?

Typically, a person with a well-functioning digestive tract will poop anywhere from one to three times a day to three times a week. What matters is that the stools are well-formed and easy to pass. (5)

Tips for a better poop

Here’s some healthy habits that may help with regularity:

  1. Be mindful of stress. Meditation practices can be especially helpful.
  2. Stay hydrated. (And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean hitting eight cups a day).
  3. Keep moving. Getting regular exercise has many benefits, one of which may be supporting digestion. Here’s how to get started.
  4. Fill your plate up with dietary fiber—you’re probably not eating enough. The good news? There’s plenty of fiber-filled foods to incorporate, from beans and avocados to whole grain cereals. (6)

In the end, it’s important to remember that every individual has different bowel habits. That said, having soft stools that pass comfortably are signs of a healthy bowel. (In other words, going number two shouldn’t feel crappy.)

Of course, if you have any questions about digestion, bowel habits, or poop quality, we recommend reaching out to a healthcare provider.

References:

  1. Heaton, K. W., Radvan, J., Cripps, H., Mountford, R. A., Braddon, F. E., & Hughes, A. O. (1992). Defecation frequency and timing, and stool form in the general population: a prospective study. Gut, 33(6), 818–824.
  2. Lewis, S.J., Heaton, K.W. (1997). Stool form scale as a useful guide to intestinal transit time. Scand J Gastroenterol, 32(9), 920-924. doi: 10.3109/00365529709011203.
  3. Blake M, Raker J, Whelan K (2016). Validity and reliability of the Bristol Stool Form Scale in healthy adults... Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 44, 693-703. doi:10.1111/apt.13746
  4. National Library of Medicine. Black or tarry stools: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.
  5. Walter, S.A., Kjellström, L., Nyhlin, H., Talley, N. J., Agréus, L. (2010). Assessment of normal bowel habits in the general adult population: the Popcol study. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 45(5), 556–566.doi:10.3109/00365520903551332
  6. USDA, Agricultural Research Service, 2021. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2015-2018. 2021

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Meet Our Experts

This article has been reviewed by members of our Science Team.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

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