Yep, I'm that girl — the one who isn't afraid to talk about poop. You might think that's really icky, but I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with having a little chat about a good old Number Two when the context and mood are right. In fact, you can actually learn a lot from your poop. Even gross things about your poop can be totally normal —and being able to discern the gross-but-good from the possible symptoms of a medical issue is an important skill.
Are you peeking into the toilet bowl after every BM? You should be (and deep down, you know you want to!). Your poop wants to be your friend; it wants to tell you things that you wouldn't otherwise know about your body. It wants to send you warning signs when it's time to address a health concern. Help it help you.
"Feces are 75% water, and the rest is comprised of dead bacteria," Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist, gastroenterologist, and assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. "It is made of what is left after your digestive system (stomach, small intestine, and colon) absorbs nutrients and fluids from what you eat and drink."
"Stool shouldn’t change too much from day to day, but when it does change, it is often memorable," Dr. David Kahana, a board-certified gastroenterologist with 1MD, tells Bustle.
You deserve to be able to feel comfortable with your poop — comfortable enough to know when it's trying to communicate important information to you. Check out these facts about your bowel movements that you may think are gross, but are really perfectly normal.
1. There Are Visible Chunks Of Food In It
Yep, disgusting — but completely normal. Having chunks of food in your poop doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with your body. Some of the things we eat simply can't get broken down properly by the enzymes in our digestive system. Foods that are high in fiber fall into this category, such as corn, peanuts, peas, and beans. These are resistant to hydrolysis, the process by which an item's chemical bond is split by adding water to it. "You might be able to see visible chunks of food in your poop especially things that are high in fiber such as chunky peanut butter or popcorn," Dr. Sonpal says.
2. It's Really Green
Ah, you must be a kale-and-spinach kind of gal. Some people get freaked out when they see a bright green toilet bowl staring back at them after they wipe off. Dr. Sonpal says that it most likely means that you're eating a lot of foods that contain a good amount of the green pigment chlorophyll, like broccoli.
While you're examining the color of your stool, though, also consider what it feels like when you move your bowels. Can you pass that green mass without any straining or sharp pains? Are your trips to the bathroom regular? Then yeah, that jade-like color is something that doesn't belong on your worry list.
3. It Smells Spicy
Even I have to cringe a little bit as I write this. "If you like garlic, spice, and paprika you stool will like smell spicy too," Dr. Sonpal says. "It’s also pretty normal for poop to smell especially after a night of drinking, take certain medications or supplements, for those who are lactose intolerant, for people who eat foods with a lot of sulfur, or have a high fat diet."
Other things that can make your poop smell are things like meat and eggs, which contain sulfur, Dr. Kahana says. Sulfur "gives a very distinct foul odor to stool as a result of methyl sulfides or hydrogen sulfide."
Doctors say this is no cause for concern, though — especially if the spicy foods you're choosing to consume are rich in nutrients and beneficial to your overall health. It just depends on whether you're hardcore enough to handle those scents on a regular basis. If your poop smells "vile," though, Dr. Sonpal says it's time to give your doctor a call.
4. The Texture Changes
Poop can look different every time it stares back at you from the toilet, and that is perfectly healthy. If you aren't already doing so, keep an eye on its shape and size — it's gross, but it matters. The texture of stool depends on how long it has been moving through your colon, and it can indicate how much fiber you're getting in your diet.
"If you notice a stringy poop, your first step should be to up your fiber intake and see whether constipation was a factor," Dr. Sonpal says. "If that doesn’t work and the problem persists, call your doctor."
The texture, size and shape of your poop will also change depending on your hydration levels, your food intake, and even whether or not you've traveled recently. If your poop changes significantly from your "normal" for more than a week or two, or if it's painful to pass, talk to your doctor.
5. You Have Diarrhea On Your Period
Again, this is extremely common. "Menstruation causes your uterus to contract, and it does the same to your bowel muscles," Dr. Sonpal says. "The hormone-like compounds [prostaglandins] causing the contractions also cause you to feel like you have to urgently make a bowel movement, thus the combo of your period and diarrhea."
No, it's not pretty, but it's very typical. Make sure you're staying hydrated and taking care of your period pains as best you can.
6. You're Pooping A Lot
We all know the importance of staying regular, but you might feel a little grossed out if you're going number two every time you're going to the bathroom. This isn't actually a bad thing, though.
"Perhaps contrary to popular belief, it is very healthy to evacuate the colon on a daily basis," Dr. Kahana says. "Holding on to stool can result in increased contact time with toxins, dehydrate and inspissate the stool, and stretch the colon to the point that nerves get injured."
Moreover, not everyone will be on the same pooping schedule for their entire lives. "People may vary in the number of times that have a bowel movement per day," Dr. Sonpal says. In other words, what's normal for you might be three times the amount that's normal for me, and both of those are OK. If you find yourself pooping way more often or way less frequently than you have previously, and that persists, talk to your doctor about what could be going on.
7. It Looks Red
Ahh, classic Google fodder. If you've ever been alarmed by your stool's crimson hue, only to remember you had a beet salad for lunch yesterday, this one will likely be familiar to you. It's "totally normal," Dr. Kahana says, for beets to turn feces red. Dr. Sonpal adds that even Jello or cranberries can have the same effect.
Obviously, though, the reason a red stool is concerning is because for a minute there, you probably can't tell if the redness comes from beets or blood. "Obviously, seeing blood can be very alarming," Dr. Kahana says.. But even then, "blood can be a result of mild hemorrhoids that are otherwise benign." That being said, "blood mixed inside the stool is never normal and should be evaluated."
Dr. Sonpal adds, "If your stool is bright red or black — which may indicate the presence of blood — seek prompt medical attention."
Poop is going to be gross — there's no way around it. But hopefully, knowing what's gross but normal will put your mind at ease next time you have a beets, kale, and corn salad. Still, if you notice anything off with your poop, or anything that gives you cause for concern, talk to your doctor about your stool, as well as any new foods, sleep disruptions, or other changes that could be related.
This post was originally published on October 8, 2015. It was updated on June 7, 2019.