Gorgeous Gut

What your poo should and shouldn't look like, and what it says about your gut health

What comes out of your body can say a lot about what's going on inside it.

By Bettina Tyrrell
Toilet talk is never pretty. However, what comes out of your body can say a lot about what's going on inside it, particularly your gut health (yes, there it is, the phrase everyone seems to be talking about lately). This makes it fairly important to know what your poo should look like, what it shouldn't look like, and what the appearance of your stools can indicate about your diet or general health.
While many may find discussing their bowel movements embarrassing, new research conducted by fibre supplement brand Metamucil suggests Australians are actually pretty comfortable talking about their toilet trips. In fact, 84% of Aussies say they're happy to talk about poo with their lovers, friends and even colleagues.
So, with that in mind, we thought we'd prepare you for your next faeces-focused chat by putting some questions to digestive health expert, Dr Li Yan. Because, let's face it, if poo is no longer taboo you're going to need to know what you're talking about, or at the very least know what to look out for in the bowl!

How frequently should I be going to the toilet to do a poo?

"There's no hard and fast rule when it comes to regularity. Everyone's bowels are unique to them. A normal bowel movement can range from one to three times a day, to three times a week. Poos should be easy to pass and you shouldn't have to strain."

What do normal poos look like?

"According to the Bristol Stool Scale, a frequently used measure that healthcare professionals use to categorise stools (see below), normal poo can be sausage shaped, smooth and soft or with some cracks on the surface, or can be soft blobs with clear-cut edges.
You should also have regular bowel movements that are easy to pass and should leave you feeling empty, that you have completely evacuated your bowels."
Type 1–2 indicate constipation.
Type 3–4 are ideal stools as they are easier to pass.
Type 5–7 may indicate diarrhoea and urgency.

Okay, so what shouldn’t my poo look like?

"If stools are white-ish or clay coloured, black or bright - red which is sometimes an indicator of blood - or yellow and foul smelling, then it's a good idea to visit your healthcare professional.
If you are not going enough (less than 3 times per week) or too often (more than three times per day), or if your stools are too hard or painful to pass or too loose and wet, it's also a good idea to check in with your pharmacist or GP."

Can the way my poo looks tell me what's going on with my gut health?

"A healthy digestive system is important for food digestion, absorption and waste excretion. When things are moving smoothly and you are regular, it's a good sign that your digestive system is working properly.
Major change in bowel movements is a sign to see the doctor or pharmacist. It's important to pay attention to some key signs including how often you go, and the colour and consistency of your poop. Changes in bowel movements can be due to a number of things including stress, food sensitivities and digestive disorders, too much alcohol or caffeine and whether you're getting enough fibre in your diet.
It's important to let your healthcare professional know about these changes so they can determine what the cause might be and suggest the right course of action, whether that's a fibre supplement or lifestyle change."
It's important to know what's normal for you when it comes to your bowel movements, and to notice if frequency of going to the toilet or stool appearance changes.

So, should I be checking the appearance of my poo every time I go to the toilet?

"The key thing is to be aware of your bowel movements and if there are any dramatic changes, either in appearance, or feeling. Be aware and don't be afraid to talk to your healthcare professional about how your bowel movements have changed."

What can I do to make sure I have a healthy gut?

"One of the important ways to support a healthy gut is to ensure you get enough fibre on a daily basis. Fibre is a significant part of a healthy balanced diet and contributes to digestive health. Despite its importance, six out of 10 Australians do not consume enough fibre in their daily diet.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that women eat 25g of dietary fibre per day and men 30g per day, from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes.
However, if you're one of the six out of 10 Aussies who is struggling to hit 25-30 grams per day, a fibre supplement like Metamucil is an easy way to increase your fibre intake.
In addition to this, ensuring you get high quality sleep each night is important for gut health as what happens in your gut can actually affect how you sleep and vice-versa. Limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake is also important as both of these things can also raise stress hormones and sugar in the blood which impacts gut health."