Is your poo healthy?

Lots of us worry whether our poo is normal - here's a helpful guide to healthy stools

What’s normal? 

According to the Bristol Stool Form Scale, which helps doctors work out if your poo’s normal, the ideal poo should be brown, smooth and soft, like a sausage, with no cracks. Or – particularly if you go to the loo a few times a day – it should consist of soft blobs with clear-cut edges.

What’s not normal?

  • If your poo floats, this suggests you have excess abdominal wind.
  • If your faeces smells strong, it might just be down to what you’ve been eating. But consistently strong-smelling stools can be the result of illness, including infection, coeliac disease and Crohn’s disease, so see your GP.
  • If your poo’s an unusual colour, again, this can be to do with what you’ve been eating. Beetroot can make it look red, for example. And your poop can be dark if you’re taking iron supplements. But check it out with your doctor – a dark or red stool can, rarely, indicate intestinal bleeding.
  • If your poo is large, with a bulky diameter, this can indicate it’s spending too long working its way through your gut, so you may need to eat more soluble fibre, or drink more water.
  • If your poo consists of small, hard lumps, this is likely to be constipation, especially if you’re straining.
  • If your poo is loose and fluffy or liquid, that’s diarrhea.

How often should you go?

“It’s really what’s normal for you,” says gastroenterologist Professor Peter Whorwell. “Some people have bowel movements more than once a day, others have a more sluggish gut and may only go every few days.” But if you’re uncomfortable, speak to your GP. There’s no problem with taking laxatives when you need to if you’re prone to constipation. 

Foods to get things moving

As a general rule, drinking plenty of water and having lots of fibre helps. Try these foods to help you get regular:

  • Prunes
  • Dates
  • Psyllium
  • Bran
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oats
  • Linseeds
  • Probiotic yoghurt
  • Berries

The exception can be if you have IBS. “Cereal fibre can be a problem for people with IBS,” says Peter. “Cutting it out can often improve symptoms, so try avoiding bran, brown bread, wholemeal pasta and all breakfast cereals other than Rice Krispies, to see if that helps.”

Foods for a sensitive bowel

Prone to loose stools? Try to avoid big meals, and anything you’ve noticed can upset your tummy, whether that’s fatty or spicy food. And steer clear of insoluble fibre – in foods such as bran and brown rice. Try these:

  • Oats
  • Carrots
  • Barley
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Citrus fruits

When should you see your doctor?

Always make an appointment if you notice any changes in your poo, whether that’s suddenly becoming bloated or constipated, or going to the toilet more often. You should also always have any bleeding from the back passage checked out. While these symptoms are most likely to be down to common digestive problems, they can, rarely, indicate something more serious.  

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