HEALTH

How Often Should You Poo?

And everything else you need to know about your bowel movements.

15/08/2017 7:09 AM AEST | Updated 16/08/2017 4:21 PM AEST

When it comes to our bowel movements, do you ever wonder 'what's normal?'

Our digestive systems are wonderful things. After we eat, our food passes through our stomach, small intestine and large intestine before we eliminate and excrete what's left after nutrients have been absorbed.

But how often should we be going to the toilet and what does it mean when we're stuck on the loo trying to do a number two?

How many times a day should we poo?

According to Dr Amanda Devine, Professor in Public Health and Nutrition at Edith Cowan University, pooping frequencies vary person to person.

"Some people might be once a day, some people might be four times a day and some people might miss a day," Devine told HuffPost Australia.

The frequency of your bathroom habits most often comes down to diet.

What foods cause us to poo more?

You had your favourite vindaloo for dinner last night and now you're struggling to tear yourself away from the toilet seat fearing you've contracted food poisoning.

Don't panic. Spicy foods are more likely to cause a person to poo because not only can the spiciness irritate the lining of your stomach, your body can't absorb the heat compounds in spicy foods, meaning they like to go out rather than staying in.

Alongside spicy foods, Devine explains legumes, beans and pulses also have us making multiple trips to the bathroom.

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Legumes are high in resistance starch and fibre meaning they travel through your digestive system quicker than other foods.

"These are all high in resistance starch and high in fibre so they can provide more bulk to your stool, helping it travel through through your intestines faster," Devine said.

"Prunes and prune juice are also natural laxatives, making it easier for us to pass poo but making us need to go more often."

How much do you have to eat to poo?

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, in order to maintain a healthy gut, we need to be eating foods containing fibre as it helps move waste through our digestive system.

The recommended daily fibre intake to maintain gut health and regular pooping is 30 grams for men and 25 grams for women.

What does normal poo look like and how can we tell if something is different?

As our bowel movements relate to our diets, Devine explains the colour, size and overall look of our stools depends on what we consume.

"Stool colour will vary depending on what you eat -- light fluffy stools that are floating often have more fibre in them and that would reflect a high fibre diet," Devine said.

Devine recommends looking at the Bristol Stool Chart to identify what your poo might be telling you. The Bristol Stool Chart is a graphic that categorises faeces and is designed help you keep track of your bowel movements.

"If someone looks at the chart and realises their stool looks like this and it's like this most days, they can act upon that," Devine said.

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What happens when you hold in your poo?

Sometimes nature calls in the wrong place and at the wrong time. But the longer your hold in your poo, the harder the stool can become. This means it might become more difficult to get rid of, potentially causing unnecessary constipation.

Not only that, holding in stools could cause colon damage due to too excess strain and effort to pass the faeces.

While Devine explains people with a history of constipation may find it uncomfortable going to the toilet and therefore choose to hold their poo in, this increases exposure to pathogenic bacteria.

"You want to try and have frequency passing the waste so it's not hanging around in your bowel -- it's about reducing any exposure of anything pathogenic in the stool to the colon cells so you have a healthy bowel not an unhealthy bowel," Devine said.

Why am I struggling to poo and what causes constipation?

Having low fibre diets, eating highly processed foods, and not eating enough fruit and vegetables could be the reason why you're struggling to go the the toilet.

"Only four to five percent of Australians eat enough vegetables -- but vegetables and a higher fibre diet will make stools easier to pass," Devine said.

"Have foods that are high in resistant starch like cooked pasta, potato, sweet potato, green bananas, vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain a bulking agent that helps the stools move through the body more quickly."

Devine also suggests staying hydrated and drinking more water to help you pass your poo.

"If your urine is a very strong dark brown colour, you need to drink more water, if it's more of a straw like colour, that's good, you're hydrated."

You've altered your diet but you're still struggling with constipation? You could have a slow or 'lazy' bowel, meaning naturally you have less frequent bowel movements.

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Staying hydrated can help you pass stools, preventing constipation.

What causes diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea generally occurs when food passes through your digestive system quicker than it should.

"When you have diarrhoea, you lose more water -- your food doesn't sit in the small intestine or the bowel doing what it should do in terms of absorbing nutrition then feeding microbiomes, so your transit time is rapid," Devine said.

Food poisoning, pathogenic bacteria, food intolerance or some stomach diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome can increase the likelihood of diarrhoea.

Devine suggests paying more attention to your gut health by focusing on creating meals that will promote a healthy stomach.

Lentil burger and oat porridge recipes are examples of meals from a new dietary cookbook 'Gut feeling: Mindful menus for the microbiome' developed by the Edith Cowan University Nutrition Research Team to achieve a healthy gut and a kinder bowel.

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