It might make you feel a little squeamish – just hearing the word poo could be enough to make your cheeks flush – but our bowel excrements are incredibly important to our overall health. But as we don't talk about them much, how do we know what is healthy when it comes to poo? Thankfully, there's an easy, discreet way to tell. Enter the Bristol Stool Scale.
With the rise of digestive health and an increase in gut-friendly probiotic sales, it’s safe to say that as a nation, we’re more in tune with our digestive system than ever before. But how do we know what’s normal, and what’s not, when it comes to our poo? Thankfully we've discovered a simple way to tell: the Bristol Stool Scale.
What is the Bristol Stool Scale?
Derek Timm is the in-house Dietician for Regular Girl, a prebiotic fibre and probiotic blend. He explains that the Bristol Stool Scale is a 7-point scale, which helps rank our stool form. It comes with useful illustrations to help you identify your poo. (Due to the quite graphic nature of the illustrations we have not included them in this article, but you can see the Bristol Stool Scale here (opens in new tab).)
‘On the Bristol Stool scale, the most desirable and easiest to pass stools are types 3 and 4,’ says Derek.
He explains that ‘the rankings of 1 and 2 indicate constipation; whereas 5, 6, and 7 are commonly associated with loose stool and diarrhoea.’
What does the Bristol Stool Scale tell you about your health?
Concerned that you’re more 1 than 4? Or that your poo is looking more 6 than 3?
‘Stool form does not by itself diagnose health or disease, but it’s an easy way to categorise bowel habits,’ adds Derek.
If you’re leaning more towards the constipated end, this can mean infrequent bowel movements, or it can also mean small and hard to pass bowel movements.
Whereas if you’re 5, 6 or 7, these ‘diarrhoea’ stools are typically more watery. Or they’re more ‘urgent’.
Derek explains: ‘The most common cause of diarrhoea is due to an acute infection or malabsorption of nutrients. Chronic diarrhoea is often associated with various chronic gastrointestinal diseases.’
What the Bristol Stool Scale tells you about your diet
So when it comes to diet, what foods could be causing our stools to veer in the wrong direction on the stool chart?
If you’re experiencing diarrhoea, Derek explains that sugar alcohols, commonly used in diabetic and sugar-free products are malabsorbed and could be to blame. They can also cause gas and bloating.
He adds: ‘Coffee, more specifically caffeine, is a stimulant that gets our digestive systems going and helps produce a bowel movement. Also, people who are lactose intolerant can have diarrhoea if they consume lactose-containing diary because it’s malabsorbed.’
On the other hand, constipation can be caused by diets that are low in fibre. These can include meat, refined grains, and dairy.
To make your poo work for you, you could increase your fibre intake.
Try increasing your fibrous foods. Derek reveals that grains –think quinoa, oats and buckwheat, to name a few - can contain more insoluble fibre that helps bulk the stool, more so than soluble fibre.
He adds: ‘In fact, wheat bran is the gold standard for laxative fibres in scientific literature. Overall, whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes are all good foods to consume if you are looking to increase your fibre intake.’
You could even try and include more probiotics and prebiotics in your diet.
Derek explains that ‘prebiotics are dietary fibres that also help feed the good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics can help add bulk to the stool and promote good bacteria. ‘
Meanwhile, probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help improve digestive health.
‘Each individually – probiotics and prebiotics - can help promote better digestive balance, but taken together, it can be even better.’
Good sources of prebiotics include onion, garlic, leeks, berries, bananas, and legumes. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, fermented vegetables, and kombucha.
Or for a simpler alternative, try Regular Girl (£23,99 for 15 sachets, regulargirl.com (opens in new tab)), which can help everything move in the right direction.
How frequently does a normal person poo?
‘Once a day is commonly thought to be the average, but guidelines state that anything between one stool every 3 days to 3 stools per day is normal. This may seem like a wide range, but everybody is different,’ explains Derek.
If you have any concerns about your poo or digestive system, speak to your GP.
Lucy Gornall is the former Health & Fitness editor at Future and a personal trainer specializing in pre and post-natal exercise.
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