When my poop is bright red, the culprit is usually beets I ate a day or two before. As beets have become a larger part of my diet, the number of seconds I stare at bright red poop while thinking I’m about to die have steadily decreased. But recently, faced with another clean white bowl of shocking red poop, I ran through everything I’d eaten in the past week and came up beet-free. The longer I spent googling poop colors, the more intrigued I got. What about other colors besides red? What about texture, or size, or smell? Could I hack my own poop?
Anish Sheth, gastroenterologist at the Princeton Medical Group and co-author of What’s Your Poo Telling You? Bile is a liquid, produced by our livers and stored in our gallbladders, that mostly serves to break down fats and remove them from digested foods so that our small intestines can snag the fats and process them. Bile is green,” says Sheth, “but as it goes through the GI tract it’s actually metabolized by bacteria in the small intestine. Ultimately, if your poop is brown, you know that all kinds of gross mushy guts are working properly — your liver, intestine, gallbladder, everything has worked together to come up with that lovely brown color. Poop that comes out kind of chalky gray or white-colored is a classic sign that something has gone wrong way back in your system. Pale poop could mean you have a gallstone that’s blocking the gallbladder from injecting its bile, but it could also be caused by pancreatic cancer. Similarly, beware of notably gross yellow poops. They’re the result of fat finding its way into your poop — remember, your bile was supposed to take care of fat.
The problem could be a parasite like giardia, it could be a result of taking an over-the-counter weight loss drug like Alli, it could be evidence of celiac disease. Black poop is also very bad. It’s called melena, and it means you’ve got something bleeding in your upper gastrointestinal tract. This could be caused by something like an ulcer in the stomach,” says Sheth. The blood is red in the stomach, but by the time it goes down through the system, it gets digested and turns thick and tarry and black. Green poop can be caused by totally innocuous things, which we’ll get to later. Green poop caused by rapid transit is usually pretty loose or straight-up diarrhea, and can be the result of some kind of intestinal bug. But red poops are easily caused by dyes, so don’t panic.
After my recent panic in the bathroom, Google helped me come up with the answer: the fancy purple carrots I’d eaten the day before. See, your digestive tract doesn’t bother removing certain kinds of dyes, both natural and artificial, from foods. They’re of no particular use or harm, so the body just lets them ride all the way from your mouth to your butt. Fruits and vegetables that have certain natural colors, that color will be transmitted to your stool and will change the way things look,” says Sheth. 40 can have the same effect. A landmark study in 1972, which was, swear to god, subtitled “The Franken Berry Stool,” discovered that the red dye in then-new Franken Berry cereal, when consumed in enough quantity, would turn poop red. 40 is the most commonly used red food dye in the U. Let’s go back to our old friend, the green poop. Green poop can show up if you eat an excess of chlorophyll, found especially in dark leafy greens like kale and spinach.
The body doesn’t break down the colors in chlorophyll, so they head right out the butt. You can achieve this same effect by taking chlorophyll supplements, if you don’t want to eat your greens. But, the primary reason leafy greens turn your poop green is because of their high insoluble fiber content. 40, but you can still find it in canned vegetables and green desserts like popsicles. 3 is banned outright in the European Union and has been found to cause tumors. We do not recommend eating enough popsicles to turn your poop lime green, but it will, if you do. 1 will turn your poop bright green. It’s also easy, and healthier, to go for orange poops.
Foods rich in the vibrant natural pigment beta carotene, like orange carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins, have the potential to turn your poops orange. Texture, like so many of the variables that change our poops, is all about fiber. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. You need both of them, but they have in some ways opposite effects. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, helping your poops to be firm by attracting water to them while keeping their structure intact. Small, pellet-like poops have a couple potential causes. The scary one would be diverticulosis, a condition in which sort of pocket-like protuberances form on the intestine, which affects how you expel the poop.
But you can have that disease for years without knowing it, and the more likely issue with poop pellets is that you’re simply not getting enough insoluble fiber to keep your poop nice and pliable and in large pieces. Have you ever had a poop that feels like it’s too big to even make its way out of you? Assuming you eventually can pass it, that would be called a low-level form of constipation, which can be caused by all sorts of things: not enough physical activity and a lack of insoluble fiber would be the main culprits. Remember how insoluble fiber speeds up digestion? What about the other end of the spectrum? As far as treatments for diarrhea, well, those are pretty basic and familiar.
Drink more liquid than you’re losing, get some rest, and see a doctor if it doesn’t go away within a day or two or if you’re experiencing particularly awful pain. People always think it’s methane, but the foul smell of stool actually comes from a group of compounds called mercaptans,” including hydrogen sulfide, says Sheth. But classic smelly vegetables, like broccoli and brussels sprouts, aren’t naturally that high in mercaptans. Have you ever made bread by putting some yeast in warm water and waiting for it to emit a bunch of air and turn foamy? That’s pretty much what’s going on in our gut. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber are broken down in the small intestine by various bacteria. As a byproduct, the bacteria produce gas, which, well, has to go somewhere. A healthy diet, high in fiber, will produce a lot of gas. The fact that my purple carrot salad turned my poop such a lovely shade of magenta was alarming, but perfectly healthy.
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