As someone who has suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for most of my adult life I have become more familiar with the contents of the toilet bowl than I ever cared to be.
For years I paid little attention to my poo, until digestive pain started to become a major issue (as a result of reflux, gas and hemarrhoids) and I started to see minute amounts of blood in the toilet after a movement.
Straining became an all too familiar part of my routine, and I just considered it normal to only poo once every few days. When it went for more than 3 days I began to get concerned, along with the yucky feelings that go with being ‘backed up’.
Two years into a high fruit, low-fat raw vegan diet I rarely ever experience any constipation or ‘loose’ stools. My poo is firm and slightly fluffy with the raggedy edges of fibrous fruit and vegetable matter.
And the best part of all is that my poo smells sweet and fruity – a far cry from the rank smell that used to linger in the bathroom for ages after I left it.
Digestive health is the cornerstone of complete body health
Until recent years medical understanding of the digestive system was fairly rudimentary. Scientists seemed to have a handle on the chemical and enzyme interchanges of the gut, but the gazillions of bacteria therein were still largely an unknown quantity.
Major scientific advancements in recent times have led us to the discovery of the link between gut health and brain/nervous system health. To be more precise, the healthy state of good bacteria in the gut is linked with the healthy functioning of the mind. Conversely, an overpopulation of unhealthy strains of bacteria is linked with depression.
Unhealthy bugs are also linked with poor immune function. Personally, I know that when my bowel movements were infrequent or alternating between constipated and loose that I used to get colds and flus frequently.
These days, since my digestion has greatly improved, if I catch something all it takes is a good night’s sleep for my immune system to fight off the attack. The next day I wake and wonder if I had even been sick after all.
“Poo transplants” are now on the cutting edge of medical technology, where healthy feces is blended into a watery consistency and then inserted via syringe into the unhealthy colon of a patient in order to repopulate it with strains of healthy bacteria. However controversial, these transplants are being used to successfully treat certain auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
If you suffer from any kind of skin disorder, allergy, chronic low immune function problem, or auto-immune disease then you would be wise to investigate your digestive health.
Get your gut-health right and you’ll likely find that your other health issues will disappear quite naturally.
How to ‘read’ your poo
The Bristol Stool Chart is a well-known educational tool used for medical and individual assessment of stool quality. A healthy stool is somewhere in the middle of the chart between a Type 3 and a Type 5, but basically it should be well-formed, passed easily at least once or a few times a day and should have a non-offensive odour.
If your stools are difficult to pass, are moving less than once a day, or are liquid and passing very frequently then you should take a good hard look at what you’re eating.
If they are at the low end of the spectrum chances are very high that you’re not drinking enough water, and not eating enough water-rich fruit and vegetable matter. It could also be that you are not moving enough.
If your stools are very loose it could be that you’re eating too much fat in your diet and that your liver and gall bladder are struggling to produce enough bile to process the fats in your diet. Loose oily stools are something to look for here.
Keeping your fats below 10% of daily calories is optimal for healthy functioning of the digestive tract and liver. This is the equivalent of a (maximum of) ½ an avocado or an ounce of nuts on a 2000 calorie diet.
Here’s another great chart/quiz to help you assess the quality of your poo…
How food affects our stools
The standard western diet, replete with dairy, meat and refined grains has little in the way of fibre or water and therefore leads inevitably to constipation and straining.
In answer to this problem we are told to eat more fibre in the form of harsh cereals like bran, which actually graze the sensitive digestive tract and cause inflammation and damage.
A great book on the subject of grain consumption and digestion is “Grain Damage” by Dr Douglas Graham. In this book Dr Graham lays out the case for eating our natural diet primarily of fruits and tender leafy greens, and avoiding grains, which are too harsh and damaging for our sensitive digestive tracts.
A combination of gentle soluble and insoluble fibres from fruits and veggies is the answer, and this is one of the reasons why fruits and vegetables have been put up on that pedestal as being one of the healthiest foods.
Without them we rapidly become deficient in phytonutrients, minerals and fibre. Our whole digestive tract relies on fibre and the peristaltic action of the gut to move matter through our system, so they’re super important.
Fibre also binds with toxins
What’s the purpose of poo? Fundamentally it’s to get rid of toxins and waste matter from our system. Without magical fibre it is extraordinarily difficult for your body to eliminate these toxins, leading to a build-up and storage over time of toxins in adipose (fat) tissue.
This is why eating raw fruits and veggies can be so effective at helping people lose fat and weight. The body no longer needs to keep storing toxins in fat because it can be effectively eliminated through the bowels.
Hot Fibre Tip – Chia Seeds
One of the best binders of toxins is Chia seeds. Flaxseeds and Chia work in a similar way. When wet they become a gelatinous mass of soluble fibre, which works to gently cleanse and sweep the digestive tract clean.
Try stirring a tablespoon or two of chia seeds into your fruit or green smoothies (after you’ve blended them).
Digestive health on Cooked vs. Raw
I have tried both an all raw 80/10/10 diet and a raw till 4 type approach and I find that my digestion and elimination works at its absolute peak on a fully raw diet. Even with the addition of cooked foods at night I find that my digestion becomes a little sluggish and I need to make sure I drink more water in order to keep from constipating. For peak digestive health all raw can’t be beat.
If I add more fats than usual to my meals (even raw) then I really start to notice problems. My stools often start to become very loose and oily and this will often go along with gas and reflux. Check out my article 5 Ways to overcome Reflux and other painful, embarrassing digestive problems if you suffer from these problems.
Conclusion – Let’s hope none of us ever get to the stage where we need a fecal transplant in order to regain our health. Just by eating our fruits and veggies we can create the perfect environment for good bugs to thrive.
Have you noticed the way that certain foods affect your bowel movements? Or how your digestive health affects your overall health? Please comment below and let me know how you’ve regained your health.
Digestive health is paramount if you want to experience vibrant, all-round health. But I do understand that sometimes it can be quite tricky to achieve perfect digestive health. It’s taken years to educate myself on how to have a healthy, thriving digestive system and I’d love to share how I did it with you. So stick around for more articles like this on achieving perfect digestion.
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Anthea Frances is an author, raw food health coach and host of the Raw Life Summit series. Grab a copy of her free Balanced Raw Vegan Nutrition Checklist and start improving your health today!