Ever wonder how to know if you are eating the right things, getting enough exercise, sleeping well and coping with stress? One great way is to track and study your poop.

Yes, you read that correctly, your poop is more fascinating that you give it credit for. There are so many different colours, consistencies, lengths, widths and smells, but in this case, the more variety, the worse off your health may be.

Let’s start with some facts about how your poop becomes poop: your food and beverages travel through your digestive system (mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine and rectum). Your liver, gall bladder and pancreas work to help the stomach churn and break down food and then push it to your small intestine.

Your body is already absorbing sugars the moment you put them into your mouth. Once in the small intestine, which is over 20 feet long, all needed nutrients are absorbed in a long process as they travel throughout the tube. This can take about 12 to 20 hours.

Then, in the large intestine, a few more nutrients are absorbed but this is where the liquid become separated from the solid and your poop forms. This takes another eight to 12 hours. Once it gets to the rectum, depending on the consistency… watch out. Get to a bathroom soon. Don’t hold it in as this can back your system up badly.

What are some common poops and what can they tell you about your health? According to the Bristol Stool Chart (Stool means poop) from the Bristol Royal Infirmary in England, there are seven different types of poop, but we’ll look at four of seven different types.

Type 1: Separate, hard lumps, various sizes. This can mean you are very constipated, not getting enough fibre or water. This is typical if your diet is very meat/fat heavy.

Type 3: A longer, slimmer sausage than type two with cracks in the surface. This is considered normal, especially if it is soft and comes out easily. If it’s hard, most likely there is a lack of water/liquid, healthy fats or hydrating fruits and vegetables. This can happen with those with a healthy diet but maybe who exercise quite a bit and secrete their water through sweating.

Type 7 (I have purposefully skipped type 4 for the end): Liquid consistency with no solid pieces. This is a definite sign of inflammation and diarrhea. It usually indicates something a bit more serious and usually happens more than once until the inflammation is out of your system.

What should you do if your poop is one of the above? First, trust your instincts. If you know suspect something is really wrong, seek care immediately. There are many things even your pharmacist can help you with.

The next thing is to track and back track your poop. What did you eat in the last 12 to 36 hours? What environment were you in? Did you come in contact with something that may not have been clean? Are you eating lots of vegetables and fruits (six to 10 handfuls a day)? Are you drinking enough water? What has your poop been like for the last week or few days? Do you typically have normal poop or is it different every time or the same every time but in a bad way? Do you poop regularly?

There are also many different signs when you look at the colour of poop:

Black can mean ingesting dark coloured foods but can also be from taking too much Pepto Bismol or other stomach medications. It can also be a sign of gastro-intestinal bleeding.

Green poop can come from eating too much greens or even foods like tomatoes or products made from this. It can also mean too much bile is getting secreted during digestion.

White poop can be caused by some medications or can be an issue with the liver or gall bladder.

Red poop can be caused by red foods, especially beets and berries but study carefully if you are not sure if it’s blood or colour from food you ate.

Orange poop can also be caused by orange foods but some medicated and antacids can make your poop an orangey colour.

Yellowish poop that is greasy looking might be caused by digestive issues or too much fat in the diet.

If your poop still has visible and decipherable food pieces / chunks, then you may need to take smaller bites, slow down on eating, and chew your food until it is fully broken down.

Monitor your poop colour and if it last for more than two to three poops, then consider telling a doctor. Poop also has all types of smells, even the good poops might smell really bad. Some of the best smelling and tasting foods come out smelling the worst. If you have really smelly gas before and after taking a poop, you may have an unhealthy bacteria issue. We all have to have bacteria called healthy flora but there is bad bacteria too. You may be lacking in probiotics if this is the case. You can take over-the-counter probiotics or consider plain yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha drink, and pickled cucumber.

So what is the best poop? That is Type 4 on the Bristol chart. It is smooth, and comes out like a long hot dog or snake. It doesn’t take long to extract (under five minutes), the colour is an expected shade of brown based on the foods you ate, and the smell also reflects the foods you ate. There is no cramping, bloating or soreness before, during or after. Clean up is easy.

Think of our poop as a receipt of all your purchases into your body. If you are not sure what it all means or you are not satisfied with the bill, then do something about it!

Karen Nixon-Carroll is the Program Manager at Fanshawe’s Fitness Centre.