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Is your poop healthy?

Yes, I’m serious! (And don’t you sometimes wonder anyway?)

You already know that your poop can reflect your physical, and sometimes even emotional, health.

You may get constipation or have diarrhoea when you eat something that “doesn’t agree with you,” or when you’re super-nervous about something.

And what about fibre and water? If you’re not getting enough, it’ll probably show in your poop.

What about the all-important gut microbes? If they’re not happy, it’ll probably show in your poop.

Here’s a trivia question for you:

Did you know there is an “official” standard for poop? I mean a university-created chart! One that is used to help diagnose conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Meet the Bristol Stool Scale

The Bristol Stool Scale was created at the prestigious University of Bristol back in 1997.

BristolStoolChart.png

The scale breaks down the type of poop into seven different categories ranging from type 1 which is very constipated, to type 7 which is diarrhoea:

 

1 – Separate hard lumps (very constipated).

2 – Lumpy and sausage-like (slightly constipated).

3 – Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface (normal)

4 – Smooth, soft sausage (normal).

5 – Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (lacking fibre).

6 – Mushy consistency with ragged edges (inflammation).

7 – Liquid consistency with no solid pieces (inflammation).

Other “poop” factors to consider

 

You probably guessed that the shapes described in the Bristol Stool Scale are not the only thing to consider for poop health.

Think about how often you go. At least once per day, up to 3 times per day is pretty good. Less than one, or more than three can mean there is something going on.

What about how hard you have to try to go? You want it to be as effortless as possible.

And the colour? It should be brown from the bile that you need to break down the fats you ingest.

And if it’s green after a day of massive veggies, or red after that large glass of beet juice, you’re just fine.

But if you see an abnormal colour, like red or even black, that you can’t explain based on what you ate or drank in the last day or two, you probably want to get that checked out.

What do you do when you have “imperfect” poo?

Well, the first thing to consider is how imperfect it is, and how often it is like that? Once in a while, things aren’t going to be perfect, and that’s A-OK.

If you know you need to get more fibre or water, then try increasing that.

If you haven’t had enough probiotic foods, then try getting more of them.

If you’re super-stressed, then try deep breathing, meditating, or having a warm bath.

Oh, and don’t forget the two most basic pieces of nutrition advice:

  • First, eat a variety of nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods, including a lot of fruits & veggies (and their “fibrous” skins, wherever possible). The fibre in these is not only helpful for pushing food through your gut, but they also feed those millions of amazing helpful critters that live there (your friendly gut microbes.)
  • The second piece of advice is to eat slowly, and mindfully, chewing thoroughly.

These are good habits for anyone and everyone, even when you have perfect poop!

Of course, long-term issues might require a more thorough review with a qualified health care practitioner. If you find that the healthier you eat the worse your symptom are then this is a key sign of an underlying imbalance. Don’t suffer from poop issues for too long before seeking help.


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All About Dairy Intolerance (Lactose, Casein & Whey)

Dairy is a complicated food group. There are many components that can disagree with you; the proteins, the sugar and/or the fat molecules. You could be sensitive to one or all of these things!

Intolerance can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhoea. Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.

Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant to. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.


Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance

It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.

lactose-intolerance

The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When someone doesn’t have enough lactase, the lactose doesn’t get broken down the way it should.  Undigested lactose ends up being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhoea.

Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yoghurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn’t that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you’re taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it’s in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.

If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.


Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy

Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In the UK, it is considered an “allergen” and must be declared on food labels.

So, what are the allergens in milk? You’ve heard of “curds and whey?” Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.

Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.

Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They’re not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of “whey” protein powders?).

Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.

Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.

Like lactose intolerance, if you’re allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.

 

A1 & A2 Casein

Image result for a2 milkOkay, this is where it gets a little more complicated. For those that are sensitive to casein, it could be that you are sensitive to only A1 casein, found in milk from Friesian cows. A2 casein, found in goat milk, sheep milk and Jersey cow milk is often better tolerated. A1 casein is cleaved into casomorphin within the guts of some people. This is an opioid-like substance, with similar effects as opioids. Symptoms such as constipation, dairy ‘addiction’ and brain fog are common. This casomorphin also stimulates the production of histamine, which can cause skin symptoms like hives and eczema. Histamine can also stimulate the ovaries to produce more oestrogen. As such, A1 intolerance can cause PMS type symptoms, acne and can make weight loss more difficult. Personally, I find that consuming A1 dairy gives me acne.


Conclusion

If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhoea after eating dairy, you may have lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey. And do note, you could have both! 

While dairy may be an entire food group, it is not an essential nutrient. In fact, in Canada dairy has been removed from the nutrition guidelines. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, you can try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat.

If you suffer from lactose intolerance you should see improvements within days after removal. As for casein and whey intolerance, it can take a fair bit longer for improvements when you remove dairy. It could be weeks or months.

If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.

If you’ve removed dairy and are still struggling with symptoms then get in touch; you could have a digestive imbalance that could easily be resolved with the right support.


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All About Digestive Enzymes

Not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements, and not all of them are created equal.

As a practitioner, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. And many times I would rather try other strategies first. Not to mention, that some supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately.

So, let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, and who should NOT take them.


What are digestive enzymes?

Technically, “enzymes” are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything, from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down the food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb.

Oh, and they all end with “ase”.

As I just hinted, “digestive enzymes” are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat.

Now, all of the “macronutrients” we eat (carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise, and if we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, or a host of other symptoms.  

It is these individual (smaller) parts that our body amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs.

The most common digestive enzymes you’ll see on product labels are:

  • Amylase – Helps to break down starch into its sugars.
  • alpha-Galactosidase – Helps to break down specific “fermentable carbohydrates” into its sugars.
  • Lactase – Helps to break down lactose into its sugars.
  • Protease – Helps to break down protein into its amino acids.
  • Bromelain and/or Papain – Help to break down protein into its amino acids.
  • Lipase – Helps to break down fats into its lipids.

Who should consider taking digestive enzymes?

I would always recommend that you see a qualified healthcare practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues can be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you.

In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes *may* help with are bloating, cramping, and/or diarrhoea. Particularly if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy).

One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. And this is definitely troublesome for certain people.

Don’t get me wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is absolutely essential for good health. And more and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system, and even our mood.


What do I need to know? – Medical conditions

Of course, you should read the label of any products you take, and take them as directed, especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner who knows your history.

Here are two critical things to be aware of:

1 – Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars should be carefully considered before for diabetics.

This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so, anyone at risk of blood sugar issues may need to take caution.

2 – When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, there are a few people who should avoid them because of potential interactions. That is if you have an ulcer, or are taking blood-thinners or anti-inflammatories, or if you’re having surgery.

The reason is that the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to cause or worsen ulcers, as well as have the ability to “thin” the blood and prevent normal clotting.


What do I need to know? – Possible Side effects

Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period of time may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can serve you better.

If you find that your symptoms get worse, or even if they don’t get better, you should probably stop using them.


Before considering a digestive enzyme supplement

You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis or trying a few strategies first.

My first recommendation for digestive distress would be to relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract.

The second step would be to try eliminating certain troublesome foods from your diet (dairy & gluten, for example) and see if that helps.

If neither of these steps helps or don’t fully resolve the issues, then further investigations to rule out SIBO, parasites, yeast overgrowth and more should be considered.


Conclusion:

While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone.  

I recommend that you:

  • Read your labels carefully (who should take them, how to take them, when to stop taking them).
  • If you have a medical condition or are taking medications speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • If you want expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you, speak with a qualified healthcare practitioner.

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