Okay, real talk: When you do your business in the bathroom, you probably like to flush and get out ASAP. But taking a peek in the toilet can give you some serious clues as to what’s going on with your digestive health—especially if part of your last meal seems to have made it into the bowl whole.
So is it normal to see undigested food in your poop? “There’s such a wide variety of stool textures and forms that 'normal' is hard to define,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine in New York. “When you see food in the stool, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a lot of food that’s just simply not digestible.”
Typically, if the bacteria in your body are doing their job right, food pieces get broken down before hitting the porcelain bowl. But if you scarf your meals down without properly chewing or eat a lot of particularly hard-to-digest food, you may see it come out the other end.
The worst culprits are corn, peanuts, carrots, beans, and some types of cereal, so don’t be shocked if you see pieces—or even an entire nut—in your poo.
But “you should start to worry if you see undigested food in your stool regularly,” says Sonpal. When the GI tract is performing properly, it takes 24 to 36 hours for food to pass through your system. If you see anything sooner than that or notice that your poop is floating, oily, or giving you cramps, it could be a bigger issue like an autoimmune disease like irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease—or a problem with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
So what do you do when there’s food in your poo? First, pack your diet with probiotics, fiber, and plenty of water, which are all hugely helpful for digestion. Second, pay attention to the way you time your meals. “Eating small frequent meals has been shown to help with excess weight gain and digestion,” says Sonpal. “Our intestines prefer to be working all the time.”
And finally, make sure you’re chewing thoroughly and slow down when you eat—your bowels will thank you.