Plant-Based Diets and Elimination – A Primer on Proper Pooping

woman on toilet

Healthy Pooping is an Important Topic for Discussion

poop emojiAs I health coach, I have discussed almost every topic you can imagine with my clients.  One topic that came up with everyone was the subject of healthy poop.  I am not sure why we shy away from this so much because elimination is so important to good health.  So just what SHOULD poop look like and how often should I go?  Many doctors claim that “normal pooping” varies from person-to-person and while some should go daily, it might be fine if another to poop only every 3 days.  Well, this was not my preference or experience with clients.  I found that when people pooped at least once each day, they felt better and just did better overall.

So what does your poop look like?  How often do you go and how long does it take?  Take a look at this chart (Bristol Stool Scale) – is your poop close to the #4 on the chart?  Or is it harder or more liquid?

So Just What Does the Ideal Poop Look Like?

I know that I have healthy poop which is long and curvy, and that I go at least twice per day.  it takes me just a few minutes to poop and it is not too smelly.  My pooping habit correlates to what and how I eat, how much water I drink, and how much I move.  I also take some magnesium each day which is helpful for my regularity.  When I travel for several days (particularly overseas), this gets off and so do I with regard to pooping.  For me the best part of coming home is getting back on my elimination routine and feeling great again!

This is what I have found about stools for the majority of my clients.  With regard to the appearance and consistency, healthy poop should be long and thin (kind of curl up when excreted), medium brown without large visible chunks of undigested food.  Many people ideally poop once per day but others have 2 or 3 bowel movements daily as their ‘norm’.  If the frequency gets below once per day for some people or below once every other day for others, my clients tell me they feel a bit sluggish.  Daily bowel movements are preferred by most.

Including Lots of Fiber in Your Diet is Important for Bowel Health

It should be quick and easy to evacuate your bowels.  You should certainly not get through a long magazine article while sitting on the toilet!   There should not be straining (and no bleeding).   Your stool will be a function of what you eat, how much and often, how much water you drink, and how much activity you do on a daily basis.  Eating lots of fiber in your diet is key.  Get all these factors right and healthy poop will be effortless for you!

high fiber food graphic

Anthropologists tell us that our ancestors ingested between 100 to 150 grams of fiber per day.  YUP – that’s quite a bit!   This is contrasted to the recommend minimum today of 32 grams per day – which I do not understand.   I eat at least 150 grams of fiber per day – often much more.   But the average North American gets only about 16 grams of daily fiber!  And less than 10% of North Americans eat even the 32 grams/day amount suggested!   Lack of fiber in the North American diet is a sad reality for way too many of us!

High-Fiber Food, Diet, and Movement Are All Part of Healthy Poop

If you have consistent eating patterns, your bowel movements can normalize.  Very often, people who start to include a lot of high fiber plant foods in their diet (and who did not get much fiber in their diet previously) will experience bad reactions.  It is best to introduce new foods slowly, allowing your gut to get used to the changes and to balance the bacteria necessary for digestion.  And it is critical to ensure you are drinking enough water.  You want to keep things moving.  When you eat, your body takes what it needs (assuming all is well with digestion) and the rest is eliminated.  Water, fiber, and exercise are all essential in the flow, and are all critical for healthy poop.

People on a healthy diet with plenty of fiber generaly poop once or twice a day (and most often food passes within 24 hours).  People often find when they introduce more plant foods in their diet that things “move” along more quickly and frequently.  Bowel movements are typically a shade of medium brown.  The liver releases bile salts into the stool, giving it a normal brown color.  If you are eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables you may notice some slightly different colorful variations.  Leafy greens sometimes make your stools greener.  Occasionally I can be surprised by seeing a reddish hue in my stool, and then I remember all the red beets I had in my salad earlier.  It is normal that bowel movements are a little smelly!   A healthy gut is filled with trillions and trillions of bacteria (your microbiome) working hard to keep you healthy.  Healthy poop with all its bacteria has an odor.

A plant-strong diet can lead to a healthier gut. With larger, heavier, softer stools and more frequent bowel movements, there’s less time for potential carcinogens to harm the intestinal lining and less chance for toxic compounds in the stool to damage DNA.  The end result may be a reduction in the risk for colon cancer.   Keep these 3 factors in mind for comfortable, natural bowel movements: 1) a healthy, high fiber, plant-strong diet, 2) lots of water (which in part can come from the foods you eat), and 3) regular physical exercise.

fresh fruit

However, there is another important point here – not all vegans should be patting themselves on the back.  Not all vegan diets are adequately healthy to produce good bowel movements (healthy poop).  The main reasons for this are 1) sugar and 2) flour.  Healthy plant-based eaters consume much less sugar than the average vegan eater does.  And in general, the healthy plant-based eater eats much less flour than mainstream vegans do.  However, I always tell my clients – both vegan and omnivore – that an ideal diet should be centered around veggies (and fruit) with very minimal amounts of sugar and flour (or none at all).  You’ll know how you are doing here – pooping doesn’t lie.

Not All Fiber is Suitable for All People

This issue with the type of fiber (carbs) is particularly try if you are carb-sensitive person.  Maybe you have a history of blood sugar challenges and are just staring out on a vegan diet.  For you, eating lots of vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, mushrooms and berries (such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live Diet) is best.  In the early stages of whole food plant-based eating, starchy vegetables and grains are best if they play a lesser role in your diet.  Grains should either be avoided or eaten in moderation (half cup portions), and if they are eaten, they should be carefully selected — mainly eat intact grains rather than flour (processed) products.

The best grains for people who are carb-sensitive are the seeds of non-grass plants, which are sometimes called pseudo-grains.  These are buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth.  Have you ever tried kasha (roasted buckwheat)?  It is delicious!  Many carb-sensitive people also have wild rice (even if other rice does not work for them).  It is important to note that none of these (buckwheat, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth) contain any gluten.  Based on my client experience, I think that foods like buckwheat, quinoa, and wild rice can be safely eaten in small to moderate amounts by most people.  And fret not – in time as your gut heals and insulin sensitivity returns, it is likely you will be able to eat more starches and grains in your diet (as you continue nicely on your healthy poop journey).

okinawa elder

Lessons From “The Blue Zones”

I get questioned often about eating beans as the Paleo crowd has really given them a bad rap.  We’ve learned quite a bit about beans and longevity from people in the so-called “Blue Zones”.  These are the locations in the world where people have been shown to live the longest and healthiest lives.  They’ve been made famous in recent years by author and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner.  Buettner is probably the world’s leading expert on the diets and lifestyles of the people in the Blue Zones, and he says: “Beans, whole grains and garden vegetables are the cornerstone of all these longevity diets.”   Practice moderation in your eating, and listen to your body.  We all are unique, wonderful beings.  Keep this in mind as you work to heal your gut and you will thrive on plant-based foods.

So there we have it – have nice well formed, coiled poops, more often, that are less smelly.  As you are working toward this, there are a couple of natural items that might be of support to you.  I am a huge fan of magnesium citrate in the product “Calm”.  If you do add this, be sure to discuss it with your doctor and start SLOWLY.    Other forms of magnesium may also help you – such as the glycinate or chelate.  Only in rarer instances do I suggest agents like senna (such as Smooth Move tea).  You should be able to improve your bowel movements with a diet high in good fiber, water, and movement.

Happy pooping!

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Our program is designed around the concept of bio-individuality and will teach you which foods SERVE your unique body and which foods HARM your unique body. Learn more about this 8-Week Gut Restore Program by clicking here.


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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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