We all do it. For some, it’s a necessary inconvenience. For others, it’s a pleasant and satisfying part of the digestive process. It has fascinated toddlers since time immemorial, and there’s a reason for that.

Going number two might not be the prettiest topic for a dinner party, but there’s a lot to learn from this mundane, yet mysterious, process. In the end (no pun intended), it’s simply a part of our functioning body.

So, what exactly is poop?

Well, it’s mostly just undigested food, proteins, bacteria, salts, and other substances that are produced and released by the intestines. Although everyone is unique in the size, shape, and smell of their poop, there are a few things that indicate a healthy (or unhealthy) poop.

Healthy poop can be as varied and as unique as the individuals who make it. But there are a few general rules to follow if you want to assess your poo artistry for optimum health.

Color

The poop emoji has one thing right: the brown coloring. The combination of stomach bile and bilirubin, which is a pigment compound formed from the breakdown of red blood cells in the body, gets the credit for this oh-so-lovely shade of brown.

Shape

A somewhat log-like shape is how most poop should come out due to its formation within the intestines. However, as we’ll get to later, there are a variety of shapes that poop can have.

When they differentiate from the log shape, that’s when your poop is trying to tell you something’s up.

Size

Poops shouldn’t come out in small pellets — something else we’ll get to later — but instead should be a couple of inches in length, and comfortable and easy to pass.

Consistency

Anywhere between a firm and soft consistency is pretty much normal. If it sways too much one way or another, it could suggest some digestion or fiber issues.

Length of time

A commonly heard joke is that when someone takes too long in the bathroom, it must mean they’re pooping. A healthy poop, however, should be easy to pass and take only a minute or so to push out.

That said, some people do spend a bit more time on the toilet, so as a general rule, a poop should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Frequency

Fun fact: Did you know most people poop around the same time every day?

On average, a person with healthy digestion will poop anywhere between every other day to three times a day. Any less could suggest possible constipation. This means you need some more water to move the “boat.”

The Bristol stool chart is an overarching indicator of how and why different types of poops look or feel a certain way. It’s broken up into seven categories based on a 2,000-person study published back in 1992, and it makes poop knowledge basic and easy to understand.

Type 1: Marbles

Appearance: Hard and separate little lumps that look like nuts and are hard to pass.

Indicates: These little pellets typically mean you’re constipated. It shouldn’t happen frequently.

Type 2: Caterpillar

Appearance: Log-shaped but lumpy.

Indicates: Here we have another sign of constipation that, again, shouldn’t happen frequently.

Type 3: Hot dog

Appearance: Log-shaped with some cracks on the surface.

Indicates: This is the gold standard of poop, especially if it’s somewhat soft and easy to pass.

Type 4: Snake

Appearance: Smooth and snake-like.

Indicates: Doctors also consider this a normal poop that should happen every 1 to 3 days.

Type 5: Amoebas

Appearance: Small, like the first ones, but soft and easy to pass; the blobs also have clear cut edges.

Indicates: This type of poop means you’re lacking fiber and should find ways to add some to your diet through cereal or vegetables.

Type 6: Soft serve

Appearance: Fluffy and mushy with ragged edges.

Indicates: This too-soft consistency could be a sign of mild diarrhea. Try drinking more water and electrolyte-infused beverages to help improve this.

Type 7: Jackson Pollock

Appearance: Completely watery with no solid pieces.

Indicates: In other words, you’ve got the runs, or diarrhea. This means your stool moved through your bowels very quickly and didn’t form into a healthy poop.

As with size and consistency, poop’s color can be a helpful signal about what’s going on within your body. As we previously mentioned, varying shades of brown are what’s considered the norm.

Even a hint of green is considered healthy. But if your poop is veering toward other ends of the rainbow, you might want to assess.

Black

If you’ve had licorice, iron supplements, or bismuth medications (such as Pepto-Bismol), that could be the explanation behind black stool. If you haven’t had any of that, black poop could be a sign of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract.

It may seem like red would be a more likely color for this sort of concern, but since it’s taken a while to travel down, it’s older and therefore darker.

Green

While hints of green are quite normal, if your poop has gone from brown to full green, it may mean one of two things. Either you’ve added lots of green foods like spinach to your diet, or your stools passing through you too fast. When it doesn’t pick up as much of the brown-tinting bilirubin, it has more bile salts that turn it this color.

Pale, white, or clay

If your poop is a chalky light shade, it might mean you’re lacking bile. Bile is a digestive fluid that comes from your liver and gallbladder, so if you’re producing white stool, it probably means your duct is blocked.

Pale poop could also be a side effect of certain medications like antidiarrhea medicine. Either way, if it continues, consult a doctor.

Red

You’re probably not surprised to hear that red poop can mean bleeding, either due to hemorrhoids or to bleeding in the lower intestinal tract. If your stool is a little red, however, there may be no need to immediately fret.

There are other, less serious reasons for this change in color. Foods like beets, cranberries, red gelatin, or tomato juice can turn poop red as well.

Yellow

Greasy, stinky, yellow stool is typically a sign of too much fat. This could also be a direct relation to a malabsorption disorder like celiac disease, where your body isn’t absorbing enough nutrients.

If your poop looks bright yellow, it could signify a condition called giardiasis, which is caused by an intestinal parasite in North America and the world. Typically, you can get giardiasis from contaminated water or exposure to a person with the condition.

Every now and again, when you take a look in the toilet bowl, you’ll see poop bobbing like a toy sailboat in the bathtub. As alarming as this seems, all it means is that the stool is less dense than the others that sink.

One potential reason for this lack of density can come from an increased amount of gas or water, or even a high fiber diet.

It’s also possible that malabsorption is, once again, the reason for a floating stool. If this is the case, the other abnormalities previously mentioned, like slight constipation, might also be present.

Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements per week.

There could be many reasons you experience this lack of pooping. Nerve issues in and around the colon or rectum may slow down pooping, as can problems with pelvic muscles. Conditions that affect hormones, like pregnancy or diabetes, could also be the culprit.

If you’re experiencing this clogged-up feeling, you can add more high fiber foods to your diet, like beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Drinking lots of fluids, staying active, and managing stress can also help alleviate constipation.

If a diet change doesn’t seem to get things moving, constipation could be caused by certain medications or even a blockage in the bowel. Talking with a doctor is the best course of action to find relief in this instance.

A green poop here or hard poop there happens to the best of us. It’s when this type of irregularity carries on for more than a day or two that you should take action and talk with a doctor. The same goes for changes in color or consistency, or constipation.

Chronic constipation can obstruct the bowels, while chronic diarrhea can make it difficult for a person to absorb necessary nutrients from food. Both chronic constipation and chronic diarrhea could even be a sign of more serious conditions.

Again, the first sign of either of these should not be immediate cause for concern, but keep an eye on it and see if it lasts more than a few days.

That said, pay attention to any signs of blood. If you haven’t eaten any of the foods mentioned above that could turn your poop this color, talk with a doctor immediately.

As quick as we are to write it off, our poop can provide a wealth of knowledge about our health and ourselves. So next time you pop a squat, take note of what’s going on. The toilet bowl is a window into your health and you.

Read this article in Spanish.


Emily Rekstis is a New York City-based beauty and lifestyle writer who writes for many publications, including Greatist, Racked, and Self. If she’s not writing at her computer, you can probably find her watching a mob movie, eating a burger, or reading an NYC history book. See more of her work onher website, or follow her onTwitter.