Originally appeared in the article, "Here’s What Your Poop Color Might Tell You About Your Health, According to a Gastroenterologist," by Hannah Schneider in Well + Good on December 6, 2021.
If you've ever had beets and been shocked about the stool color you saw the next day—trust me, you're not alone. Poop comes in many shapes, sizes, textures, and colors. Some colors are mundane, others weird but are entirely normal, and some colors can be a sign to check in with your doctor. Sometimes factors like food choices and medication can change your stool color, and more often than not, there's no need to worry. Still, every time I eat beets, I panic a little bit the next day when I see an unusual color. So, I asked a gastroenterologist to break down what you can learn by noticing stool's ever-changing hues.
Photo: Getty/ boonchai wedmakawand
What impacts stool color in the first place
Before we get into the potential colors you might see, let's discuss what affects your poop color. As you can imagine, your food intake plays a significant role in the pigment and texture of your stool. The fluid in your stomach called bile breaks down food and nutrients are absorbed through the stomach wall, according to the Mayo Clinic. Food that your body can't digest—like fibers and some fats—move through the small intestine, large intestine, and out of the rectum.
So undigested items, hydration levels, medicine, fats, blood, and bile are all factors involved in the colors of your stool. Most of the time, the color of your stool is not a cause for concern. Green and brown shades of stool are typically normal, other colors can be concerning unless you had medicine or food that influences the shade, says Mark Pimentel, MD, an associate professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai. So, let's get down to business, shall we? Here are five explanations behind different poop colors and when you might want to check in with your doctor.
5 common stool colors—and what they can tell us
As bile and food move through the digestive tract, enzymes typically alter these materials changing them from green to brown, according to the Mayo Clinic. When your stool is darker brown, it is generally healthy unless you have other symptoms, says Dr. Pimentel.
If you are eating a lot of chlorophyll-rich foods like spinach, broccoli, and kale—you might see that reflected in your poop color. This is because these fiber-rich foods might possess more chlorophyll than the bile in your stomach can manage to break down before it's expelled from the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. You might see a more-green-than-usual stool if you ate a significantly unusual amount of green veggies the day before. Your body might not be used to the higher fiber content and digest less of it. Though green is less common than the typical brown when it comes to stool colors — it is not a cause for concern unless you have additional discomfort or symptoms.
3. Pink, purple-ish, red
If you noticed some pinkish hue to your poop, it might be coloration from beets, cranberries, red candy, cherry-colored frosting, or other red foods. So if you ate a bunch of beets or other red-tinged goodness the day before but have no other symptoms, that's probably the culprit. However, there are instances where bright red or purple poo can signify some blood in the stool, Brooke Scheller MD, and doctor of clinical nutrition says. In this case, one should seek medical care as soon as possible. Common (and easily treatable) causes of blood in the stool include hemorrhoids, anal fissures, gastritis, constipation, or a disorder that requires more investigation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Lighter tan or yellow stools are not standard, but they aren't necessarily an immediate cause for worry either. Many factors can trigger lighter-colored poo, including over-the-counter medications like Advil or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol).
If your stool is always lighter brown, it may be your body's typical hue. And if it's yellow every once in a while, you probably don't need to worry. However, if you have yellow stool accompanied by unusual odor and textures, that means there's not enough bile in your stool, the Mayo Clinic says. This can indicate an issue with your liver, gallbladder, or pancreas or an inability to process fats or gluten, Dr. Scheller says.
Another color of concern is black. Black (like, midnight black) is usually a sign of digested blood, says Dr. Pimentel. He adds that this usually indicates internal bleeding higher up in the digestive tract like the esophagus or stomach. Before you panic, though, Dr. Pimentel says that taking iron pills and bismuth subsalicylate can make the stool black or near black. There's no reason to worry if your stool is black due to these medicines. However, if you have not taken those medicines, it's best to call your doctor.
You know your body better than anyone else, and it's great that you're paying attention to the information your body is giving you. So while a few stool hue changes aren't cause for major concern, it's fine to chat with your doctor, especially if you're experiencing symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, or anything out of the ordinary.