What’s Your Poop Number? Why Adding Fiber to Your Diet Can Protect Against Cancer, Diabetes, and High Cholesterol

What’s Your Poop Number?  Why Adding Fiber to Your Diet Can Protect Against Cancer, Diabetes, and High Cholesterol

It’s time to talk about poop.  I’m not even going to sugar coat it.  Poop is gross.  Poop smells.  Poop is something that most people generally don’t talk about.  But now it’s time to address a subject that I get asked ALL the time.  The question is this:

How many times a day should I poop?

Let me start by asking you that question.  How many times do you poop per day?  Once?  Twice?  Three times?  Once every other day?  Once every 3 days?

In general, the frequency of your poop episodes is a function of the amount of fiber you consume.  The more fiber you eat, the more you poop.  The less fiber you eat, the less you poop.  But in addition to controlling poop frequency, fiber is a behind-the-scenes magician of the nutritional world.

Fiber, the David Copperfield of Nutrients

copperfield-fiber

In the past few years I’ve begun to realize one important thing – fiber is a nutrient – and it’s one of the most important nutrients that you can put into your body.

Nutrients are compounds that either provide energy (carbohydrates, fats, protein, and alcohol), or compounds that assist in chemical reactions (e.g. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants).  Fiber does neither.  Fiber instead performs metabolic magic.

You see, fiber is made up of the exact same stuff as carbohydrates – glucose, glucose and more glucose.  If you remember from before, carbohydrates are long necklaces of glucose molecules that, when broken down, render free glucose in your bloodstream.  That glucose is then transported to tissues that are hungry for energy, such as your brain and muscle, or to tissues that can store energy efficiently such as the liver and fat.  If any of these concepts are shaky, be sure to read this article: Carbohydrates are NOT killing you: Part 1. 

Fiber is made up of the same stuff – glucose, glucose, and more glucose, the only difference is that the glucose molecules are linked in such a way that the human body cannot break the bonds apart to yield energy.  Instead, the fiber remains intact, and must pass through your digestive system whole.  In the process of escaping digestion, the fiber performs much like a chimney sweep, clearing undigested food debris away from your intestinal walls and into the toilet.

In addition, fiber slows down the rate at which glucose makes its way from your intestine to the bloodstream.  If you’ve ever heard of foods that are “low glycemic,” that’s exactly where this term comes from.  Low glycemic index foods are absorbed slowly, and fiber is often the culprit for this pancreas-sparing behavior.  Fiber also reduces cholesterol levels, which most of the US population could use.

Fiber-rich foods have some incredible protective effects against heart disease and cancer, including colon cancer.  Whether the fiber itself is doing the work, or the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that come packaged with the fiber, the end result is that high-fiber foods are overwhelmingly protective against cancer development.  The beauty is that adding fiber to your diet can help prevent against cancer development and help treat cancer once it’s already taken hold.

Take a look at this brilliant infographic published by the National Fiber Council.  It does a great job of showing how fiber mixes with partially digested food in the stomach before passing into the small intestine to chimney sweep.  Of all the infographics I’ve seen on fiber, this one is probably the clearest and most well illustrated.  Well done, National Fiber Council.

how-fiber-works

Misnomer: Eating fiber is the same as eating high fiber foods.

Fiber supplements do not equal high-fiber foods.  This misconception could not be farther from the truth.  Studies have shown that the addition of fiber (from a product like Metamucil) to a poor diet does NOT protect against colon cancer, but that diets rich in high fiber foods do protect against colon cancer.

Let’s get out of the habit of thinking that a packaged supplement can mimic the effect of the complex food from which it was derived.  Nutrients in isolation do not have the anti-disease power that they do in food.  Adding them to your diet may not increase the bulking effect of fiber from real food, and do not have the same cholesterol-reducing effects as real food.  So do yourself a favor and don’t waste your money.  Just eat more plants.

Your lesson for the day: Eat fiber-rich foods, not fiber powders.

I’ll end this article with the answer to the question we originally started with.

How many times a day should I poop?

The truth is, there is no magic number.  If you eat a high-fiber diet, expect to be pooping between 1-3 times per day.  If you consume a diet low in fiber, and higher in animal products, you can expect to poop as little as once every 3 days.  As a general rule, the more frequent you poop, the healthier your digestive function.  Use this graphic below as a poopometer against which you can measure your poop frequency.

Poop-Number

The Mangoman suggests that you poop 2-3 times per day to ensure healthy intestinal function.  In fact, during mango season I poop upwards of 6 times a day.  And that’s no joke.

So how often do you poop?

Comment below on your “poop number.”  The Mangoman is dying to know!

Photo credit: Christophe Verdier / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: EMSL / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

About The Author

Cyrus Khambatta

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 22, I have spent over a decade learning the fundamentals of nutrition at the doctorate level. My goal is to share my knowledge of practical nutrition and fitness with people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is an OPPORTUNITY to attain excellent health. Reversing the effects of insulin resistance can be a fun and enjoyable process if the right system is in place. That's why I've spent over 10 years developing a rock solid system that can minimize blood glucose variability and insulin resistance.

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