When we consume food, it is broken down and digested in the digestive system. Vital minerals and nutrients are extracted from your food until only waste is left. This is called your stool. It is composed of digested and metabolized byproducts not found useful by the body and left for excretion. Other terms used to describe stool include feces, poop, or poo.
While the process of digesting and defecation vary from person to person, the entire process is generally considered to take approximately 40 hours in adults. However, it is possible for a person to have bowel movements as frequently as two to three times a day, or as infrequently as once every three days.
Undigested food in stools: Is it normal or a serious health concern?
It’s pretty common to have undigested food in your stool. Approximately 30 percent of stool contains indigestible food matter that your body was unable to make use of. Most of this indigestible matter can be found in the form of fiber.
Fiber cannot be digested by the human digestive tract, as we lack the enzymes to break it down. Often, fiber is excreted unchanged, but sometimes it can be metabolized into gas and acids. Fiber rich food includes corn, peanuts, and cereals.
There are many foods that the body has a tough time digesting. This is only seen as a minor problem unless it occurs with other symptoms such as weight loss, chronic diarrhea, or other bowel changes.
Why is there undigested food in stool?
Talking about stool with your family and friends is not very fun. So, when you find that you are having questionable bowel movements, possibly including undigested food, we keep it to ourselves to save us from embarrassment. Speaking to a doctor will often provide you with the answers you need. Until then, the following are potential factors that may lead to undigested food in your stool:
- Foods aren’t broken down properly: This often includes food that is high in fiber, as they are difficult to digest.
- Not chewing your food thoroughly: Part of the digestive process is chewing your food. It allows for digestive enzymes to work on the food and break them down faster. Not chewing your food thoroughly makes this process difficult and increases the chance of food remaining intact.
- The food has a tough exterior shell: Foods such as corn or seeds have very durable exteriors. This makes it harder for digestive enzymes to act on them.
- Things move quickly: Having symptoms of diarrhea decreased the amount of time food remained in the digestive system.
- Overcooking foods: This may alter the chemical composition of chemicals found in your food, making them harder to digest.
- Having other GI issues: Diarrhea and weight loss are signs of malabsorption. This is when your body is unable to extract the needed nutrients from your food. This may be in seen in conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or pancreatic insufficiency.
- Acute gastroenteritis: May be caused by a bacterial or viral infection presenting with diarrhea as its primary symptom.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A chronic condition that is characterized by the urgent need to defecate, which helps relieve painful abdominal symptoms.
Symptoms co-existing with undigested food in poop
Other symptoms that may accompany cases of undigested food in your stool may include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Watery or loose stool
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever with an infection
- Lack of appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Feeling of incomplete bowel movements
- Difficulty starting a bowel movement
Treating undigested food in stool
If you notice that there is a problem with your stool, speaking to a medical professional will often provide more insight on your situation. To further evaluate your condition, your doctor will most likely order a blood test and stool analysis to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
If a condition is identified as having led to your symptoms, treatment will promptly be carried out. But if undigested food in your stool is not found to be the result of any condition, the following recommendations may be considered:
- Eat smaller meals to allow your digestive tract to efficiently process your food
- Chew your food thoroughly
- Drink lots of water to promote hydration
- Consume foods with low-fiber. These may include bananas, rice, grapefruit, chicken, and ground beef.
- Avoid gas forming foods such as beer, cabbage, and carbonated drinks
- Limit caffeine