As anyone who's had problems with loose stools can tell you, it's no fun. The good news is that dietary changes can often solve the problem. Altering your diet to incorporate certain stool-friendly foods can go a long way toward making you regular again.
Read more: What Could Cause Loose, Dark Stools?
What Causes Loose Stools?
There are numerous potential causes of loose stools. One is disease, according to Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist and gut health expert in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and author of Fiber Fueled. This can include Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease or microscopic colitis.
"If you see blood, have anemia or symptoms of anemia, a fever, weight loss or are having diarrhea in the middle of the night, then I would strongly recommend evaluation with a medical professional, ideally a gastroenterologist like myself," he says. "But if the symptoms are fairly mild, it may be due to an inadequate amount of fiber in the diet. Additionally, some people who drink coffee will have diarrhea afterwards. Believe it or not, there's actually a gene that causes this."
Jason Rubinov, MD, a medical director at the Gastroenterology Center of New York and clinical instructor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, also cites poor diet as one of the major culprits for loose stools. "This can be a sign that inadequate amounts of insoluble fiber are being consumed," he says.
Dr. Rubinov says loose stools can also be related to food intolerance. "One of the more common food intolerances is an intolerance to milk products due to a deficiency in lactase enzyme," he says.
In addition to poor diet and food intolerances, Dr. Rubinov says that frequent morning diarrhea can be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome. "It is important to consult with your physician regarding your symptoms to determine if further testing or treatment is necessary," he says.
Foods That Thicken Stool
If you wake up every morning with loose stools or just have loose stools in general, your gastroenterologist will likely suggest dietary changes.
"The classic diet to thicken up stool is called the BRAT diet," says Dr. Bulsiewicz. "It stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. In general, we want fairly simple, starchy foods. So in addition to BRAT, I'd add oatmeal and potatoes to the list."
Additional foods that can help thicken stool, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include:
- Peanut butter
On the flip side, foods, beverages and additives to steer clear of include:
- Cabbage-family vegetables
- Spicy foods
- Dairy products
- Smoked or cured meats
- Certain fruit juices
Foods to Thicken Ileostomy Stool
If you've had an ileostomy — a surgical procedure that creates an opening in your abdomen to allow stool to leave your body — many of the same foods can be used to thicken your stool. According to the University of Michigan Health System, it's normal for ostomy output to be the consistency of oatmeal, but if the output is thinner, try adding the following foods to your diet:
Hardening an Adult's Stool
To achieve more normal bowel movements, having enough fiber in your diet is critical. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes, however, that when it comes to dietary fiber, most Americans are not getting the recommended amount.
Read more: List of Foods High in Soluble Fiber
Dietary fiber is considered a "nutrient of public health concern" because failure to consume enough fiber poses certain possible health risks, the agency says. Diets higher in dietary fiber are good for intestinal regularity and can reduce a person's risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
High-fiber foods also promote healthy bowel movements by both softening and bulking stool, making it easier to pass, Dr. Rubinov says. "There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble," he explains. "Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can promote healthy bowel movements by adding form to your stools, especially in the setting of diarrhea and watery bowel movements."
Dr. Bulsiewicz concurs, adding that one way to ramp up soluble fiber is by taking a daily supplement. "We always think of fiber as being good for constipation because that's what our grandma took," he says. "But it turns out that soluble fiber is actually really good to firm up loose stool. There are a number of supplement options on the market: wheat dextrin, acacia, pectin and psyllium."
Read more: Top-Rated Fiber Supplements
Dr. Rubinov points out that consuming the right amount of fiber (20 to 35 grams a day for adults) will also help you prevent other problems like hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Is This an Emergency?
- Will Bulsiewicz, MD, gastroenterologist, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and author of "Fiber Fueled"
- Jason Rubinov, MD, gastroenterologist, medical director, Gastroenterology Center of New York, and clinical instructor of medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City
- Cleveland Clinic: "Fecal (Bowel) Incontinence: Management and Treatment"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Fiber"
- University of Michigan Health System: "Preventing Dehydration After Ileostomy Surgery"