Health experts have long recommended consuming roughage, commonly called fiber, to improve digestive health. Roughage is the portion of plant foods, such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables that your body can’t digest. However, it’s an important food source for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. It may also aid weight management and decrease certain risk factors for heart disease.
Once roughage reaches your large intestine, it’s either broken down by your gut bacteria or exits your body in your stools. There are two main types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Most foods high in roughage contain a combination of these but are usually richer in one type. In the gut, soluble fiber absorbs water to become gel-like. This allows your gut bacteria to break it down easily. Chia seeds and oats are both high in soluble fiber. In contrast, insoluble fiber has a more rigid microscopic structure and does not absorb water. Instead, it adds bulk to stools. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of insoluble fiber. You should try to eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume per day. That’s about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Unfortunately, only about 5% of people reach this recommendation.
You may have heard that adding roughage to your diet can improve your digestion. Indeed, roughage has numerous healthy effects on your gut, such as increasing the bulk of stools, decreasing constipation, and feeding beneficial gut bacteria. Foods high in roughage are also naturally richer in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than low-fiber foods like refined grains. Plus, they may even help you lose weight.
High-fiber foods help slow digestion, which may help stabilize your blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. In fact, some studies have shown that fiber may help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that helps transport blood sugar into your cells and directs your body to burn it for energy or store it as fat. Keeping blood sugar levels moderate is important, as spikes in blood sugar can damage your body over time and may lead to diseases like diabetes.
Dietary fiber may help lower high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. One 28-day study examined the heart-healthy effects of eating fiber in 80 people with high cholesterol. Researchers observed that people who ate 3 grams of soluble fiber daily from oats experienced a 62% reduction in total cholesterol and a 65% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to a control group.
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