Roughage Restored to Its Place on the Plate

July 5, 2011 in fiber, Health, Home and Garden by Joyce Bunderson

I remember the word ‘roughage’ being a funny word, at least is seemed so when I was a girl. My grandmother would chide us with, “eat your roughage.” Since Grandma didn’t teach us the benefits of roughage, we really had no clue about why she was so adamant about eating it. To us, it somehow seemed to whisper of being related to potty humor – thus, it seemed funny to us.

So if you’re from Gen X or Gen Y, you may have never heard the term ‘roughage;’ it’s really just an old-fashioned word for fiber. Fiber is a little more scientific word (and avoids the associations we found, even as children). For various reasons, nutrition writers now call it fiber. Roughage/fiber is the indigestible carbohydrate constituents of plants, which provides bulk to the diet and promotes normal bowel function. That seems pretty simple, but as it turns out fiber does so much more (see below) than merely to act as a scrub brush that scours out your innards. Some people use colonics to do the job. Nature had already solved this colon cleansing problem – and for the right reasons, not the out-dated arguments behind colonics. Eating real, whole, plant-based foods is far safer than the unnatural process of colonics.

Let’s just start with the fact that the majority of Americans are not eating nearly enough fiber. The average American eats about 15 grams per day. The American Dietetic Association has advised Registered Dietitians to teach that people should ordinarily eat between 25 – 30 grams of fiber per day. Think about that wide average discrepancy for a moment. How long would it take for you, in determining your individual needs, to calculate all the food that you eat, every single day, keeping track of your fiber intake? If you don’t have the time to ‘plug into’ a nutrition program the amounts of all the ingredients you eat at each meal, you may want to consider moving toward a higher fiber, plant-based eating style that builds the right amount of fiber in without the counting.

I think many people who reflect on being well-nourished, are thinking about getting enough protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals or a host of other nutrients. But probably millions just don’t realize how important fiber is. If the frequency of being served white flour-based products such as: bread, bagels, muffins, rolls, pastas, cookies, crackers, cereals and snack foods is good evidence, then I’d have to say – as a nation, we need to spend some concerted efforts in encouraging people to increase their intake of fiber.

Good reasons to eat a high fiber diet

Fiber is not just an aid in supporting digestion; it has been found to reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, infectious and respiratory diseases, as well as death from any cause. The risk reductions ranged from a decrease of 22% to 59%, in a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The National Institutes of Health study did not find a reduced risk of cancer in women, but did in men. Since evidence about risks for women have often lagged behind evidence for men in other areas, it is likely that similar evidence will also come before long from good studies with women.

Be sure not to leave out the grains; the dietary fiber from grains, but not from other sources such as fruits, was associated with reduced risks of total, cardiovascular, cancer and respiratory disease deaths. Certainly, we should not shun either type of fiber, as they are both valuable for different benefits. Both the soluble fiber (like oatmeal), which dissolves in water to form a gel, and the insoluble fiber (like the cellulose from wheat bran) increase stomach enlargement, which increases satiety, and slows nutrient absorption and may have a role in weight management.

It appears that soluble fiber and some insoluble fiber, when fermented by intestinal bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, actually positively affect the livers’ sensitivity to insulin. This offers great benefits if you’re trying to avoid Type 2 diabetes. Researchers reporting in Nutrition Today, authored Is Insulin Sensitivity Improved by Diets Rich in Whole Grains? They were trying to elucidate the mechanism whereby whole grains may reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Some are guessing that it has to do with the magnesium or the dietary fiber in the whole grains. Meanwhile, you can begin to benefit yourself, well before the exact mechanisms are discovered, by including the high fiber foods in your eating plan now.

If you’re not eating processed plant foods, especially that ubiquitous white flour, you can find fiber in most plant-based foods. No need to imagine eating bowls full of wheat bran; there is fiber in many foods; including: vegetables, fruit, whole grains (brown rice, wheat, quinoa), peas and beans, and nuts.

Two bits of fiber advice:

  1. If you’re not used to a high fiber diet, take a few weeks to gradually make high fiber your eating style. Switching to a high fiber diet overnight can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, flatulence and sometimes cramps. Once your body becomes accustomed to a high fiber diet, as were the bodies of your ancestors, you shouldn’t have to worry about every day challenges of a plant-based diet.
  2. If you’re going to run a marathon or some other endurance event, be careful with a huge load of fiber; you may feel heavy, have gassy cramps and/or nausea.

Yes, we know more today about the benefits of roughage – much more than my grandmother knew, and knew how to teach her grandchildren. The name has changed to fiber, but it’s still right there in most all plant foods. It’s like prunes. Prunes used to be one of the ways that people got their fiber, but the marketing people discovered that young people associated prunes with the elderly; so they renamed them ‘dried plums.’ The sales went up after the name change. Dried plums or prunes – it doesn’t really matter what you call them, they’re sweet and loaded with benefits. Roughage is the same way; call it roughage or fiber, it is an important and healthful component of your meal.

Below see how our garden is coming along - we're talking fiber. 🙂

Swiss chard for dinner tonight.

The carrot tops are doing nicely.

The cabbages are getting huge.

Hints of Brussels Sprouts.

Wonder if we'll get a cob of corn.

I keep cutting the top of the spring greens and they keep growing new leaves.

The first squash are just days away.

Tonight's rainbow Swiss chard.

Pea pods for tomorrow night's stir fry.

These babies can be sprinkled on a salad.

This will be the base of tomorrow's lunch salad.