The importance of roughage in diet

beautiful smiling woman enjoying high fiber energy bar with roughage

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Roughage in diet

Even though roughage or dietary fibre is an indigestible part of the food that we consume, it plays a vital role in the body and in maintaining overall health. The roughage in food mainly comes from the fibre that consumed as a part of the cereals, fruits and vegetables. It is a kind of carbohydrate, but it does not supply calories or nutrients to the body.

The role of roughage is very important in keeping the digestive tract functioning smoothly. These fibres pass into the intestine and absorb water, thereby creating the necessary bulk that can help the intestinal muscles to push out the waste materials outside the body. This helps in preventing constipation from occurring.

In general, roughage has both water-soluble and insoluble parts. The various components of roughage can be classified as non-starch polysaccharides like arabinoxylans, cellulose, and hemicellulose. There are also various other plant components such as resistant starch (RS), resistant dextrins, inulin, lignin, chitins, pectins, β-glucans, and oligosaccharides.

The gut bacteria also break down some roughage, and hence it helps these organisms to stay healthy. This also prevents any excess growth rate of any harmful bacteria. Roughage also plays an essential role in overall weight management and the prevention of various heart diseases.

Woman suffering from abdominal pain. Probably cause is row roughage, low fiber diet

At the same time, it is important to avoid an excess of fibre as that can result in gas and bloating.

It is also important to consume a sufficient volume of water along with roughage or else the fibre can become a source of constipation by itself.

As per estimates, men need to consume 30 to 38 grams of fibre per day while women need 21 to 25 grams of fibre per day. Fermentation of fibre by the bacteria in the colon produces short-chained fatty acids, which are considered as healthful for the lining of the colon.

Types of roughages

Roughage can be classified as soluble and insoluble. Plant foods like oatmeal, rye, chia, barley, nuts, beans, lentils, some fruits and vegetables are good sources of soluble fibres. These fibres dissolve in water to form a gel-like substance and play an important role in lowering the LDL cholesterol levels.

Soluble fibres also slow down the digestive process and prevent the quick absorption of glucose in the blood which prevents any steep rise in blood sugar levels.

Whole-grain foods like whole wheat, corn bran, and brown rice, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds are good sources of insoluble fibre.

The insoluble fibres remain mostly unchanged in the digestive tract and help in the movement of materials through the digestive tract and form the bulk of the stool.

A mixture of both these types of roughages is needed for keeping the digestive system healthy. The following chart indicates some of the most important food items and the amount of different fibres that they contain.

Cereal grains – ½ cup cookedSoluble FibreInsoluble Fibre
Barley1 gram4 grams
Oatmeal1 gram2 grams
Oat bran1 gram3 grams
SeedsSoluble FibreInsoluble Fibre
Psyllium seeds ground (1 Tablespoon)5 grams6 grams
Fruit (1 medium fruit)Soluble FibreInsoluble Fibre
Apple1 gram4 grams
Banana1 gram3 grams
Blackberries (½ cup)1 gram4 grams
Citrus Fruit (orange, grapefruit)2 grams2-3 grams
Nectarine1 gram2 grams
Peach1 gram2 grams
Pear2 gram4 grams
Plum1 gram1.5 grams
Prunes (¼ cup)1.5 grams3 grams
Legumes (½ cup cooked)Soluble FibreInsoluble Fibre
Black Beans2 grams5.5 grams
Kidney Beans3 grams6 grams
Lima Beans3.5 grams6.5 grams
Navy Beans2 grams6 grams
Northern Beans1.5 grams5.5 grams
Pinto Beans2 grams7 grams
Lentils (yellow, green, orange)1 gram8 grams
Chick Peas1 gram6 grams
Black-eyed Peas1 gram5.5 grams
Vegetables (½ cup cooked)Soluble FibreInsoluble Fibre
Broccoli1 gram1.5 grams
Brussels Sprouts3 grams4.5 grams
Carrots1 gram2.5 grams

How to boost the roughage content in diet?

It is important to note that suddenly increasing the fibre content in the diet can lead to adverse effects, and hence a gradual increase is the best way. Some natural foods that offer good fibre content are whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.

Happy, beautiful, smiling woman with a basket of vegetables that make a roughage filled high fiber diet

Most refined and processed food items like canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white bread, pasta and non-whole-grain cereals do not have the necessary fibre content. Here are a few tips to increase the daily fibre intake through the right diet.

High-fibre breakfast

For breakfast, it is best to consume 5 or more grams of fibre in one serving.

High fibre breakfast cereals with unprocessed whole grains are a good choice along with fruits like bananas, oranges and apples.

Choose bread that contains whole wheat or whole-wheat flour and check for the dietary fibre content in the ingredients. Other items like brown rice, wild rice, barley, oats and whole-wheat pasta are also good options.

Whole-grain flour

Substitute whole flour with whole-grain flour as much as possible for any baked items. Another effective way is to add items like crushed bran cereal, unprocessed wheat bran or uncooked oatmeal to the cakes and cookies.

Dietary fibre

Vegetables are a good source of dietary fibre and consuming more of them is always a good option. Consuming salad before a meal is a better option than consuming it with the meal as such a practice leads to more vegetable consumption. You can also add beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fibre to any salad.

Fruits and vegetables

Eat more fruit and vegetables but avoid cold-pressed juices that are devoid of fibre. Fruits and vegetables are not only rich in fibre, but in vitamins and minerals as well.

Healthy snacks

Choose the right healthy snacks that will help in the overall consumption of fibre. Items like nuts and seeds are an excellent source of nutrients as well as fibre. Popcorn is a very good source of dietary fibre too.  You can also add berries, like strawberries and blueberries, to your snacks which are rich in fibre content.

When the skins of vegetables and fruits are peeled off before eating, half of the fibre content is gone. A small apple contains around 4 grams of fibre and almost half of it is gone when peeled. It is best to consume these items without peeling.

It is best to obtain the fibre that you need from the daily food but in case that is not possible, you can choose a fibre supplement. Items like psyllium, glucomannan, and guar fibre are some good options but they need to be introduced gradually in the diet along with sufficient water.

The benefits of roughage

While most people associate roughage with digestive health, it has various other health benefits too. The right quantity can boost the immune system and also have a positive impact on how a person looks and feels throughout the day. The amount of fibre consumed by a person per day is decreasing in many counties, including the USA. This is a cause for concern. Here are some of the major benefits of roughage consumption.

Digestive health

Fiber rich diet with high roughage and ensures smooth digestion, good bowel movements, and a healthy gut.

Fibre consumption boosts digestive health.

Fibre provides mass to the stools and makes them easier to pass, thus helping to prevent constipation.

Studies have indicated that people who consume a minimum of 20 grams of roughage in a day have significantly lesser chances of being affected by constipation.

Roughage reduces the risks of diverticulitis haemorrhoids, gallstones, kidney stones, and can also provide relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It also lowers the production of gastric acids and helps in conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and ulcers.

Soluble fibre

Fibre obtained from cereals can help in lowering the risks of type 2 diabetes. Soluble fibre lowers the rate of sugar absorption and can have a positive impact on the blood sugar levels.

Cancer prevention

Some evidence also suggests that roughage can play an important role in preventing colorectal cancer. It can also reduce the risks of the cancers of the stomach, mouth and pharynx.

More research is needed in this regard to establish the facts. Many high-fibre foods also contain phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants and reduce the damage done by free radicals in the body.

Aids in waste removal

Roughage helps in excreting the waste from the system in a more effective manner and hence improves skin health. It also prevents the excretion of fungus through the skin and prevents the risk of acne outbreaks.

beautiful smiling woman enjoying high fiber energy bar with roughage

Good for the heart

A heart-healthy diet needs to contain a sufficient amount of fibre. It can lower blood pressure and reduce the risks of inflammation, coronary heart disease and stroke. It also helps in lowering the levels of LDL cholesterol in an effective manner. The body releases cholesterol through bile acids into the digestive tract. The acid binds with the roughage and is effectively excreted without being reabsorbed into the system.

Weight management

Fibre adds bulk to the diet, which increases the sense of fullness while eating. This is a key factor for weight reduction and maintaining a healthy weight. The foods containing fibre also remain low in calories, and hence a person can stay full for longer periods without consuming excess calories. It also enhances the fat-burning capacity of the body and helps to move the fat through the digestive tract faster.

It reduces the overall fat absorption in the body. Besides, roughage can also increase the resting metabolic rate, making the body burn more calories even when at rest. Roughage also reduces post-meal insulin levels and helps in reducing the amount of fat stored in the body. So for those who are trying to lose weight, incorporating fibre in the diet is the right choice.

Side effects of roughage

If the fibre consumption is changed too quickly, it can upset the stomach and increase constipation. Soluble fibres absorb water and swell and trap some of the sugars and fats in it. If there is not sufficient water in the system, it can make the process of excretion more difficult.

A sudden increase of fibre content can also have an adverse effect on the gut bacteria, causing abdominal cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. The bacteria will then need some time to adjust to the high fibre intake.

For someone with Crohn’s disease, excess insoluble fibre can also create some problems like the blockage of the bowel. Fibre can also interfere with some medications, and a doctor’s advice on the same is needed. To limit the side effects, it is important to increase the fibre content gradually. It is best to consume fibre all through the day, instead of consuming all of it in one meal and stay hydrated throughout the day.

Many people consume packaged-food items that contain isolated fibres, but the health benefits of the same are not very clear. Some research suggests that they may not have all the positive effects that natural fibre provides. Consumption of natural fibre is always the best option and mix a wide range of food items to get the best possible results.


Fibre is an important part of our daily diet that cannot be missed or neglected. Even though many individuals neglect this aspect of diet, foods rich in roughage are quite easy to incorporate in the daily routine. The process of excretion needs to happen smoothly to preserve health and fibre plays an important role in that.

The trillions of gut bacteria present in the intestine play an important role in our overall well bring. They affect not only the digestion process but also the metabolism rate, the immune system and the mood. Roughage plays an important role in keeping this microbioata in good condition and prevents a wide variety of ailments.

At the same time, diets high in fibre can also have adverse effects and prevent the absorption of minerals like as iron, zinc and calcium. For this reason, a balanced diet which is a mix of different types of fibre is the best choice. 


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