You have probably heard that you should increase your fiber intake. But why? What is so great about a high-fiber diet? Although fiber itself has no calories and is not absorbed by the body, it has a multitude of health benefits and is an essential part of our diet.

You have probably heard that you should increase your fiber intake. But why? What is so great about a high-fiber diet? Although fiber itself has no calories and is not absorbed by the body, it has a multitude of health benefits and is an essential part of our diet.

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Sometimes, fiber — either derived from plants or synthetic — is added to processed snack bars and other less-than-healthy foods.

There are two kinds of dietary fiber: insoluble and soluble. Each has its own health benefits. Sources of soluble fiber include fruit, some vegetables, oats and beans. When soluble fiber mixes with a liquid, it forms a gel. Insoluble fiber comes from fruits, grains and vegetables. It adds bulk and acts like a brush while passing through the digestive system.

Some of the health benefits of fiber include that it:

• Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet can lower your risk for hemorrhoids and diverticular disease.

• Prevents and relieves constipation. Fiber increases the weight and size of your stool by absorbing water. This helps soften your stool so it is easier to pass.

• Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber helps lower total blood cholesterol by helping to remove low-density lipoproteins, aka bad cholesterol, from the body. Studies also have shown that fiber has other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

• Helps control blood sugar. Soluble fiber helps slow your body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugars.

• Helps with weight loss and management. Fiber foods tend to be filling, so it takes fewer calories to feel satisfied.

• Improves digestive health. Fermentable fibers help feed the billions of good bacteria in our guts. These gut microbes have enzymes that help break down various kinds of fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids that have their own list of health benefits. Microbes help strengthen our immune system and decrease inflammation.

Healthier bones. Some types of soluble fiber contain prebiotics, which help increase the bioavailability of minerals from foods, including calcium. Prebiotics can be found in asparagus, leeks, soybeans, wheat and oats.

How much fiber do you need? The American Heart Association recommends 25 grams of fiber daily for women and 38 grams for men. According to the 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American eats about 16 grams of fiber daily. Some researchers claim our fiber intake should be closer to 50 grams a day.

Getting this much fiber requires conscious effort to work it into your diet. Following are some tips for getting more daily fiber:

• Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Eat the skin on fruits and vegetables when possible, after a thorough washing.

• Snack on popcorn, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

• Start your day with a high-fiber cereal. Good choices include All Bran, Shredded Wheat, Fiber One and Raisin Bran.

• Try more recipes with beans, peas, barley, lentils, quinoa, bulgur or brown rice.

• Choose breads, cereals, tortillas and crackers that list whole grain as the first ingredient on the label.

• Make at least half of your grain servings whole grain.

• Add fiber to your diet slowly, over two or three weeks. If you add it too fast, you may feel bloated or have gas pains.

• Drink six to eight cups of water and other fluids daily to help with digestion.

• Buy more unprocessed foods. Fiber is often removed from highly processed foods. The synthetic fiber added to many processed foods, such as snack bars and artificial sweeteners, can cause gastrointestinal upset, so proceed with caution.

Some exceptionally high-fiber foods include Fiber One cereal, which has 14 grams in half a cup; avocados, one of which has about 12 grams; cooked navy beans, which provide 10 grams in half a cup; and prunes, which have six grams in half a cup.

Black Beans and Quinoa with Roasted Peppers

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 red or yellow bell peppers

1 poblano or green bell pepper

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1 small onion, minced

1 cup cooked quinoa

1 can no-added-salt black beans, drained and rinsed

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and place skin up on a lined baking sheet. Broil until blistered and charred in places, 10-12 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and dice the peppers. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and oregano. Mix in the peppers and remaining ingredients.

Nutrition Information: 270 calories, 12 g fat, 31 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 9 g protein, 260 mg sodium