1. Adult male rats were maintained on diets containing 80 g methylcellulose/kg of low (25 cP), medium (400 cP) and high (1500 cP) viscosity.
2. After 10 d, the viscosity of stomach and caecal contents was found to have increased in proportion to that of the dietary fibre. Concentrations of volatile fatty acids in caecal digesta were lowest with the high-viscosity fibre but acetate was the major acid present with all three diets. Acetate was the only acid found in significant quantities in hepatic portal venous plasma and concentrations of this acid were unaffected by diet.
3. Concentrations of glucose in arterial blood were low with the medium-and high-viscosity diets while the content of liver glycogen was high. These effects of fibre were not directly on glucose absorption as the intestines were net removers of the hexose at the time of sampling.
4. Hepatic lipogenesis and plasma triacylglycerol concentrations were both higher in rats fed on the low-viscosity fibre. Plasma cholesterol concentrations, hepatic cholesterol synthesis and faecal bile acid excretion were not altered by dietary fibre viscosity.
5. We conclude that the effects of dietary fibre on carbohydrate absorption and storage and fatty acid synthesis are a function of the viscosity of the fibre in solution, high viscosity slowing the digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Large-bowel microbial fermentation is not of direct significance to these events. In contrast, effects of fibre polysaccharides on sterol metabolism seem not to be related to their rheological properties.