1. Twelve young adult male volunteers were given a low-fibre white bread diet (9 g neutral-detergent fibre (NDF)/d) and a medium-fibre coarse-bran bread diet (22 g NDF/d), each lasting 20 d. In a third period of 20 d the volunteers were subdivided in groups of four, consuming a high-fibre coarse-bran bread diet (35 g NDF/d), a medium-fibre fine-bran diet (22 g NDF/d, bran particle size > 0.35 mm) or a wholemeal bread diet (22 g NDF/d). Digestion of dietary fibre and its components hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin were determined as well as colonic function.
2. An increase of the amount of dietary fibre (through bran in bread) from 9 to 22 g NDF/d resulted in the following significant changes (P < 0.01): increase in faecal wet weight of 63 g/d, decrease in the percentage of faecal dry weight from 27 to 24, increase in defaecation frequency of 0.2 stools/d and reduction of the intestinal transit time of 36 h.
3. Further significant changes with regard to all factors mentioned were observed during the high-fibre diet. Faecal wet weight was significantly (P < 0.05) lower with the fine-bran bread diet than with the coarse-bran bread on a similar fibre intake of 22 g NDF/d. Results obtained in the wholemeal-bread period did not show significant differences compared with those from the coarse-bran bread period of 22 g NDF/d.
4. Mean digestibilities for the fibre from bread were: for NDF 0.34, for hemicellulose 0.46, for cellulose 0.20 and for lignin 0.04.
5. The results obtained suggest that the theory of sponge activity of the fibre matrix structure is the predominant factor accounting for the water binding capacity of fibre in the colon.