Re-evaluation of the mechanisms of dietary fibre and implications for macronutrient bioaccessibility, digestion and postprandial metabolism

Myriam M.-L. Grundy, Cathrina H. Edwards, Alan R. Mackie, Michael J. Gidley, Peter J. Butterworth, Peter R. Ellis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

252 Citations (Scopus)
291 Downloads (Pure)


The positive effects of dietary fibre on health are now widely recognised; however, our understanding of the mechanisms involved in producing such benefits remains unclear. There are even uncertainties about how dietary fibre in plant foods should be defined and analysed. This review attempts to clarify the confusion regarding the mechanisms of action of dietary fibre and deals with current knowledge on the wide variety of dietary fibre materials, comprising mainly non-starch polysaccharides that are not digested by enzymes of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These non-digestible materials range from intact cell walls of plant tissues to individual polysaccharide solutions often used in mechanistic studies. We discuss how the structure and properties of fibre are affected during food processing and how this can impact on nutrient digestibility. Dietary fibre can have multiple effects on GI function, including GI transit time, and increased digesta viscosity, thereby affecting flow and mixing behaviour. Also, cell wall encapsulation influences macronutrient digestibility through limited access to digestive enzymes and/or substrate and product release. Moreover, encapsulation of starch can limit the extent of gelatinisation during hydrothermal processing of plant foods. Emphasis is placed on the effects of diverse forms of fibre on rates and extents of starch and lipid digestion, and how it is important that better understanding of such interactions with respect to the physiology and biochemistry of digestion is needed. In conclusion, we point to areas of further investigation that are expected to contribute to realisation of the full potential of dietary fibre on health and well-being of humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Early online date7 Jul 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jul 2016


  • plant cell walls
  • dietary fibre
  • food structure
  • bioaccessibility
  • gastrointestinal functions


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