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Dietary fibre and health - the story so far

Lookup NU author(s): Professor John Mathers


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© 2023 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.This paper reviews progress in research on dietary fibre and human health over the last 5 decades. There is now convincing evidence from prospective cohort studies that diets low in dietary fibre are associated with increased risk of common non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. These findings provide strong support for hypotheses proposed by Denis Burkitt 50 years ago, based on very limited evidence but with considerable imagination and insight. For the first 2-3 decades of this period, research on dietary fibre was hampered by lack of consensus about the definition, and measurement, of this complex and diverse dietary component and by the lack of appropriate tools for investigating the gut microbiome that is central to understanding mechanisms of action. Recent technical and scientific advances in microbiome research (based on fast, low-cost, DNA sequencing) are facilitating investigation of the associations between dietary fibre, the gut microbiome and human health. Current challenges include the need for agreement about the characteristics of a healthy gut microbiome. Although the health benefits attributed to higher dietary fibre intake are likely to be shared with most types of dietary fibre, one should anticipate that different sources of dietary fibre and the other components (resistant starch and non-digestible oligosaccharides) that make up dietary fibre will have characteristically different effects on human physiology and disease risk. In conclusion, population-level intakes of dietary fibre are low and there is a public health priority to develop and implement more effective interventions to increase intake. Dietary fibre is one of the top four nutrients (the others are sodium, total fat and saturated fat) that are included frequently in dietary metrics for assessing links between eating patterns and human health(1). In addition, the recognition that most people, globally, have relatively low intakes of dietary fibre has led to high profile efforts to find ways of supporting individuals to increase their dietary fibre intake(2). This is a remarkable success story for an area of nutrition research that was ignored until about 50 years ago. The Nutrition Society played a pioneering role in stimulating research on dietary fibre and human health by holding the first symposium on the topic in 1973(3). Among the speakers at that symposium was Denis Burkitt who deserves much of the credit for galvanising early research on dietary fibre and health(4)

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mathers JC

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Year: 2023

Pages: epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 14/02/2023

Acceptance date: 02/04/2022

ISSN (print): 0029-6651

ISSN (electronic): 1475-2719

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0029665123002215

PubMed id: 36786062