Beneficial health effects of low-digestible carbohydrate consumption

Br J Nutr. 2001 Mar;85 Suppl 1:S23-30. doi: 10.1079/bjn2000259.


Low-digestible carbohydrates represent a class of enzyme-resistant saccharides that have specific effects on the human gastrointestinal tract. in the small bowel, they affect nutrient digestion and absorption, glucose and lipid metabolism and protect against known risk factors of cardiovascular disease. In the colon they are mainly degraded by anaerobic bacteria in a process called fermentation. As a consequence, faecal nitrogen excretion is enhanced, which is used clinically to prevent or treat hepatic encephalopathy. Low-digestible carbohydrates are trophic to the epithelia of the ileum and colon, which helps to avoid bacterial translocation. Short-chain fatty acids are important fermentation products and are evaluated as new therapeutics in acute colitis. They are considered in the primary prevention of colorectal cancer. The bifidogenic effect of fructo-oligosaccharides merits further attention, Unfermented carbohydrates increase faecal bulk and play a role in the treatment of chronic functional constipation, symptomatic diverticulosis and, possibly, the irritable bowel syndrome. In conclusion, low-digestible carbohydrates may play a role in the maintenance of human digestive health. However, the strength of evidence differs between disease entities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / therapeutic use*
  • Dietary Fiber / therapeutic use
  • Digestion
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / diet therapy
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diet therapy*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fiber