Polydextrose is a new soluble food ingredient which cannot be digested by intestinal enzymes and so may affect colonic function. Studies in healthy volunteers compared the effects of diet supplementation with 30 g/day polydextrose, a standard dose of 7 g/day ispaghula and two mixtures containing 2 g/day ispaghula with either 30 g/day polydextrose or 10 g/day polydextrose with a control period. During the 10-day periods, the mass, frequency and consistency of faeces were assessed as well as the whole-gut transit time, ease of defaecation, flatulence and palatability of the preparations. All preparations significantly increased the weekly faecal mass above control values (P less than 0.05) but there were no significant differences between the preparations. Transit time and stool frequency were not affected significantly by any of the preparations (P greater than 0.05). Both preparations supplying 30 g/day polydextrose softened stool consistency equally but the other preparations had no effect. All preparations caused flatulence and other gas-related problems but polydextrose caused more than ispaghula, even at the lowest dose of 10 g/day. More volunteers preferred taking the polydextrose drinks than the sachets of ispaghula which formed a viscous drink with water. Despite superior palatability and equally effective stool bulking, polydextrose is unlikely to be an alternative laxative to ispaghula because of the unacceptable levels of flatulence.