It’s the fiber, not the fat

I came across this 2020 fiber-vs-fat rodent study from its citation in Gut microbiota and aging:

“Dietary intervention studies largely revolve around altering fat content. Little consideration has been given to amount of fiber and whether or not it is soluble.

We examined age- and sex-specific effects of a refined high-fat/low soluble fiber diet (rHFD) on body weight and gut microbiota composition relative to mice fed a refined low-fat diet (rLFD) that is nutritionally and compositionally matched to rHFD.

Chow diet supplied energy as 13.4% fat, 28% protein, 57.9% carbohydrates, and 15% dietary fiber (range of total dietary fiber between 15 and 25% with 15–20% insoluble and 2–5% soluble fiber).

Two refined diets were used: rLFD supplying energy as 12% fat, 21% protein, and 67% carbohydrates; and rHFD supplying energy as 45% fat, 20% protein, and 35% carbohydrates. [Both rLFD and rHFD contained] 5% fiber in the form of insoluble cellulose.

Young adult animals consumed chow diet for 17 weeks, and 1-year aged animals consumed chow diet for 60 weeks. We included a 1-week transition period wherein all mice were fed rLFD. For the following 4 weeks, half of the animals remained on rLFD while the other half consumed rHFD.

After 4 weeks, young adult female mice showed resistance to weight gain to rHFD, consistent with previous reports. Aged females fed rHFD showed rapid body weight gain relative to rLFD-fed aged females.

Young adult and 1-year aged males showed a significant gain in body weight that was independent of refined diet formulation, suggesting that other components of the refined diet contribute to body weight gain that is independent of dietary fat.

Transition from chow diet to rLFD resulted in changes to microbiota community structure and composition in all groups, regardless of sex and age. This dietary transition was characterized by a loss within phylum Bacteroidetes and a concomitant bloom of Clostridia and Proteobacteria in a sex- and age-specific manner.

No changes to gut microbiota community structure and composition were observed between mice consuming either rLFD or rHFD, suggesting that transition to rLFD that lacks soluble fiber is the primary driver of gut microbiota alterations, with limited additional impact of dietary fat on gut microbiota.” “It’s the fiber, not the fat: significant effects of dietary challenge on the gut microbiome”

It’s alright for researchers in the Abstract and Introduction section to interpret how their rodent study may apply to humans. I appreciate when they confine their statements elsewhere to what they actually measured and found.

This study didn’t measure inflammation, behaviors, neurobiologics, metabolic parameters, immune biomarkers, or hormones. They can qualify statements with “may” all they want, but this study didn’t provide direct evidence for either:

“Age-specific vulnerability to diet-induced body weight gain in females may be related to aging-related changes to estrogens.”


“The lack of differences between rLFD- and rHFD-fed mice may indicate that gut microbiota structure and composition can be dissociated from body weight and systemic inflammation.”

Papers that cite this study can’t rely on its Abstract for “regulating metabolic, immune, behavioral, and neurobiological outcomes” because its experiments didn’t directly measure such outcomes.

Removing 2-5% soluble fiber from subjects’ diet had large effects. I look forward to reading human studies that are informed by this study.

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