Carbohydrate gelling agents can be regarded as being representative for the soluble and viscous fractions of dietary fibre. Their dietary concentration affects the consistency of the ingested food as well as the dilution of nutrients and energy. By feeding hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) differing in molecular mass, and thus in its viscosity properties, only the consistency of the diet was modified. Three HEC (of low (LV), medium (MV) and high viscosity (HV)) were employed in a 6-week feeding study with female rats to evaluate the effect of the viscosity on adaptive responses of intestinal growth variables. Each of the HEC was added in three increasing concentrations (8, 16, and 32 %, w/w) to a fibre-free control diet to yield nine test groups besides a fibre-free and an additional, fibre-rich, cereal-based control group. Except for the highest concentration of the high viscosity product (32 % HV-HEC), the dilution of the energy density of the diet was almost completely compensated by an increased food intake. With the same exception, energy utilisation was not impaired and, therefore, body-weight gains in the test groups were not significantly different from that in the control. Most other changes, e.g. increases in small intestinal length, mucosal DNA content, caecal and colonic weight, not only depended on the dietary concentration but also on the viscosity of HEC in a manner that either increasing the viscosity at a given dietary concentration or increasing the dietary concentration at a given viscosity led to the same results. These findings clearly prove the important role of the viscosity of the lumen content, as a mere physico-chemical factor, in determining adaptative growth responses in the intestinal tract of rats.