Red meat and fiber rich foods are the dietary factors most consistently related to colon carcinogenesis. Although several components in these dietary sources may contribute, the biochemical mechanism by which red meat and fiber affect colorectal carcinogenesis has not yet been established. Sphingomyelin metabolism is a novel signal transduction pathway that may have an impact on colonic tumorigenesis. The present study investigated the activity changes of sphingomyelinase (SMase), ceramidase and caspase-3 in colonic mucosa of rats fed on a high fat control diet, the control diet with beef and the control diet with fiber (cellulose). After a three week feeding period the colonic mucosa were scraped and homogenized and enzyme activities were determined. The fiber diet significantly increased the activities of neutral and acid SMases but had no effect on those of alkaline SMase and neutral ceramidase. The beef diet, on the other hand, significantly reduced neutral ceramidase activity, but had no effect on the activities of any SMase. In addition, the beef diet significantly reduced and the fiber diet increased caspase-3 activity in the colonic mucosa when compared with the control diet. The changes of caspase-3 activities were abolished by preincubating the samples with caspase-3 inhibitor. No significant changes of intestinal alkaline phosphatase could be found among the three dietary groups. In conclusion, fiber and red meat in the high fat diet affected in an opposite way the enzymes responsible for sphingomyelin metabolism and apoptosis in the colon. The effects may have implications in colorectal tumorigenesis.