The effects of carbohydrate structure on the composition and functionality of the human gut microbiota

© 2020 Elsevier Ltd Background: Human health depends on a population of microorganisms that inhabit the gut and contribute to homeostasis of the host, including nutrition, immunity and metabolism. Many of the organisms are interactive and mutually dependent, where the end-products for one organism become the fuel for another through substrate and metabolic cross-feeding. To optimise the gut microbiota using diet, the composition and functionality of the gut microbiota, including these interacting networks, must be understood. Microbial composition and functionality is affected by the structure of the energy input, which is primarily dietary fibre for the gut microbiota. The structure of dietary fibre has been reviewed by carbohydrate chemists, but knowledge of how dietary fibre structure affects the gut microbiota is limited. Scope and approach: The hierarchical structures of dietary fibre are reviewed, encompassing macrostructure, mesostructure and molecular structure, and how they are affected by food processing and digestion. These factors are considered in relation to their affects on microbial composition and functionality, to provide insight on the interactions between diet, the microbiota, and human health. Key findings and conclusions: Food processing and digestion affect food structure, primarily through the removal of some soluble fractions and increased solubilisation of insoluble fractions. The provision of insoluble carbohydrates to the colon appears important for the sustenance of ‘keystone’ species that play a crucial role in stabilising the gut community. Further work is needed at the microbial strain level to understand the impact of increasing fibre solubility. This should be done in studies using well-characterised carbohydrates that consider the impact of food processing and digestion.