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Diet and Microbiota

Written by
Dr Fathalla Ali, PhD Paediatrics


In the last few decades, many people have become aware that following a certain dietary habit is an important health concern as it has been linked to weight gain and associated metabolic diseases. The human gastrointestinal tract is the home for trillions of bacteria that are continuously shaped by different factors and amongst these factors is the particular dietary habit followed. In many countries the most common dietary habits followed by many people are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, ketogenic, high sugar, low-FODMAP, Western-type and Mediterranean diets. In most cases, people follow these diets to maintain a healthy lifestyle or reduce the symptoms of a particular disease, for example as gluten free diet for treating Celiac Diseases and low-FODMAP for treating irritable bowel syndrome. However, the effect of these different diets on the gut microbiota development are still largely unknown, and could potentially lead to alterations of the gut microbiota, the intestinal barrier, and the immune system.


In a recent review study, Rinninella et al, aimed to define the optimal dietary habit for the optimal gut microbiota structure and function. The authors concluded that:

  • Foods that we eat play an important role in shaping our gut microbiota.


  • Following a diet high in animal protein, saturated fats, simple sugars, and salt (Western Diet) could stimulate the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria which lead to a significant alteration in intestinal barriers. Intestinal barriers are important for nutrient absorption and prevent the unwanted and toxic molecules to enter the blood stream.


  • Intestinal dysbiosis could be caused by the high intake of dietary fats, particularly saturated fats. Gut dysbiosis increase the risk of gut inflammation, colitis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).


  • Following a diet rich in complex carbohydrates and plant proteins could stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria and enhance the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that play important role in maintaining intestinal tissue barriers and immunoregulation.


  • The high consumption of animal proteins from red meat and dairy products could decrease the abundance of Bifidobacteria and SCFAs production, potentially increase the risk of IBD.


  • Consumption of plant proteins stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus and the production of SCFAs.


  • Restoring healthy microbiota composition and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory compounds found to be correlated with the high intake of fatty fish due to high concentration of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (Omega-3 PUFAs).


  • Diet that contains high additives such as artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers could alter microbiota composition and induce microbiota-mediated adverse effects in the host (such as glucose intolerance).


  • Special diet such as low-FODMAP diet or low gluten diet help to improve the symptoms of some diseases (Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Celiac Diseases) but also could impact on the gut microbiota development if this kind of diet is followed for a long period of time.


  • The Mediterranean Diet remains the most effective diet to maintain optimal gut microbiota composition that play a significant role in optimal immune function.


Microbiota, diet, Mediterranean diet, short chain fatty acids, Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, Fat diet, FODMAP, Gluten free diet, vegan, vegetarian.


Rinninella, E., Cintoni, M., Raoul, P., Lopetuso, L. R., Scaldaferri, F., Pulcini, G., Miggiano, G., Gasbarrini, A., & Mele, M. C. (2019). Food Components and Dietary Habits: Keys for a Healthy Gut Microbiota Composition. Nutrients11(10), 2393.

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