The majority of dietary fibre (DF) originates from plant cell walls. Chemically, DF mostly comprise carbohydrate polymers, which resist hydrolysis by digestive enzymes in the mammalian small intestine, but can be fermented by large intestinal bacteria. One of the main benefits of DF relate to its fermentability, which affects microbial diversity and function within the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT), as well as the by-products of the fermentation process. Much work examining DF tends to focus on various purified ingredients, which have been extracted from plants. Increasingly, the validity of this is being questioned in terms of human nutrition, as there is evidence to suggest that it is the actual complexity of DF which affects the complexity of the GIT microbiota. Here, we review the literature comparing results of fermentation of purified DF substrates, with whole plant foods. There are strong indications that the more complex and varied the diet (and its ingredients), the more complex and varied the GIT microbiota is likely to be. Therefore, it is proposed that as the DF fermentability resulting from this complex microbial population has such profound effects on human health in relation to diet, it would be appropriate to include DF fermentability in its characterization—a functional approach of immediate relevance to nutrition.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited