This review provides evidence that not only the content of nutrients but indeed the structural organization of nutrients is a major determinant of human health. The gut microbiota provides nutrients for the host by digesting food structures otherwise indigestible by human enzymes, thereby simultaneously harvesting energy and delivering nutrients and metabolites for the nutritional and biological benefit of the host. Microbiota-derived nutrients, metabolites, and antigens promote the development and function of the host immune system both directly by activating cells of the adaptive and innate immune system and indirectly by sustaining release of monosaccharides, stimulating intestinal receptors and secreting gut hormones. Multiple indirect microbiota-dependent biological responses contribute to glucose homeostasis, which prevents hyperglycemia-induced inflammatory conditions. The composition and function of the gut microbiota vary between individuals and whereas dietary habits influence the gut microbiota, the gut microbiota influences both the nutritional and biological homeostasis of the host. A healthy gut microbiota requires the presence of beneficial microbiotic species as well as vital food structures to ensure appropriate feeding of the microbiota. This review focuses on the impact of plant-based food structures, the “fiber-encapsulated nutrient formulation”, and on the direct and indirect mechanisms by which the gut microbiota participate in host immune function.
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