The gut microbiota is a highly complex community which evolves and adapts to its host over a lifetime. It has been described as a virtual organ owing to the myriad of functions it performs, including the production of bioactive metabolites, regulation of immunity, energy homeostasis and protection against pathogens. These activities are dependent on the quantity and quality of the microbiota alongside its metabolic potential, which are dictated by a number of factors, including diet and host genetics. In this regard, the gut microbiome is malleable and varies significantly from host to host. These two features render the gut microbiome a candidate ‘organ’ for the possibility of precision microbiomics—the use of the gut microbiome as a biomarker to predict responsiveness to specific dietary constituents to generate precision diets and interventions for optimal health. With this in mind, this two-part review investigates the current state of the science in terms of the influence of diet and specific dietary components on the gut microbiota and subsequent consequences for health status, along with opportunities to modulate the microbiota for improved health and the potential of the microbiome as a biomarker to predict responsiveness to dietary components. In particular, in Part I, we examine the development of the microbiota from birth and its role in health. We investigate the consequences of poor-quality diet in relation to infection and inflammation and discuss diet-derived microbial metabolites which negatively impact health. We look at the role of diet in shaping the microbiome and the influence of specific dietary components, namely protein, fat and carbohydrates, on gut microbiota composition.
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