Dietary fiber may help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity through its effects on the gut microbiota, which is the community of microorganisms that live in the gut.
However, typical Western diets lack the fiber that these friendly microbes need to thrive.
Experiments in mice and humans suggest that snack foods supplemented with particular types of fiber can alter the gut microbiota and lead to widespread physiological effects.
It would be possible to source the fiber for future prebiotic snacks from food industry waste, such as peels, rinds, and husks, which manufacturers would otherwise discard.
The bacteria, archaebacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the human gut — collectively known as the gut microbiota — have a profound effect on both physical and mental well-being.
Research suggests that by feeding the beneficial members of this community, dietary plant fibers can help stave off chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesityTrusted Source.
However, Western-style diets are often high in fat and deficient in these plant fibers. The idea of supplementing otherwise unhealthy snacks, such as cookies and chips, with fiber might seem straightforward, but the relationship between diet, the microbiota, and individual health is highly complex.
Scientists at the Center for Gut Microbiome and Nutrition Research at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, MO, are investigating this relationship with a view to developing prebiotic snack products.
In previous work, they identified sources of fiber that are not only cheap and readily available — such as typically discarded peels, rinds, and husks — but also boost the gut microbes that adults with obesity tend to lack.
In their new research, which appears in NatureTrusted Source, they tested how snacks supplemented with some of these fibers affected the gut microbiota of mice and humans, looking at their possible physiological effects.
“Since snacks are a popular part of Western diets, we are working to help develop a new generation of snack food formulations that people will like to eat and that will support a healthy gut microbiome that affects many aspects of wellness,” says senior author Prof. Jeffrey I. Gordon, M.D., who directs the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine.
The snack food manufacturer Mondelēz International, which owns brands such as belVita, Cadbury, and Oreo, partly funded the work.
In the first phase of their research, the scientists used “gnotobiotic” mice, which are raised in sterile conditions so that they lack any gut microbes of their own.