FCH-32306 Food Digestion: Fermentation and Gut Health


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work5
Course coordinator(s)prof. dr. HA Schols
ir. MJB Molenaar
Lecturer(s)dr. WT Steegenga
dr. E Capuano
prof. dr. H Smidt
prof. dr. HA Schols
Examiner(s)prof. dr. HA Schols
dr. WT Steegenga

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

FCH-20806 Food Chemistry or FHM-20306 Food Microbiology, HNE-25306 Food Components and Health (or similar).


Only part of the food and feed consumed by humans and animals will be digestible by host-derived enzymes in the intestinal tract. While protein, fat, small carbohydrates and starch will be taken up in the small intestine, most of the fibrous carbohydrates and phytonutrients will reach the colon where they will be fermented by the colonic microbiota. Dietary fibres influence food digestion and nutrient uptake in the upper digestive tract through their physical properties. In addition, fibre- and phytonutrient-fermentation and utilisation in the colon is essential for host's health. The chemical structure and amount of non-digestible food components influences the microbiota composition and activity. The interplay between microbiota and fermentable compounds and between different bacteria determine the location of fermentation within the colon as well as type and level of fermentation products. One of the most abundant fermentation products are short chain fatty acids, known as energy source but also for controlling gut barrier integrity. The uptake and metabolic function of SCFAs is strongly related to various health effects. Food uptake and composition, microbiota composition and the effect of fermentation products on (gut) health strongly depends on the age of the host and could extremely differ for e.g. infants, adults and elderly.
In this course, food components not digested in the upper digestive tract and their fermentation in the lower tract will be discussed in detail. You will learn that the process of fermentation can be studied by using in vitro models, in vivo animal models, and advantages and limitations will be discussed. The interaction between non-digestible food components and microbiota activity, as well as the interaction between different microorganisms in the colon will be discussed and visualised. Although having limitations, in vitro simulation models and animal models enable us to predict the behaviour of non-digestible food components in human's large intestine and their benefits for human health. The direct effect of non-digestible food components in human is much more difficult to measure, but will be discussed for specific (patient) populations, also in view of emerging innovative technologies for sampling from humans. The knowledge on fermentation of food components can be applied to design food products, e.g. a food product that gives a specific satiety (suitable for weight management) and a high uptake of dietary fibre (relevant to control and maintain a healthy microbiota and to lower glycaemic index and cholesterol levels)

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- understand how fermentation takes place in the gut, including microbial processes, microbiota composition and -activity and relevance of fermentation products for human health;
- critically evaluate in vivo and in vitro models to study the fermentation process;
- apply the knowledge on gut fermentation in a case study aiming to design a food product for a specific application e.g. healthy colon, for controlling food uptake, lowering cholesterol and glycaemic index, etc. ;
- run experiments with in vitro fermentation models and evaluate outcome.


The course consists of lectures, tutorials, a case study and a practical.


The final grade is based on the written exam (80%) and the results of the case study (10%) and the lab practical (10%).


Course material will be available at the start of the course. Additional material will be provided through Blackboard.

Restricted Optional for: MFTFood TechnologyMScJ: Food Digestion and Health3WD
MNHNutrition and HealthMScF: Food Digestion and Health3WD