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. E Capuano
dr. WT Steegenga
prof. dr. HA Schols
prof. dr. H Smidt
Examiner(s)prof. dr. HA Schols
dr. WT Steegenga

Language of instruction:


Mandatory knowledge:

ZSS06100 Laboratory Safety

Assumed knowledge on:

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


Only part of the food and feed consumed by humans and animals is digestible by host-derived enzymes in the intestinal tract. Even though protein, fat  and starch will be mostly taken up in the small intestine, part of them escape absorption in the small intestine and together with most of the fibrous carbohydrates and phytochemicals will reach the colon. Here the indigestible food remnants will be utilized by the large intestinal microbiota and converted into a vast array of metabolites that can impact gut health but also have systemic effect on other peripheral tissues. Dietary fibres influence food digestion and nutrient uptake in the upper digestive tract through their physical properties. In addition, fibre fermentation - and phytochemicals metabolism and utilisation in the colon is essential for host’s health. The chemical structure and amount of non-digestible and undigested food components influences the microbiota composition and –activity. The interplay between microbiota and fermentable compounds and between different microorganisms determine the location of fermentation within the colon as well as type and level of fermentation products. One of the most abundant and most intensively studied fermentation products are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), 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 function and the effect of fermentation products on (gut) health strongly depends on the age of the host and could 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. The functional and structural features of the colon will be explained and related to pathological changes in this last organ of the gastrointestinal tract. 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 the human 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 provides satiety (suitable for weight management) or improves gut health and/or ensure a high uptake of dietary fibre (relevant to initiate and maintain a healthy microbiota.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- understand how microbial metabolism takes place in the gut, including microbial processes, microbiota composition and –activity;
- be able to explain how the different layers of the colonic wall contribute to its normal physiological functioning;
- understand dietary fibre complexity, structure & fermentation properties;
- relate the food & food components to metabolic products;
- understand how metabolites interact with barrier properties of the gut and how they affect gut health and human health in general;
- evaluate in vivo and in vitro models to study the fermentation process and appropriate functioning of the colonic wall;
- 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;
- design, carry out and evaluate experiments using in vitro fermentation models and evaluate outcome.


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


Final grading is based on a written exam (70%) with 50% open and 50% closed questions, a lab practical report (15%) and a case study presentation (15%). 

For each element a minimum pass mark of 5.5 is required. The grade for the lab practical report and the case study presentation are valid for 5 years.


Course material will be available at the start of the course. Additional material will be provided in Brightspace.

Restricted Optional for: MFTFood TechnologyMScE: Spec. E - Food Digestion and Health3WD
MNHNutrition and HealthMScF: Spec. F - Food Digestion and Health3WD