The human gut is populated by an array of bacterial species, which develop important metabolic and immune functions, with a marked effect on the nutritional and health status of the host. Dietary component also play beneficial roles beyond basic nutrition, leading to the development of the functional food concept and nutraceuticals. Prebiotics, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and phytochemicals are the most well characterized dietary bioactive compounds. The beneficial effects of prebiotics mainly relay on their influence on the gut microbiota composition and their ability to generate fermentation products (short-chain fatty acids) with diverse biological roles. PUFAs include the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, whose balance may influence diverse aspects of immunity and metabolism. Moreover, interactions between PUFAs and components of the gut microbiota may also influence their biological roles. Phytochemicals are bioactive non-nutrient plant compounds, which have raised interest because of their potential effects as antioxidants, antiestrogenics, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and anticarcinogenics. However, the bioavailability and effects of polyphenols greatly depend on their transformation by components of the gut microbiota. Phytochemicals and their metabolic products may also inhibit pathogenic bacteria while stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria, exerting prebiotic-like effects. Therefore, the intestinal microbiota is both a target for nutritional intervention and a factor influencing the biological activity of other food compounds acquired orally. This review focuses on the reciprocal interactions between the gut microbiota and functional food components, and the consequences of these interactions on human health.
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