The Western diet, comprised of highly refined carbohydrates and fat but reduced complex plant polysaccharides, has been attributed to the prevalence of obesity. A concomitant rise in the consumption of fructose and sugar substitutes such as sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, even rare sugars, has mirrored this trend, as both probable contributor and solution to the epidemic. Acknowledgement of the gut microbiota as a factor involved in obesity has sparked much controversy as to the cause and consequence of this relationship. Dietary intakes are a known modulator of gut microbial phylogeny and metabolic activity, frequently exploited to stimulate beneficial bacteria, promoting health benefits. Comparably little research exists on the impact of 'unconscious' dietary modulation on the resident commensal community mediated by increased fructose and sugar substitute consumption. This review highlights mechanisms of potential host and gut microbial fructose and sugar substitute metabolism. Evidence is presented suggesting these sugar compounds, particularly fructose, condition the microbiota, resulting in acquisition of a westernized microbiome with altered metabolic capacity. Disturbances in host-microbe interactions resulting from fructose consumption are also explored.
© 2012 The Authors. obesity reviews © 2012 International Association for the Study of Obesity.