During the last century, human nutrition has evolved from the definition of our nutritional needs and the identification of ways to meet them, to the identification of food components that can optimise our physiological and psychological functions. This development, which aims to ensure the welfare, health and reduced susceptibility to disease during life, gave birth to the concept of "functional foods". In this context, there is an increasing interest in the physiological effects induced by the dense and diverse microbiota which inhabits the human colon and whose development depends on the fermentation of undigested food residues. Thus, much research aims at identifying ways to guide these impacts in order to benefit the health of the host. It is in this context that the concept of "prebiotics" was developed in the 1990s. Since then, prebiotics have stimulated extensive work in order to clarify their definition, their nature and their physiological properties in accordance with the evolution of knowledge on the intestinal microbiota. However many questions remain open about their specificities, their mechanism(s) of action and therefore the relevance of their current categorisation.
Keywords: Appetite regulation; Competition for substrates; Dietary fibre; Fermentation; Health effect; Immune functions; Intestinal barrier; Microbiota composition; Mineral absorption; Non-digestible carbohydrates; Oligosaccharides; Resistant starch; Short-chain fatty acids.