The dietary pattern that characterizes the Western diet is strongly associated with obesity and related metabolic diseases, but biological mechanisms supporting these associations remain largely unknown. We argue that the Western diet promotes inflammation that arises from both structural and behavioral changes in the resident microbiome. The environment created in the gut by ultra-processed foods, a hallmark of the Western diet, is an evolutionarily unique selection ground for microbes that can promote diverse forms of inflammatory disease. Recognizing the importance of the microbiome in the development of diet-related disease has implications for future research, public dietary advice as well as food production practices. Research into food patterns suggests that whole foods are a common denominator of diets associated with a low level of diet-related disease. Hence, by studying how ultra-processing changes the properties of whole foods and how these foods affect the gut microbiome, more useful dietary guidelines can be made. Innovations in food production should be focusing on enabling health in the super-organism of man and microbe, and stronger regulation of potentially hazardous components of food products is warranted.
Keywords: acellular nutrients; additives; dietary guidelines; food industry; inflammation; metabolic disease; microbiome; ultra-processed food; western diet; whole foods.