In the context of diseases of affluence, western diets have in the past years mainly been studied on their fat and sugar content and lack of dietary fiber. Yet, the more general aspect of food processing has recently sparked scientific interest as well. In addition, the gut microbiota have been put forward as an important link between diet, obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCD). Western dietary patterns, containing large amounts of processed foods might create an imbalance in the gut system by affecting gut bacteria and their metabolism. Here we discuss what has been already published regarding the relationship between several recently researched features of processed foods and the etiology of obesity and NCD. The addressed features concern micronutrient and energy density, several types of food additives and the generation of advanced glycation end products by thermal treatment during food processing. Overall, literature indicates that all discussed aspects can be linked to western ailments and that they can have a potential negative impact on human microbiota. Therefore, we propose that the thesis that a distressed gut microbiota is a mechanism that might explain how food processing features could harm human health is gaining empirical evidence. Future research will need to address the question whether the alteration of the gut microbiota is a direct or an indirect (via the host) effect. These conclusions are important assets in the fight against the continuing worldwide upsurge of obesity and NCD.
Keywords: Western diseases; dietary additives; dietary fiber; food processing; gut microbiota; thermal processing.