Blog by Karen Koning 

A banquet for your microbes

For the most of us Christmas and New Year's Eve will be accompanied by lots of food and drinks. But whether all that food will do you microbiota any good is doubtful. Karen Koning shares with us her December traditions and reveals whether it’s better to stick to a healthy diet, or not?

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A banquet for our microbes_577

Dr. karen Koning is global education manager and senior scientist at Winclove Probiotics

Every year I’m looking forward to Christmas and New Year's Eve enormously. Usually, 5 December is earmarked on our calendar as the day my husband and I go out to buy a Christmas tree. This is the best date to buy a Christmas tree, in the Netherlands anyway. With everybody celebrating Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas Eve), you can be sure to have plenty of choice and you can enjoy your tree for as long as possible. And what else, besides Christmas trees, does this time of year bring to mind? FOOD! Lots of it in my case, because we celebrate Christmas Eve, both Christmas days (in the Netherlands we have a first and second Christmas day, which are both official holidays), and we add on a third of our own. That’s the advantage (or disadvantage) of a large family. But whether all that food will do my microbiota any good is doubtful...


The fact is that the microbiota can change significantly in response to a change in diet. We know that a highly diverse microbiota is associated with better health. Eating enough fruit, vegetables and wholemeal products can promote the diversity of our microbiota, but those are not the standout components of your typical Christmas dinner. Because let’s face it: a wholemeal sandwich with heirloom vegetables and a fruit salad for dessert just isn’t the sort of Christmas dinner that will make people’s faces light up. Fortunately, there is hope for our gut microbes. A study recently conducted by the University of Groningen demonstrated that, in addition to vegetables, fruits and wholemeal products, other foods such as nuts, coffee, tea, buttermilk, dark chocolate and red wine are also associated with a more diverse microbiota.(1)


So there’s no need to stick to a strictly healthy diet to optimize the diversity of your microbiota. On the other hand, there are indications to suggest that our sense of taste is controlled by our microbiota. Our gut bacteria seem to have evolved the ability to induce their host (that’s us) to eat the foods that they need to thrive. Indicators have been identified that show the microbiota is capable of influencing our appetite and food preferences by changing our taste receptors or influencing our satiety- and hunger-related hormones.(2) In other words, bacteria that are crazy about sugar may be capable of making you eat lots of sugar. And that begs the question: Is it really you who decides what you eat at your Christmas dinner, or is it your gut bacteria?

A banquet for our microbes_578


 “Is it really you who decides what you eat at your Christmas dinner, or is it your gut bacteria? ”



In the future, it may become possible to influence the gut bacteria in such a way – using, for instance, probiotics – that we can lower our appetite and promote our preference for healthy foods. Wouldn’t it be nice if a wholemeal sandwich with heirloom vegetables and a fruit salad for desert were the Christmas dinner that makes most of us happy? With a glass of red wine, of course. Cheers! Is it really you who decides what you eat at your Christmas dinner, or is it your gut bacteria?  





1.       Zhernakova, A. Kurilshikov, M. J. Bonder et al. Population-based metagenomics analysis reveals markers for gut microbiome composition and diversity. Science, 2016;352 (6285): 565-9.

2.       Alcock J, Maley CC, Aktipis CA. Is eating behavior manipulated by thegastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. 2014;36: 940-9

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