Nutrition researchers at the University of Illinois examined the habitual dietary patterns of 4- to 8-year-old children and their microbiota composition. Prior to the study, the researchers hypothesized that children who ate more fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, would have a more diverse microbiota that was also more stable over time. They also speculated that a diet high in animal products and processed foods would be associated with less beneficial bacterial composition that was more variable over time.
For the study, the children were not prescribed certain foods to eat, but parents reported their children’s usual food and beverage intake over the past year. The microbiota composition was determined from fecal samples collected throughout a 6-month period. Parents recorded a 3-day food diary—the types and quantities of food consumed—for their children before each sample was collected.
Using exploratory Principal Component Analysis and Factor Analysis, the researchers separated children’s diets into two groups or patterns. Dietary Pattern 1 was characterized by fish, refined carbohydrates, vegetables, juice and sweetened beverages, protein foods, kid’s meals, condiments, snacks, and sweets. Dietary Pattern 2 included grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Fruit and starchy foods were present in both patterns. Based on the patterns, two distinct microbial profiles emerged.
Specific bacterial families were present in the microbiota in higher or lower levels, based on the dietary patterns, as well. The researchers noted the presence of Bifidobacterium, Prevotella, and Roseburia, which are typically related to health benefits such as immunity and protection against pathogens. Lower levels of Clostridiaceae also were observed. This is a bacterial family of potential interest in relation to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“This gives us insight in that, now that we know the types of foods in the dietary patterns, and the nutrient composition of those foods, we can ask those more specific questions about if we were to intervene and change something," said Sharon Donovan, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I and co-author of the study. "If we had kids eating in one dietary pattern and we shifted that diet, would we be able to see a shift in their microbiome? It gives us information that makes it a possibility to use a personalized nutrition approach, formulating diets that are geared toward health needs.”