Support Provided ByLearn More
Body + BrainBody & Brain

Thanks to Microbiome Boost, Donuts May Be Beneficial

Researchers have stumbled upon a strain of beneficial bacteria that seems to thrive on donuts' unique combination of sugar and fat.

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next
When paired with a strain of bacteria, donuts may not be that bad for you.

Editorial note: This article is a satirical piece posted for April fool's day.

Better make that a baker’s dozen.

Researchers investigating how various foods affect the bacteria that live in our intestines happened upon a combination of carbohydrates and fats that will make any pastry lover happy.

When eaten with the right strain of bacteria, researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands discovered that donuts may not be unhealthy after all. In fact, they could be beneficial in the same way that a beer after a strenuous workout helps speed recovery.

The bacteria, P. tursiops , is a close relative to P. corpi , a strain that has been found to improve glucose and insulin responses in people who have eaten wheat and barley bread but is also correlated with incidence of rheumatoid arthritis .

Support Provided ByLearn More

The twist is that P. tursiops is only activated when it comes in contact with more readily accessible carbohydrates, like the sugars found in the glaze or frosting of a donut. When P. tursiops kicks into high gear, the result is an even release of fats over several hours that allows the body to make better use of the calories.

“It appears as though the frying of dough traps the fat within the bread of the donut. This makes it hard to digest until these bacteria break down the dough,” said Olivie von Bollen, a professor of microbiology at Maastricht and lead author of the study.

Simply eating an unglazed or unfrosted cake donut isn’t enough to activate P. tursiops , leaving the fat stuck to the carbohydrates in a gooey mess known as a gut bomb.

Von Bollen and her team don’t know exactly why P. tursiops seems digest sugars in order of increasing complexity, but they suspect it has something to do with the distribution of lipopolysaccharides around the bacterium’s cell wall, which protect the cell against compounds found in bile, the digestive fluid. The curious arrangement—the cells resemble bloated dolphins—also inspired the name— Tursiops is the genus that contains bottlenose dolphins.

“Fractals are found throughout nature, but it is rare to see them in two kingdoms of life in this way,” said Bettina Citroen, a graduate student in von Bollen’s lab and a coauthor on the paper.


Though von Bollen, Citroen, and their colleagues still have to map out the mechanism by which P. tursiops feasts on donuts, they’re investigating how to incorporate the probiotic into a hard candy similar to sprinkles. “Of course, the sprinkles will look like rainbow dolphins ,” Citroen said.

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Photo credits: leahwsprague/Flickr (CC BY NC) Tyler Howe and Janice Carr/CDC