The gut microbiota and its metabolic products interact with the host in many different ways, influencing gut homoeostasis and health outcomes. The species composition of the gut microbiota has been shown to respond to dietary change, determined by competition for substrates and by tolerance of gut conditions. Meanwhile, the metabolic outputs of the microbiota, such as SCFA, are influenced both by the supply of dietary components and via diet-mediated changes in microbiota composition. There has been significant progress in identifying the phylogenetic distribution of pathways responsible for formation of particular metabolites among human colonic bacteria, based on combining cultural microbiology and sequence-based approaches. Formation of butyrate and propionate from hexose sugars, for example, can be ascribed to different bacterial groups, although propionate can be formed via alternative pathways from deoxy-sugars and from lactate by a few species. Lactate, which is produced by many gut bacteria in pure culture, can also be utilised by certain Firmicutes to form butyrate, and its consumption may be important for maintaining a stable community. Predicting the impact of diet upon such a complex and interactive system as the human gut microbiota not only requires more information on the component groups involved but, increasingly, the integration of such information through modelling approaches.