Since many years, the role of the colonic microbiota in maintaining the host's overall health and well-being has been recognized. Dietary modulation of the microbiota composition and activity has been achieved by the use of pre-, pro- and synbiotics. In this review, we will summarize the available evidence on the modification of bacterial metabolism by dietary intervention with pre-, pro- and synbiotics. Enhanced production of SCFA as a marker of increased saccharolytic fermentation is well documented in animal and in vitro studies. Decreased production of potentially toxic protein fermentation metabolites, such as sulfides, phenolic and indolic compounds, has been less frequently demonstrated. Besides, pre-, pro- and synbiotics also affect other metabolic pathways such as the deconjugation of secondary bile acids, bacterial enzyme activities and mineral absorption. Data from human studies are less conclusive. The emergence of new analytical techniques such as metabolite profiling has revealed new pathways affected by dietary intervention. However, an important challenge for current and future research is to relate changes in bacterial metabolism to concrete health benefits. Potential targets and expected benefits have been identified: reduced risk for the metabolic syndrome and prevention of colorectal cancer.