The consequences of early-life nutritional programming in man and other mammalian species have been studied chiefly at the metabolic level. Very few studies, if any, have been performed in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) as the target organ, but extensive GIT studies are needed since the GIT plays a key role in nutrient supply and has an impact on functions of the entire organism. The possible deleterious effects of nutritional programming at the metabolic level were discovered following epidemiological studies in human subjects, and confirmed in animal models. Investigating the impact of programming on GIT structure and function would need appropriate animal models due to ethical restrictions in the use of human subjects. The aim of the present review is to discuss the use of pigs as an animal model as a compromise between ethically acceptable animal studies and the requirement of data which can be interpolated to the human situation. In nutritional programming studies, rodents are the most frequently used model for man, but GIT development and digestive function in rodents are considerably different from those in man. In that aspect, the pig GIT is much closer to the human than that of rodents. The swine species is closely comparable with man in many nutritional and digestive aspects, and thus provides ample opportunity to be used in investigations on the consequences of nutritional programming for the GIT. In particular, the 'sow-piglets' dyad could be a useful tool to simulate the 'human mother-infant' dyad in studies which examine short-, middle- and long-term effects and is suggested as the reference model.