Congratulations to Sharon and Claire!

Our graduate and undergraduate students are rockin’ it!  Congratulations, ladies!

Sharon Thompson, a predoctoral fellow in the laboratory, was awarded a predoctoral fellowship from the USDA AFRI NIFA Fellowship Program.  The two-year, $120,000 fellowship was awarded for a study entitled “Impact of avocado consumption on the gut-microbiota-liver axis among adults with overweight and obesity.” In addition, Sharon was a finalist and the grand prize winner in the American Society for Nutrition’s Clinical Emerging Leaders Competition.

Claire Cheng, an undergraduate researcher in the laboratory, was selected as a 2019 Emerging Leader in Nutrition by the American Society for Nutrition. Claire was also recently recognized by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition for her outstanding undergraduate research contributions.  She was awarded BOTH the Nishida Research Award and the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award.  Lastly, Claire was recently accepted into the M.S., R.D. program at Tufts.


Congratulations 2019 graduates!

Congratulations to our 2019 graduates!  Stay in touch!

Yijie (Claire) Cheng, B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition

Christine Jones, B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition

Jessica Kassuelke, B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition

Arim Lee, B.S. in Chemistry

Sean Sheth, B.S. in Molecular and Celluar Biology

Arti Veller, B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology (with distinction)


What is inulin, and why is it showing up in so many food products?

Dr. Holscher is quoted in an article in the Washington Post about inulin, a common prebiotic.  


June 12 at 7:00 AM

Fiber is “the new protein,” according to market research firms. But it could also be the new pain in your stomach.

If you’re like most Americans, you’re trying to add more fiber to your diet. That’s a good thing, because the average American gets only half the recommended amount of fiber each day. Manufacturers are responding to consumers’ wishes by adding fiber to a plethora of foods and beverages, including cereals, energy bars, protein supplements, “healthier” cookies, diet ice cream and even bottled water.

One of the most prevalent fiber-boosting ingredients is inulin. Like any fiber, it can cause gas, bloating and abdominal pain if consumed too quickly or in large quantities. Many of my clients who have complained about digestive discomfort don’t realize how much inulin they’re consuming each day. Most of them have never even heard of it.

Here’s what you should know about inulin, including how much you need and how to determine how much you are getting.

Read the full article here:

What Are Prebiotics?

Interested in learning more about prebiotics?  Check out this article in the U.S. News & World Report.  Dr. Holscher gives a tip on how to remember the difference between probiotics and prebiotics and provides information about some of the health benefits of prebiotic consumption.

Chances are, you’ve heard about probiotics. You know, those good gut bacteria that may provide a boost to gut health and offer a variety of other health benefits. Probiotics are also present in yogurt and other fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha, as well as supplements.

But what are prebiotics? They’re essentially compounds that feed the friendly bacteria in the gut. They are largely fermentable carbohydrates — meaning us humans cannot digest them. Prebiotics help nourish gut bacteria so they can better thrive.

To remember the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, take this advice from Hannah D. Holscher, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois: “When I think about prebiotics, I remember the ‘e’ for the energy they provide for gut bacteria. And for probiotics, I think of the ‘o’ for organism in the gut microbiome.”

11 high-fiber foods to help America close the fiber gap

Looking for some fiber-rich foods to add to your diet?  Dr. Holscher is quoted in an article by Julia Belluz in Vox.  

Lots of small changes to the diet can help us get the fiber we’re missing.

Fiber is the closest thing we have to a true superfood — or super-nutrient since it’s in so many different foods. Eating a fiber-rich diet is associated with better gastrointestinal health and a reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers. That’s because fiber is amazingly helpful in many ways: It lowers cholesterol and inflammation, feeds our microbiome, and slows the body’s absorption of glucose, which evens out our blood sugar levels.

But, as I showed in a recent piece, the vast majority of Americans don’t reap fiber’s rewards, failing to meet the minimum recommended daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 gramsfor men.

So how can we eat more? Every researcher I spoke to suggested eating a diversity of whole foods, instead of relying only on supplements or fiber-enriched processed foods, especially the sugary bars and brownies now being marketed as fiber-delivery tools.

Today, the array of options for fibrous foods are way more delicious than Metamucil. On a list of foods according to their fiber content, from the USDA, these were among the top (yes, popcorn and avocados are right up there):

Read the full article:

Nearly all Americans fail to eat enough of this actual superfood

Interested in learning more about dietary fiber?  Dr. Holscher is quoted by Julia Belluz for an article in Vox.


While we obsess about carbs and protein, we’ve ignored fiber — at our peril.

When we fret about the deterioration of the American diet, we tend to focus on the excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and calories we’re now eating.

What we don’t talk about: an important ingredient that’s gone missing as we’ve been filling our plates with more chicken and cheese.

Fiber. Only 5 percent of people in the US meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily target of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. That amounts to a population-wide deficiency — what nutritionists call the “fiber gap.”

Read the full article:

Dr. Holscher receives 2018 Nutrients Young Investigator Award

Dr. Hannah Holscher was one of two scientists to receive the Nutrients 2018 Young Investigator Award.  The award is made annually to researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the impact of nutrition on human health. Applicants were selected based on their publication history, including the number and quality of publications and citations for articles relevant to human nutrition; evidence of translation of research findings into changes in policy or practice at the local, national and international level that impact human nutrition; and other contributions to the field of human nutrition research.

Illinois scientists highlight impact of diet in world’s largest citizen-science microbiome project

Illinois scientists highlight impact of diet in world’s largest citizen-science microbiome project



URBANA, Ill. – Researchers at the University of Illinois, including Hannah Holscher, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, and Kelly Swanson, professor of animal sciences, along with scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and collaborators around the world have published the first major results from the American Gut Project, a crowdsourced, global citizen science effort.

The American Gut Project was co-founded in November 2012 by Rob Knight, Jeff Leach, and Jack Gilbert. The project’s goal was to better understand human microbiomes — which types of bacteria live where, how many of each, and how they are influenced by diet, lifestyle, and disease.

To do this, citizen scientists contributed $99 and received a kit to collect a stool sample and instructions to mail it back. Along with the sample, each participant answered a voluntary survey that included questions about general health status, disease history, lifestyle, and diet. Scientists processed the samples using a genetic barcoding technique, then mailed participants a report detailing what’s living in their guts.

“We observed a much greater microbial diversity than previous smaller studies found, and that suggests that if we look at more populations, we’ll see more diversity, which is important for defining boundaries of the human microbiome,” said Daniel McDonald, scientific director of the American Gut Project at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

As of mid-2017, the project included microbial sequence data from 15,096 samples provided by 11,336 people, representing primarily the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, along with 42 other countries or territories. The project and its affiliate, British Gut, have received more than $2.5 million in individual contributions to date through crowdfunding sites FundRazr and Indiegogo.

“It’s really amazing that more than 10,000 people — members of the public who want to get involved in science whether or not they work in a lab or have a PhD — have mailed their poop to our lab so that we can find out what makes a difference in somebody’s microbiome,” said Knight, who is also a professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Jacobs School of Engineering, and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation.

As nutritional scientists, Holscher and Swanson were involved in the diet data collection and interpretation. Some of the findings reported in the mSystems paper discuss how eating a diet rich in different plants, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains is related to the composition of the gut microbiome.

Specifically, the researchers found that the number of plant types in a person’s diet was related to the diversity of his or her gut microbiome — the number of different types of bacteria living there. Participants who ate more than 30 different plant types per week had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plants per week. The gut samples of these two groups also differed in the types of molecules present.

Holscher explains that previous research has shown that plants differ in the type and amount of dietary fiber they contain, affecting how much can be broken down and by what specific microbes.

“Humans cannot break down dietary fibers for energy. Instead, microbes in our gut break down these fibers. However, each microbe has specific enzymes that allow them to use certain fibers for energy,” she says. “For example, one microbe may be able to break down the fiber found in apples while another has enzymes to break down the fiber in whole grains. The microbial community works together to degrade and metabolize each food source. The results of this study suggest that the recommendation to ‘eat the rainbow’ is also important for gut health.”

Most of the findings emerging from the American Gut Project so far are simply observations or associations, and in many cases researchers can’t yet extrapolate the ultimate effect on human health. For example, while the researchers observed that people who eat many plants have a more diverse gut microbiome than those who don’t, they don’t yet know if increasing a person’s microbial diversity from its current level would have a direct positive effect on his or her health.

“The American Gut Project is dynamic, with samples arriving from around the world daily,” Knight said. “The analysis presented in this paper represents a single snapshot, but we want eventually to go beyond making maps of the microbiome to making a microbiome GPS that tells you not just where you are on that map, but where you want to go and what to do in order to get there in terms of diet, lifestyle or medications.”

For the complete list of co-authors and institutions participating in the American Gut Project, view the full mSystems paper at:

The American Gut Project ( is funded by participants via crowdsourcing. Researchers who contributed effort or data analysis to the project are funded, in part, by the U.S. National Science Foundation (1144807), Sloan Foundation Microbiology of the Built Environment Program, Wyss Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, U.S. Department of Energy (DE-AC02-06CH11357.NS), European Research Council (starting grant 336452-ENIGMO), WELBIO (WELBIO-CR-2012S-02R), Société Nationale Française de Gastro-Entérologie (Robert Tournut Award), Wellcome Trust, UK Medical Research Council, JPI Dinamic, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Facility at Guy’s & St Thomas’, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’, UK NHS Foundation Trust, and King’s College London.


Sources: Hannah Holscher, 217-300-2512,;
Kelly Swanson, 217-333-4189,

Media contacts: Lauren Quinn, 217-300-2435,;
Heather Buschman, 858-249-0456,;

Date: May 15, 2018