Congratulations 2018 Graduates!

Congratulations to our 2018 Graduates!

  • Melisa Bailey, MS in Nutritional Sciences
  • Jennifer Kaczmarek, MS in Nutritional Sciences
  • Andrew Taylor, MS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Erika Belloso, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Elana Benishay, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Jessica Bennett, BS with Distinction in Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Ashley Griffin, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Domenica Goyes, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Anne Hou, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Katie Lamps, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Maya Nienaber, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Hannah Peabody, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Alice Pen, BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Megan Reingold, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Xinrui (Sylvia) Ren, BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition

Dr. Holscher awarded 2018-2019 NCSA Faculty Fellowship

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has named Faculty Fellowship awardees for 2018-2019. These six Illinois faculty members will work with NCSA to investigate a wide array of subjects including cancer, agriculture, cinema, economics, civil infrastructure and more.

Each faculty member will work closely with experts at NCSA on a project that aligns with research focus areas and/or major projects (i.e., the Blue Waters projectXSEDE, the Midwest Big Data HubIndustry program).


Hannah HolscherFood Science and Human Nutrition
Microbial communities have a significant impact on human health. Growing research has demonstrated the influence of the host microbiota in cancer and the interaction with the human immune system, which impacts potential diagnosis and treatment. Also, gastrointestinal microbiome perturbations and diet are independently linked to public health issues including obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. Holscher’s project will study the impact of the human microbiome on health status using machine learning approaches developed by Dr. Zhu and the VI-Bio group. Her work will also inform the development of the NCSA VI-Bio group’s prototype OmiX, an informatics tool which will enable scientists to study microbiome-human interaction.

Learn about the other fellows and NCSA:


Walnuts impact gut microbiome and improve health

Walnuts impact gut microbiome and improve health


URBANA, Ill. – Diets rich in nuts, such as walnuts, have been shown to play a role in heart health and in reducing colorectal cancer. According to a new study from the University of Illinois, the way walnuts impact the gut microbiome—the collection of trillions of microbes or bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract—may be behind some of those health benefits.

Walnuts are just one in a line foods that contain dietary fiber and have interested scientists for their impact on the microbiome and health. Dietary fiber acts as a food source for gut microbiota, helping the bacteria to do their jobs—breaking down complex foods, providing us nutrients, or helping us feel full, for example.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are important plant sources of dietary fiber. Eating a variety of these foods helps promote a diverse gut microbiota, which in turn helps to support health.

Findings from the study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, show that consuming walnuts not only impacted the gut microbiota and microbial derived secondary bile acids, but also reduced LDL-cholesterol levels in the adults participating in the study; good news for cardio, metabolic, and gastrointestinal health.

“We found that when you consume walnuts it increases microbes that produce butyrate, a beneficial metabolite for colonic health. So the interaction of walnuts with the microbiome is helping to produce some of those health effects,” says Hannah Holscher, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at U of I, and lead author of the study. “It is about getting to the ‘black box’ that is all the microbes in our GI tract to see how they are interfacing with the food we eat and having downstream health effects.

“Some of those health effects are hypothesized to be related to the metabolites bacteria produce,” she adds.

For the controlled-feeding study, 18 healthy male and female adults consumed diets that either included 0 grams of walnuts or 42 grams—about a third cup or a palm-full of walnuts—for two, three-week periods. Fecal and blood samples were collected at the beginning and end of each period to assess secondary outcomes of the study, including effects of walnut consumption on fecal microbiota and bile acids and metabolic markers of health.

Walnut consumption resulted in higher relative abundance of three bacteria of interest: Faecalibacterium, Roseburia, and Clostridium.

“The microbes that increased in relative abundance in this walnut study are from one of the Clostridium clusters of microbes, and there’s increased interest in those because they have the ability to make butyrate,” Holscher says. “Unfortunately in this study we didn’t measure butyrate, so we can’t say that just because these microbes increased that butyrate did increase. We still need to answer that question.

“There is a lot of interest in Faecalibacterium because it has also been shown in animals to reduce inflammation. Animals with higher amounts also have better insulin sensitivity. There is also growing interest in Faecalibacterium as a potential probiotic bacteria, and so we are trying to follow up on foods that help support Faecalibacterium.”

The findings also show, with walnut consumption, a reduction in secondary bile acids compared to the control. “Secondary bile acids have been shown to be higher in individuals with higher rates of colorectal cancer,” Holscher explains. “Secondary bile acids can be damaging to cells within the GI tract, and microbes make those secondary bile acids. If we can reduce secondary bile acids in the gut, it may also help with human health.”

Previous research that prompted this microbial research showed that the amount of energy (calories) derived from walnuts after we eat them is less than previously thought.

“When you do calculations to determine how much energy we predicted we would get from eating walnuts, it didn’t line up with the energy that was absorbed,” Holscher says. “You’re really only absorbing around 80 percent of the energy from walnuts that labels say. That means that the microbes get access to that extra 20 percent of calories and the fats and fiber left in them, and so what happens then? Does it produce a positive health outcome, or a negative health outcome? Our study provides initial findings that suggest that the interactions of microbes with the undigested walnut components are producing positive outcomes.

“We need more research to look at additional microbial metabolites and how those are influencing health outcomes, instead of just characterizing the changes in the microbiome,” Holscher says.

The paper, “Walnut consumption alters the gastrointestinal microbiota, microbially derived secondary bile acids, and health markers in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial,” is published in The Journal of Nutrition. Co-authors include: Hannah D. Holscher, Heather M. Guetterman, Kelly S. SwansonRuopeng An, Nirupa R. Matthan, Alice H. Lichtenstein, Janet A. NovotnyDavid J. Baer.

Holscher is an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Division on Nutritional Sciences; Guetterman was in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; Ruopeng is in the Division of Nutritional Sciences; and Swanson is a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Division of Nutritional Sciences, all in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. Baer and Novotny are at the USDA-ARS, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center. Matthan and Lichtenstein are at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Funding for the study was provided by USDA-ARS and California Walnut Commission.


Congratulations to the following Nutrition and Human Microbiome Laboratory members for their recent awards:

  • Erika Belloso: Outstanding Senior in Dietetics, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois
  • Elena Benishay: Bronze Tablet Distinction, University of Illinois
  • Jessica Bennett: Graduation with Distinction, Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, University of Illinois
  • Anne Hou:  Outstanding Student Researcher, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois
  • Sharon Thompson: Outstanding Poster Presentation, Nutrition Symposium, Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois

Fiber and Gut Health Podcast

Interested in learning more about fiber and gut health? Check out a recent podcast on the Radio Health Journal that I contributed to:

Fiber is an important part of a daily diet, but many people do not know what fiber  does for the body. Dr. Hannah Holscher, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, explains that fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that is found in plants which human enzymes cannot break down, so the body relies on microbes.

Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.

By Carl Zimmer, New York Times

Click on the picture to read the full story in the New York Times.

A diet of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, reduces the risk of developing diabetesheart disease and arthritis. Indeed, the evidence for fiber’s benefits extends beyond any particular ailment: People who eat more of it simply have lower odds of dying.

Hannah D. Holscher, a nutrition scientist at the University of Illinois who was not involved in the new studies, said that the results on mice need to be put to the test in humans. But it’s much harder to run such studies on people.

In her own lab, Dr. Holscher acts as a round-the-clock personal chef. She and her colleagues provide volunteers with all their meals for two weeks. She can then give some of her volunteers an extra source of fiber — such as walnuts — and look for changes in both their microbiome and their levels of inflammation.

Dr. Holscher and other researchers hope that they will learn enough about how fiber influences the microbiome to use it as a way to treat disorders. Lowering inflammation with fiber may also help in the treatment of immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Fiber may also help reverse obesity. Last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Holscher and her colleagues reviewed a number of trials in which fiber was used to treat obesity. They found that fiber supplements helped obese people to lose about five pounds, on average.

Click on the picture above to read the full story in the January 1, 2018 Science & Heath Sections of the New York Times.