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Hang Xiao Wants to Help You Eat a Healthy Diet

Hang Xiao, Food Scientist, Associate Professor, Honors Program DirectorDr. Hang Xiao aims to help you eat a healthful diet and one that helps prevent disease. His research is focused on understanding the health-promoting effects of different food components. Xiao’s work is at the forefront of research into what are known as “functional foods”—foods that provide additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. It turns out that knowing what your body needs to lower your risk to chronic diseases such as cancer is a lot more complicated than choosing cereal with a happy heart on the box.  

Food biochemists like Xiao believe that if taken up in appropriate amounts and forms, certain food components might benefit human health by providing anti-inflammatory and/or anti-cancer effects. These components are known as nutraceuticals (think of food instead of drugs, which would be pharma-ceuticals). Nutraceuticals include many food components such as flavonoids and carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables.  Food processing can enhance the health benefits of these kind of foods. For example, some poorly absorbed nutraceuticals such as beta-carotene can be packaged in specifically-designed oil droplets (similar to those found in milk) through food processing to enhance their absorption hence their health benefits.

Xiao is developing diet-based strategies for cancer prevention. In one case, he is studying the interaction of different food components to find optimal combinations of them that will provide greater cancer-fighting effects than an individual component could. Xiao is also revealing the secrets of fruits such as certain berries (cranberry, strawberry, and blueberry) in fighting colon cancer. The knowledge gained from this research will provide the basis for rational design of a balanced diet to fight against cancers.

Xiao is Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  He received a doctoral degree in food chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and had post-doctoral training at Rutgers.  Xiao is widely published with about 130 manuscripts in high quality peer-reviewed journals. He has been awarded more than $8 million by multiple federal agencies and foundations to support his cutting-edge research.  Xiao serves on the editorial board of several journals, and he has organized scientific symposiums on food for health.

His work has been recognized through multiple prestigious research awards including: Institute of Food Technologist (IFT) Samuel Cate Prescott award; American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Mary Swartz Rose Investigator Award; and International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) North America Future Leader Award.

Xiao not only researches and publishes his work, he also teaches both undergraduate and graduate students and collaborates internationally with universities overseas.