Food Chemist

Liangli (Lucy) Yu

Liangli (Lucy) Yu is a chef, of sorts. Actually she’s a food chemist, and it’s her job to find the right ingredients for healthier food products, such as pizza crust and all natural whole-wheat muffins that are rich in natural antioxidants.

Yu is an associate professor at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland, and her field of research is food chemistry.

“Our goal,” she said, “is to promote human health (by) improving the quality, safety, nutritional value and…beneficial properties of food products.”

Specifically, Yu is interested in the components of food that contribute to one’s health – antioxidants and dietary fibers, for example.

Antioxidants, she noted, may reduce the risk of a number of chronic illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. In addition, by incorporating these “ingredients” into food products, it could prove to be profitable for both the U.S. agricultural and food industries.

The methods and technologies that Yu and her coworkers have developed to make certain foods more healthy have received widespread news coverage on major U.S. television networks as well as in media outlets in the United Kingdom and China.

Consumers today are increasingly aware of the benefits of a healthy diet, she noted, and given their concern for providing nutritional meals for their children, parents are an important segment of that consumer market.

“Our research ,” she said, “is helping those parents to prepare these foods, and (it is) also helping the food industry to increase the nutritional values and health beneficial properties of their products. Hopefully, our work will help future generations lead healthy lives.”

To get where she is today, Yu first studied pharmaceutical chemistry as an undergraduate student. She then earned a master’s degree in medicinal and organic chemistry and a Ph.D. in food science and food chemistry.

“I generally apply my chemistry knowledge and skills to study food science problems,” she said.

Anyone interested in pursuing a career like hers, she said, should get a solid background in chemistry, especially food chemistry, and they should study one of the biological sciences as well.