Eating crickets can improve gut health
Edible insects are a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, and new research has also found that eating crickets may be beneficial to the human microbiome.
As well as being a healthier alternative to traditional livestock, insects are a more sustainable food source as they require less water to farm. They are commonly consumed by over two billion people worldwide and are gaining traction in North America and Europe. But while the nutritional value of edible insects is widely known, the overall health impacts have not been documented.
Insect fibre, such as chitin, is different from the dietary fibre found in foods like fruits and vegetables. Fibre serves as a microbial food source and some fibre types promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics. Led by Valerie Stull, a doctoral graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, a team of researchers conducted a six-week clinical trial to investigate whether insect fibres might influence the bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract.
“This study is important because insects represent a novel component in Western diets and their health effects in human populations haven’t really been studied,” said co-corresponding author Tiffany Weir, a Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University. “With what we now know about the gut microbiota and its relationship to human health, it’s important to establish how a novel food might affect gut microbial populations. We found that cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition.”
For two weeks, 20 healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 48 ate either a control breakfast or muffins and shakes containing 25 grams of powdered cricket meal. Every participant ate a normal breakfast for the following two weeks for a ‘washout period’. For the final two weeks, the groups were reversed so those who started on the cricket diet consumed a control breakfast and vice versa.
The researchers, who did not know which diet each participant was on, collected blood samples, stool samples and answers to gastrointestinal questionnaires before the study began, and immediately after each of the following two-week diet periods.
The trial found that consuming crickets is safe at high doses, and the participants reported no side effects. The researchers saw an increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health, an increase in the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis and a decrease in an inflammatory protein in the blood called TNF-alpha (which has been linked to depression and cancer).
“This very small study shows that this is something worth looking at in the future when promoting insects as a sustainable food source,” said Stull.
The researchers said larger studies need to be conducted to back up the findings and determine what components of crickets may contribute to improved gut health.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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