Hey everyone, it’s snack time! Come on up and grab some delicious crickets, yum yum. Said no one ever. But maybe, in the future, insects might be a superfood?
According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, more than 2 billion people worldwide include insects in their diet. They are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and healthy fats. They are also bugs, so there’s that. Still, they might be helpful in maintaining healthy gut bacteria.
The study, conducted by doctoral graduate Valerie Stull, looked at possible health benefits from eating crickets. She was an early adopter of eating insects, having gone on a trip to Central America with her parents when she was 12 years old. Fried ants were served, and she bravely tried them and thought they were delicious. The study she and her team conducted involved 20 healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 48. They were split into two groups, one who ate a controlled breakfast decided by the researchers and the other group who ate 25 grams of powdered cricket meal, disguised, thankfully, in muffins and shakes. This continued for two weeks. The following two weeks both groups ate normally, and the two weeks after that the groups switched. Those who started with the cricket muffins changed to the control group, and those who had not yet bellied up to the bug bar ate the shakes and muffins containing the cricket crunchies. The goal was to see how the addition of crickets affected the health of study participants.
Crickets are not just any bugs, nutritionally speaking. Crickets are high in a specific fiber (that’s where they get that delicious crunch) called chitin that provides microbes that foster the growth of good gut bacteria and probiotics. Blood samples along with stool and urine samples were collected before the study as well as after the first two weeks and last two weeks. The investigators did not know which group was on what diet when they evaluated the samples.
So what did they find? Well, none of the participants were grossed out at all, and no one reported any adverse effects. Overall there were no significant changes to the gut microbiome; however, there was an increase in a metabolic enzyme that is present in healthy guts. There was also a decrease in a protein that is a marker for inflammation, TNF-alpha which has been linked in some studies to well-being, depression, and cancer.
Stull’s co-author Dr. Tiffany Weir is a professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University. She wrote, "This study is important because insects represent a novel component in Western diets and their health effects in human populations haven't been studied. 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."
Environmentally speaking, crickets can be raised cheaply and efficiently with minimal impact on the planet. Still, it might be a hard sell. However, Stull likened it to the popularity of sushi. She stated, "Food is very tied to culture, and 20 or 30 years ago, no one in the U.S. was eating sushi because we thought it was disgusting, but now you can get it at a gas station in Nebraska." Fair point, but it could take a while before they really catch on. Also, gas station sushi? That's a thing? Check out the video below to learn more about sourcing crickets as sustainable food.