Insects like grasshoppers, water beetles and crickets are regular staples of diets in Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America. Yet many people in Europe tend to turn their noses up at fried crickets and sautéed grasshoppers. Each to his own, as they say. Many Southeast Asians go “Yummy!” while we go “Yucky!”
Turns out, though, that eating insects like crickets may actually be good for you. Not only are they rich in protein, but, according to a rigorous new clinical trial whose findings were published in the journal Nature, the regular consumption of crickets boosts your levels of healthy gut bacteria.
That’s because in their exoskeletons insects contain certain types of dietary fiber such as chitinous fiber that are not available in our usual staples of grains, vegetables and fruits. And those extra fibers from insects like crickets facilitate probiotics (so-called “good” bacteria) in our digestive system.
“In addition to high protein levels, crickets contain chitin and other fibers that may influence gut health,” the team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin in the US who conducted the research write. “In this study, we evaluated the effects of consuming 25 grams/day whole cricket powder on gut microbiota composition, while assessing safety and tolerability.”
Their results, the researchers explain, show that consuming crickets in powered form “supported [the] growth of the probiotic bacterium, Bifidobacterium animalis, which increased 5.7-fold. Cricket consumption was also associated with reduced plasma TNF-α. These data suggest that eating crickets may improve gut health and reduce systemic inflammation.”
They arrived at this conclusion by recruiting 20 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 48 and submitting half of them to a breakfast of a muffin or a shake with 25 grams of powdered crickets for two weeks. The other half of the volunteers were given the same muffin or shake but without crickets. Then, the two groups were switched in their diets.
Neither the study participants nor the researchers knew which group was eating the crickets during the double-blind trial. Throughout the two weeks the researchers took blood and stool samples from all the participants to monitor their liver functions and asses their guts’ microbiota.
Those of the test subjects who consumed crickets, it was found, had a marked increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health and a simultaneous drop in an inflammatory protein in blood plasma called TNF-alpha, which can exacerbate the risks and effects of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
The results of this study gives further boost to a trend whereby more and more people across the US and Europe are beginning to embrace insects as a valuable source of protein and other nutrients. By adopting an insect-rich diet, we can also ensure a greater degree of food security around the planet with more and more mouths to feed, especially in developing nations.
Insects are already parts of traditional diets for 2 billion people, according to the UN. An estimated 1,900 species of insects are consumed regularly, providing millions of people with a regular intake of proteins, fibers, vitamins and essential minerals. They are an abundant natural resource and they can also be farmed with relatively low environmental impacts, unlike livestock such as cattle and swine.
“There is a lot of interest right now in edible insects,” says Valerie Stull, a scientist who was the lead author of the newly published paper on the benefits of a cricket-rich diet. “It’s gaining traction in Europe and in the U.S. as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock.”