Fried crickets might not sound like a particularly appetizing snack, but they are, apparently, very good for your gut health. This is according to a recent clinical trial, the results of which have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Lead author Valerie Stull, a doctoral graduate at the University Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, had her first taste of an insect at the age of 12.
"There is a lot of interest right now in edible insects," she explained in a statement. Insects are already consumed on the regular by 2 billion people in 80 percent of the world's population, and in the West, the industry is growing.
"It's gaining traction in Europe and in the U.S. as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock," she added.
Not only are insects a more eco-friendly source of animal protein, but they are also – as it turns out – a healthy one. As Stull and her team found out, crickets contain gut-loving fiber you cannot find in fruits and veg, like chitin. This means munching on crickets is not only safe but it promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria (or probiotics), which can help reduce inflammation in the body.
For the study, 20 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 48 were given a two-week nutrition regimen that involved either a breakfast made with 25 grams of ground up cricket (added to muffins or shakes) or a control breakfast without powdered cricket. This was followed by another two-week period called the "washout period", where they ate normally and another two-week period, where they followed whichever of the first two regimens they did not the first time around. Blood and stool samples and gastrointestinal questionnaires were used to monitor gut health before, during, and after the experiment.
"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," co-author Tiffany Weir, a professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University, said. "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."
When the results came back, there appeared to be no fundamental changes to the gastrointestinal system or any negative side effects. The gut's microbial system did not see any major changes and gut inflammation stayed steady. What did change was the quantity of a particular enzyme called Bifidobacterium animalis and an inflammatory protein linked to depression and cancer called TNF-alpha.
The diet containing powdered cricket caused the latter to decline while the former grew 5.7 times over. B. animalis has been linked to better gastrointestinal function, which is good news for the edible insect industry if the results can be replicated.
The study was very small scale and many more larger trials will be needed to confirm the results, the researchers point out, but the results are encouraging.
Still not convinced? Stull suspects they will be a regular on the dinner table sooner than you might think.
"Food is very tied to culture, and 20 or 30 years ago, no one in the US was eating sushi because we thought it was disgusting, but now you can get it at a gas station in Nebraska," she said.
If crickets aren't to your fancy, there are are several other insects you can try.