Consuming crickets can support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the human gut, a new study found. The story was published in Science Daily.
Insects are consumed regularly by more than 2 billion people around the world, providing good sources of minerals, fats, vitamins, and proteins. But it wasn't until now that the health benefits of eating them have been documented in a pilot clinical trial. The paper was published in the journal Scientific Reports, focusing on what the consumption of crickets does to the human microbiome.
"There is a lot of interest right now in edible insects," says lead author Valerie Stull, who was 12-years-old the first time she ate a meal of insects. "It's gaining traction in Europe and in the U.S. as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock."
Raising insects as a protein source has multiple benefits such as protecting the environment and providing a healthful option to consumers in wealthy countries, where a high-meat diet is the norm, says study co-author Jonathon Patz.
Co-corresponding author Tiffany Weir explained the importance of the study.
"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."Crickets contain fibers that are different from the fibers humans consume in fruits and vegetables. As reported in the original article, some types of fiber promote the growth of beneficial bacteria known commonly as probiotics. Stull and her colleagues examined whether the insect fibers would influence the bacteria already present in the human gastrointestinal tract.
To find out, researchers worked with 20 healthy people aged 18-48 who were divided into two groups, each one alternating for two weeks either a control breakfast they served themselves or a muffin or shake containing ground cricket meal, followed by a normal diet for two weeks, before switching up each group's breakfast option.
Researchers found no evidence to suggest an overall change in microbial composition or changes in gut inflammation but did note an increase in an enzyme linked to gut health, as well as a decrease in an inflammatory protein in the blood that has been linked to conditions such as depression and cancer. Researchers also found an increase in beneficial gut bacteria linked to improved gastrointestinal function.
"This very small study shows that this is something worth looking at in the future when promoting insects as a sustainable food source."