Fried crickets

MADISON, Wis. — Looking for a more natural digestive system cleanse? You may be able to find the ingredients right in your own backyard. A new study finds that adding crickets to your daily diet regimen may be good for your gut and offers several health benefits.

Valerie Stull, lead author of the study and recent doctoral graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Environmental Studies, started eating insects herself at age 12 during a family vacation to Central America. She recalls being “grossed out” when she found herself having to eat a plate of fried ants, but took a surprising liking to the exotic cuisine after her first bite: “It tasted like food, it was good,” she admits.

Now Stull is out to prove that chowing down on common bugs should be considered more than just a last resort. “There is a lot of interest right now in edible insects,” she says in a university release. “It’s gaining traction in Europe and in the U.S. as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock.”

The results of her experiment proved just as much. She found that not only do crickets promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, but there doesn’t appear to be any detriment to eating large amounts of crickets regularly. In fact, consuming healthy servings of crickets can even reduce inflammation in the body. Good news!

For the study, Stull and her research team recruited 20 men and women (ages 18 to 48) to eat a breakfast that included muffins or shakes made from 25 grams of powdered cricket meal for two weeks. Some participants were fed an insect-free dish to serve as a control group. All participants then returned to their normal diets for another two weeks, before switching roles for a follow-up period. The control group ate the buggy breakfast, while those who enjoyed the cricket meal treats initially were served the control option.

Blood and stool samples were collected at the start of the study, after the first two-week period, and then again after the follow-up period. Participants also completed questionnaires about the diet.

While none of the participants complained of any ill effects from the cricket breakfast, the authors did note an increase in a key metabolic enzyme that supports better gut health, and a decrease in an inflammatory protein associated with cancer and depression. They also spotted a significant amount of “good” gut bacteria that known to promote overall digestive health.

“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,” says 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.”

Actually, eating insects isn’t that uncommon. Over two billion people consume insects in one form or another all over the world. The six-legged bugs are known to be good dietary sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. The authors hope for more research on the subject, particularly with a much larger and more diverse sample group.

“This very small study shows that this is something worth looking at in the future when promoting insects as a sustainable food source,” says Stull.

Insects are still not on most menus in the United States, but there are indications that interest in edible insects is on the rise. Some Major League Baseball stadiums are even selling fried crickets as a gameday snack.

The full study was published July 17, 2018 in the journal Scientific Reports.

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