robiotics have become increasingly popular as more people learn about the health of their microbiome, the billions of microbes that live inside all of our digestive tracts and elsewhere. Now new research suggests that a diet that includes crickets could feed the beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy gut. Crickets may increase enzymes in the stomach that aid metabolism as well as promote good bacteria in the stomach, according to a study published in Scientific Reports, the first clinical trial of its kind.
“Insects represent a novel component in Western diets and their health effects in human populations haven’t really been studied,” co-corresponding author Tiffany Weir, a professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University, said in a statement. “We found that cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition,” Weir said.
More than 2 billion people around the world already regularly consume insects, mainly in Asia. Bugs are a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. The research team wanted to document for the first time the health effects of eating them.
The two-week study followed 20 participants who consumed either an insect-free breakfast or 25 grams of powdered crickets concealed in muffins and shakes. The results were measured by looking at stool and blood samples of those who ate the bugs. Along the way, participants also answered gastrointestinal questionnaires. The results confirmed that crickets might soothe an unwieldy stomach.
How might insects promote gut health? Crickets contain fiber. A different fiber than fruits and vegetable, but it can work in much the same way to feed microbes, and potentially promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Insects could not only serve as a sustainable food source in the future, they are also good for us, Valerie Stull, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “It’s gaining traction in Europe and in the U.S. as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock,” said Stull, a recent doctoral graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
Since the global population is expected to balloon to 9.6 billion by 2050, alternative and sustainable food sources are becoming more essential, the United Nations reported. The worldwide edible insect market is also estimated to grow and become worth more than $710 million by 2024.
Some entrepreneurs have taken note. Bloomberg reported in July that farmers on a homestead in Finland switched from raising pigs to cultivating crickets in preparation for a global food crisis.
The farmers, Kirsi and Jouko Siikonen, got started about eight months ago with their new project. So far, most of the insects that they raise are ground up and used as an ingredient for a range of products like chocolate, crispbread, snack bars and granola.
The cricket farm is expected to deliver a total of 3,300 pounds of protein in this year alone.
At least one European food company, the Prague- and London-based SENS Foods Ltd, has started to use cricket flour for protein bars and bread. One restaurant in Helsinki—Ultima—is now serving deep-fried crickets. Another in nearby Espoo, the Fat Lizard, is incorporating crickets into a soft taco dish.
For the most part, ground-up crickets are tasteless, which makes them easy to conceal in foods like sausages, cookies and muffins. The powder is also more filling because it has high protein content.
“People are really scared to eat a whole bug, but it’s a much different story when they know that actually the bug is ground into powder and they cannot see it,” Radek Husek, the co-founder of SENS Foods Ltd, told Bloomberg.