Eating insects, like crickets, might sound gross, but it could be good for your gut

Chicken, beans, and eggs are all good sources of protein. Crickets are too, and the little bugs may also be good for your gut, according to a new report.

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Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison recently conducted a study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, to determine how eating insects, which contain vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, could affect the human body.

To do so, they examined 20 healthy adults, aged 18 and 48, for about six weeks. For the first two weeks, half of the group ate a controlled breakfast, while the other group had a morning meal that contained 25 grams of powdered crickets in muffins and shakes. For the following two weeks, all of the participants ate normally. Then, for the last two weeks, those who began with a normal diet had the cricket meal and those who started with the cricket meal had normal food.

Throughout the trial, the scientists collected blood samples, which were tested for blood glucose and enzymes associated with liver function, and stool samples, which were tested for inflammatory chemicals associated with the gastrointestinal tract. They also asked the subjects to complete three gastrointestinal questionnaires throughout.

After analyzing the results, they said the participants did not report any significant gastrointestinal changes or side effects. The researchers also noted they did not see any changes to overall microbial composition or changes to gut inflammation.

However, they did notice an increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health and a decrease in an inflammatory protein in the blood called TNF-alpha, which has been linked to depression and cancer.

Furthermore, they saw an uptick in the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis, a strain linked to improved gastrointestinal function.

"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," coauthor Tiffany Weir said in a statement. "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."

The researchers now hope to further their investigations and promote insects as a more mainstream food option in the United States. They said more than 2 billion people around the world, including in Africa and Thailand, eat bugs regularly.

“Food is very tied to culture, and 20 or 30 years ago, no one in the U.S. was eating sushi because we thought it was disgusting,” lead author Valerie Stull said. “But now you can get it at a gas station in Nebraska.”

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