They may not sound like the most appealing snack.
But eating crickets can be good for your gut, research suggests.
For scientists have found consuming the insects can help support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria reduce inflammation in the body.
Crickets, like other insects, contain fibres, such as chitin, that are different from the dietary fibre found in foods like fruits and vegetables.
Fibre serves as a microbial food source and some types promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics.
The new University of Wisconsin-Madison trial probed whether insect fibres may influence the bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract.
For scientists have found consuming the insects can help support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria reduce inflammation in the body
More than two billion people around the world regularly consume insects, which are also a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
Twenty participants were involved in the University of Wisconsin-Madison study, which involved two different types of breakfasts.
For the first fortnight, they had either a control breakfast or one containing 25g of powdered cricket meal made into muffins and shakes.
Each volunteer then reverted back to a normal diet for a two week ‘washout period’ in the middle of the study.
They then spent the last two weeks eating the breakfast they were not given in the first fortnight – either crickets or a control.
Blood samples were collected from participants at the start, during and end of the study, published in Scientific Reports.
Researchers wanted to assess levels of blood glucose and enzymes, and for levels of TNF-alpha – a protein associated with inflammation.
And faecal samples were taken at the same time points to search for inflammatory chemicals in the gut and the make-up of the microbiota.
SHOULD YOU THINK TWICE BEFORE ORDERING A BURGER?
Anyone would pick a burger over a plateful of dried crickets.
But according to a study in 2016, you should think twice before placing your order.
Researchers at the American Chemical Society spent months examining the nutritional benefits of grasshoppers, crickets, buffalo worms, and mealworms.
Compared to beef, the first two were found to be a far better source of many nutrients, particularly iron – which is widely considered one of beef’s key benefits.
The report, published in the journal, said the findings provided an opportunity to explore different, more sustainable sources of nutrients
Volunteers, who were all aged between 18 and 48, were also quizzed about their gastrointestinal symptoms.
Participants reported no significant gastrointestinal changes or side effects from either of the diets.
And the researchers found no evidence of changes to overall microbial composition or changes to gut inflammation.
However, they did see an increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health.
And the team spotted a decrease in TNF-alpha, which has been linked to other measures of well-being, like depression and cancer.
Additionally, Dr Stull and colleagues saw an increase in the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis.
Several scientific reports have linked that specific strain to improved gastrointestinal function and other measures of health.
Dr Valerie Stull, study author and a self-confessed fan of the taste of insects, said: ‘There is a lot of interest right now in edible insects.
‘It’s gaining traction in Europe and in the US as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock.
‘This very small study shows that this is something worth looking at in the future when promoting insects as a sustainable food source.’
Dr Stull is co-founder of an award-winning startup and research collaboration called MIGHTi, the Mission to Improve Global Health Through Insects.
In the future, MIGHTi hopes to provide home-use insect-farming kits to communities that already consume insects, including many in southern Africa.
Hoping to promote insects as a more mainstream food in the US, she said 20 years ago ‘no-one was eating sushi because it was disgusting’ – but now it’s everywhere.
But the researchers argue that more trials are needed to replicate the findings and determine the specific components of crickets that boost health.
Professor Tiffany Weir, study co-author, welcomed the ‘important’ findings because the health effects of insects are little-known.
Calling for further trials, she said: ‘We found that cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition’.