FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– Researchers at Colorado State University are working on a project that has “crawled” onto the health scene in recent years: eating crickets. The study also helped determine whether farming insects will help establish a reliable food source.
Tiffany Weir, an associate professor in CSU’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, studies microbiota in your gut. Microbiota is the natural population of microbes found in and on human bodies.
She wanted to study the effects that eating insects has on microbiota in the gut. Weir worked with Valerie Stull from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
“The pair of us designed the study, which involved eating cricket powder that had been cooked into meals,” Weir said.
CSU students helped design and test recipes that were used in the study. The whole crickets are roasted and then ground. Some say the powder has an earthy flavor that some say tastes like a tea while others say it is similar to dirt.
The two recipes used during the study were a malt milkshake and a pumpkin spice muffin.
“The foods we put the cricket in weren’t exactly the healthiest foods,” Weir said. “We didn’t have the ability to produce pre-made bars or anything like that, so the muffins and milkshakes were what was accessible to us.”
Weir said there were two major improvements. There was an increase in a species of bifidobacterium and a decrease in an inflammatory marker in the blood called TNF-alpha.
According to Weir’s research, “The species of bifidobacterium that increased during the study is known for colonizing the gut of infants. It’s one of the first colonizers and helps to shape our immune systems. While everyone maintains populations of bifidobacterium throughout our lives, the number tends to drop off as we get older. This is especially true in older individuals, and there are people who believe this might be part of the reason for decreased immunity in this population. In fact, the bifidobacterium is so desirable that it’s commonly supplemented as a probiotic in foods.
“The inflammatory marker TNF-alpha is associated with the type of inflammation that drives chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Seeing the decrease in TNF-alpha suggests that chronic inflammation might be reduced by eating cricket powder. Weir explained that it would be interesting to look at people who have had exposure to factors that would increase their risk of chronic inflammation, like poor diet, carrying excess weight and advanced age.”
Stull says crickets are an exceptional source of fiber and protein and hope that farming insects will establish a reliable food source.
“We’re going to have to feed a growing population, and this is a way to reduce the impacts on the environment while continuing to feed people and help with food security,” said Weir. “The inputs required for insects are much lower than what is required for other livestock protein sources.”