Eating crickets helps support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. It is not only safe at high doses but may also reduce inflammation in the body, a new study has found. For consumers in North America and Europe, crickets and other edible insects are getting popular, a trend the EU’s new Novel Food Regulation may significantly strengthen.
In addition to high protein levels, crickets contain chitin and other fibres that influence gut health, said the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The new pilot clinical trial, conducted by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, looked at what eating crickets does to the human microbiome.
In this study, the research team evaluated the effects of consuming crickets on gut microbiota composition, while assessing safety and tolerability. Twenty healthy adults participated in this six-week, double-blind, crossover dietary intervention. They ate 25 grams a day of powdered cricket meal made into muffins and shakes.
“Edible insects are hailed as an excellent source of protein and other nutrients, but they also provide a relatively understudied fibre source, chitin, that could influence the gut microbiota,” the research team wrote.
Chitin is different from the dietary fibre found in foods like fruits and vegetables and has applications in health, drug delivery, agriculture, gene therapy, food technology, nano-technology, and bioenergy, among others.
Additionally, the team saw an increase of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis, a strain that has been linked to improved gastrointestinal function.
The authors of the study, however, underline that more and larger studies are needed to replicate these findings and determine what components of crickets may contribute to improved gut health.
Waiting for the EFSA
Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, has been recorded throughout human history across the globe, the study points out while underlying the fact that today, insects are regularly consumed by approximately two billion people in the world.
This number is expected to rise as demand is growing in North America and Europe.
According to market research company Meticulous Research, the global edible insects market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 23.8%, to reach €1.8 million by 2023.
This is mainly due to “growing population and decreasing food resources, increasing demand for protein-rich food, the high cost of animal protein, environmental sustainability with production and consumption of edible insects, the high nutritional value of insects, and low risk of transmitting zoonotic disease,” the research note said.
However, some factors such as psychological and ethical barriers or allergies due to insect consumption may restrain this market growth to some extent, it pointed out.
This report backs yet another study published by Global Market Insight, where the authors expect the European edible insects market – led by Germany and France – to grow 43% by 2024.
Indeed, prospects for edible insects food projects in Europe are good: Brussels-based start-up Litle Food co-founder Maïté Mercier told EURACTIV that many crickets and other insect-based food projects in Europe are waiting for approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
“We expect an answer in early 2019 and we think it will be positive,” she said.
In Europe, the EU’s new Novel Food Regulation, which came into force last January, expanded categories of Novel Foods to products of specific categories such as insects, vitamins and minerals, as well as food originating from plants, animals, microorganisms and cell cultures.
The text aims to improve conditions so that food businesses can easily bring new and innovative foods to the EU market while maintaining a high level of food safety for European consumers.
“If the EFSA gives its approval, the European market for edible insects will open. Because not only European companies will start expanding their businesses within Europe, other producers from abroad, like in Canada, the USA or Thailand will also export their products to the European market, so we have to be ready,” Mercier said.