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Eating Crickets: Benefits and Downsides

Entomophagy, or eating insects, is a practice that dates back to prehistoric times.

Crickets are one of the most commonly consumed insects. Cricket protein products have grown in popularity due to consumer demand for more sustainable protein options.

Insects like crickets are rich in nutrients, especially protein, and can be more sustainable than other sources of protein like beef.

However, some people don’t eat crickets because they are concerned about food safety.

This article explains the benefits and potential risks of using crickets as a food source.

For millennia, people in many parts of the world have used barbecues as a source of food. In fact, biblical writings from the third to first centuries BC mention The consumption of crickets (1).

In Africa, Asia and Latin America, the consumption of insects is a traditional culture (2).

Humans use around 2,100 species of insects as food, with crickets being the most common food source for insects worldwide (1).

Insects are a cheap, sustainable and easy-to-produce source of nutrients and are particularly rich in protein.

Crickets are most common in countries with insufficient resources, where many people are food insecure and other animal protein sources such as cattle, poultry and fish are scarce.

Research shows that people in Western countries do not really enjoy eating insects because they tend to view insects as impure or potentially dangerous (2).

However, in Europe, the United States and Canada, more and more people have started to accept cricket as food companies have developed user-friendly cricket-based products like protein powders and protein bars (3).

Summary

Eating insects is a millennia-old practice. It is more common in certain parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, but is more accepted in other countries as well.

There are a number of benefits to eating crickets.

Crickets can offer health benefits and be a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of protein than other animal protein sources.

Crickets are high in protein

The main reason people use crickets as a source of food is because they are high in many nutrients, especially protein.

In fact, a 2020 review found that most edible crickets are higher in protein than more common animal protein sources like goat, chicken, and pork (1).

The review found that the body can digest a slightly lower proportion of the protein from crickets than from eggs, milk, or beef. However, it was also shown that the body digests cricket protein better than popular plant-based protein sources like rice and corn (1).

Crickets have a tough exoskeleton that contains chitin, a type of insoluble fiber that is difficult to digest. Because of this, the digestibility of cricket protein varies. When the exoskeleton is removed, the digestibility of proteins from crickets increases dramatically (4).

Studies show that cricket protein powder contains around 65.5% protein and adult crickets provide 13.2-20.3 grams of protein per 100-gram serving (5, 6).

Interestingly, some species of crickets are complete sources of protein, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids in ideal proportions. Others are incomplete sources of protein due to their low levels of amino acids such as tryptophan and lysine (5).

As long as your diet includes multiple sources of protein, you don’t have to worry unduly about getting adequate amounts of amino acids, as these are found in many foods (7).

Regardless, crickets are high in protein. Therefore, cricket-based products like protein powders and protein bars would be beneficial if you want to increase your daily protein intake.

Crickets are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber

In addition to protein, crickets are rich in many other nutrients, including fat, calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, copper, folic acid, biotin, pantothenic acid, and iron.

One study found that the iron content of crickets was 180% higher than that of beef. In addition, the crickets contained more calcium and the B vitamin riboflavin than meat products such as chicken, pork, and beef (6).

In addition, crickets are a rich source of fiber, a nutrient that other animal protein sources lack. Studies show that the fiber content of crickets in a 100 gram serving can be up to 13.4% (1).

In addition, crickets provide fat, mostly in the form of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Studies have linked these to health benefits, including improvements in heart disease risk factors (1, 8, 9, 10).

Environmentally friendly protein alternative

Raising insects like crickets for food can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly than raising animals like chickens, pigs and cattle.

For example, one study found that broiler chickens were associated with 89% higher greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein produced than crickets (11).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), livestock are responsible for 14.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (12).

Reducing red meat consumption and replacing it with more sustainable options like insect or vegetable protein is a smart way to help the environment (2).

Insect farming could also help reduce food waste if farmers feed their insects with food waste (2).

Including insects in the diet can help developed countries create more sustainable food systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

May benefit intestinal health

Some research suggests that chitin, the insoluble fiber found in crickets, may be beneficial for gut health. Chitin can act as a prebiotic and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

A small 2018 study of 20 healthy people found that consuming 25 grams of whole cricket powder per day for 2 weeks resulted in increased growth of beneficial gut bacteria and a reduction in inflammatory markers (13).

In the study, Bifidobacterium animalis, a beneficial strain of gut bacteria, increased 5.7-fold (13).

At the same time, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), which is associated with inflammatory bowel disease, was reduced in people who consumed cricket powder compared to people who ate a control diet (13).

These results suggest that eating crickets may benefit gut health. However, research is limited right now, and scientists need to conduct more studies to fully understand how eating crickets can affect gut health.

Summary

Crickets are a good source of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber and can help promote bowel health. Plus, they could be a more environmentally friendly source of protein than other animal proteins like chicken.

Although grilling offers a number of potential health benefits, many consumers in western countries remain skeptical of grilling-based food products for safety reasons.

As mentioned above, insects have been safely used as food for thousands of years and are widely consumed in many parts of the world.

In addition, limited research suggests that cricket products like cricket protein powder are safe to consume and have no adverse health effects in healthy people (13).

However, eating insects can come with a few other safety concerns.

For example, studies suggest that people who are allergic to shellfish or house dust mites can also have allergic reactions when they eat insects (14).

However, there is currently a lack of research in this area and scientists need to conduct more studies to fully understand the potential for allergic reactions associated with eating insects.

Some researchers warn that insects like crickets can act as vectors of pathogens that could infect humans and animals.

In a 2019 study, researchers analyzed insect samples from 300 household insect farms and pet shops in Central Europe, including 75 cricket farms (15).

The study found parasites in more than 81% of insect farms. In 30% of these cases, the researchers found parasites that could potentially cause disease in humans (15).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that eating insects is dangerous. It merely indicates that eating insects, like eating cattle, has the potential to make you sick. Hence, insect farms should adhere to strict safety guidelines when producing crickets for food (15).

Overall, scientists need to do more research to better understand the potential risks of eating insects like crickets.

Summary

Although people around the world safely consume insects, there is a lack of research into the potential risks of consuming insects. Scientists need to conduct more high quality studies to determine the safety of eating crickets on a regular basis.

Crickets are very nutritious and affordable, which is why they are eaten in many parts of the world.

Crickets are a good source of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber and can be beneficial for intestinal health. Plus, they’re a greener protein option than other animal proteins like chicken or beef.

However, eating insects can be associated with potential health risks such as allergic reactions and pathogens. For this reason, you should only buy cricket products from trusted sources.

If you want to try cricket products, pull up a cricket-based protein powder or protein bars from brands like hi! or EXO.

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