The Impact that Eating Insects Has on Health
In July 2018, Scientific Reports (a Nature Journal), published the results of a study showing that eating cricket powder (at 25 g per day) is safe and may improve the gut biome. Dr. Valerie Stull at the University of Wisconsin, one of the study’s co-authors, never expected to spend the next two weeks talking to news outlets like Science Daily, New York Post, Web MD, Medical News Today, and so many more.
Insects are a sustainable source of high quality protein (and delicious too!) and about 2 billion people eat them, but there has not been much research on the key question, “What impact does eating insects have on health?”
It’s not surprising that Dr. Valerie Stull would then ask herself that very question after reading the 2013 UN white paper; Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Feed and Food Security. Her interdisciplinary education and work experiences in Africa, India, Peru, and Palestine gave her a unique perspective on human diets and their role in health and the environment. With a PHD in Environmental Science, and a Masters in Public Health and Nutrition, Valerie is a post-doctoral research associate with the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While in Zambia and Kenya, Dr. Stull learned that people tend to increase their intake of insects between harvests of grain, their main source of nutrition, and they spoke generally of feeling better and having more energy when there were plenty of insects to eat. The question was, “Why?”
Insects are mostly known as a protein source, but they also contain a dietary fibre with potential prebiotic properties. Knowing that there has been little attention paid to the fibre so far, Dr. Stull teamed up with Dr. Tiffany Weir, her mentor, and Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University. Dr. Weir’s primary research analyzes the effects of diet on composition and metabolism of the intestinal microflora, the collective bacteria and microorganisms that aid in digestion.
Together, they designed a pilot study to examine the impact on the gut biome by adding edible insects to the diet in people unaccustomed to eating them. The results of their study, published in July of 2018, showed that consuming crickets at the study dose supported the growth of some beneficial gut bacteria and that eating crickets is not only safe, but may also reduce inflammation. Drs. Weir and Stull recognize that their pilot study was small and represents just a first step in understanding how insect consumption may impact human health. They are eager to conduct follow-on research.
This research on the benefits of edible insects on the gut biome is just the beginning. After the study was published, Dr. Stull received calls from scientists around the world, all interested in wanting to start research projects of their own. These researchers come from a wide range of disciplines and can conduct research on the many different areas that edible insects can impact, including agriculture, health, nutrition and the environment.
This interdisciplinary research is important. Dr. Stull noted, “In particular, there is such a disconnect between agriculture and health professionals. I hope studies like these lead to more dialogue across these disciplines.”