Is Eating Bugs Good for Your Gut?


The Benefits of Bugs

Ironically, it is now new strides in scientific research that are showing the potential benefits of edible insects for our gut health. The Nature Food study found that many bugs provide all the essential amino acids needed for human nutrition along with important vitamins and minerals, including folate, biotin, B12, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

“As gross as it may sound, we truly have science behind it,” says Ekta Gupta, MBBS, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and the medical director at Knoll North Surgery Center in Columbia, Maryland. “A lot of these insects are actually okay to be consumed by human beings because they’re high in chitin, which is an insoluble fiber.”

According to Dr. Gupta, fiber acts as a fuel for the trillions of microbes living in your gut that aid in digestion, fermentation, and the absorption of nutrients. Fiber is a fuel for good bacteria and helps control dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Fiber, therefore, stabilizes the gut and reduces inflammation.

Chitin is the predominant type of fiber found in edible insects, according to the Nature Food study. It is the primary component of the exoskeleton, respiratory linings, and digestive systems of the insects. This is also true for other arthropods, including crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs, though because insects are usually eaten whole and crustaceans are not, there is only a menial amount of chitin, and thus fiber, in the edible portions of crustaceans.

Because of their close relation to crustaceans, Gupta urges those with food allergies to use caution when considering entomophagy. “Some individuals may be allergic to some of the insect proteins in chitin,” she says. “If they’ve never experienced it before or if they have gut sensitivity issues to begin with, they should keep that in mind.”

Edible insects can also be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain a positive environment in the gut. Most people associate omega-3 fatty acids with cardiovascular health, but according to Amato, they are also thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and produce a barrier effect in the intestines that protects against leaky gut.

“The gut microbiome is a part of our physiology that we didn’t even know existed to the extent that we do now, as recently as 30 or 40 years ago,” Amato says. “These microbial communities outnumber our cells, the genes they have outnumber our genes, and the biomass of the microbiome is thought to be equivalent to the biomass of our brains. So, while we’re still trying to figure out the directionality of all this, it really seems like the gut and its microbes are central to righting our physiology.”

Big Picture Benefits

According to a study published in 2022, global food demand is projected to increase by more than 50 percent by the year 2050, making it a challenge for agricultural systems across the globe to keep up supply.

Enter entomophagy (again)!

It takes fewer resources to produce edible insects than it does to raise animals, and it leaves a significantly smaller carbon footprint. And eating bugs is not only good for the environment, but is beneficial to your personal health.

“Red meat consumption has been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer as well as many other cancers,” says Gupta. “If reducing our reliance on animal meat could help address environmental issues and reduce the consumption of red meat, then we should consider it.”

“We have to set up the systems to be able to do it effectively,” says Amato. “But it does seem like a really viable option that could help save land and resources.”

Count Me In-Sect!

Around the world, various types of insects are available for consumption. Beetles are the most widely consumed globally, per the Nature Food study, followed by caterpillars, wasps, bees, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, true bugs, and termites. In the United States, however, your options are a bit more limited.

The most readily available edible insects in the States are crickets, which can be roasted, ground into powder, or incorporated into snacks like protein bars and cookies. You can find options all over the web from companies like Exo, EntoMarket, Cricket Flours, and even on Amazon. Crickets are said to have a nutty, slightly smoky flavor. Mealworms and black soldier fly larvae are also available in the United States. They usually come roasted and tossed in seasoning.

Bugging Out

Not ready to board the entomophagy train? No worries! There are plenty of other high-fiber, high-protein foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can boost your gut health, such as the following:

  • Almonds
  • Legumes
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Fish
  • Walnuts
  • Quinoa


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