As the global population continues to grow and climate change poses increasing challenges, the demand for sustainable protein sources is on the rise.
While plant-based meat and dairy alternatives have gained popularity, another green option is gaining attention.
Research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on mice suggests that incorporating mealworms into high-fat diets as a substitute for conventional protein sources could offer numerous health benefits.
The study, led by Professor Kelly Swanson of the Department of Animal Sciences at U. of I., explored the effects of mealworms on mice fed high-fat diets.
The findings indicate that mealworms may help slow weight gain, enhance immune response, reduce inflammation, improve energy metabolism, and positively impact cholesterol levels.
Mealworms are recognized as a high-quality, highly digestible protein source with strong environmental sustainability credentials.
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In the experiment, one group of mice was initially fed a high-fat diet rich in dairy protein for 12 weeks before transitioning to mealworm-based proteins.
Another group, the control, maintained a lean diet with dairy protein throughout the study. The mice consuming the high-fat diet with mealworms experienced a notable slowdown in weight gain compared to the control group.
Additionally, their blood lipid profiles improved, with a decrease in LDL (commonly known as “bad cholesterol”) and an increase in HDL (“good cholesterol”). The mice also showed reduced inflammation and altered gene expression related to lipid and glucose metabolism.
Chitin, a fibrous material found in insect exoskeletons, may contribute to some of these benefits by promoting beneficial gut microbial activity. Further research is underway to explore the effects of mealworms on the mouse microbiome.
While mealworm protein shows promise as a sustainable and health-promoting alternative, it has not yet received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption.
However, insect-curious individuals can explore cricket flour, a more readily available insect-based option that can be incorporated into various foods without altering taste or properties.
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