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Why The Fiber In Cricket Flour Is So Unique

As eating habits continue to shift towards higher protein and healthy fats, the unique nutritional profile of cricket flour makes it stand out as a protein supplement. Those aiming for gains should pay attention.

In November 2016, Cristin E. Kearns, Laura A. Schmidt, and Stanton A. Glantz published a historical analysis of how the sugar industry funded research to blame cardiovascular disease on fat rather than sugar [1]. This now well-known account brought even more attention to diets that eschewed mainstream dietary advice. As one of the starkest alternatives, the protein-rich Atkins diet has regained popularity among nutritional gurus and high performance athletes, its influence spreading through various offshoots: the paleo diet, the ketogenic diet, Whole30, and others. [2]

I’ve personally experimented with a modified version of paleo for the past few years. More recently, after hearing interviews with the research scientist Dom D’Agostino about the mental, physical, and general metabolic benefits of ketosis [3], I dipped my toes into the ketogenic community (proud members include Matthew McConaughey, at least at one point) [4]. When someone is in ketosis, that means their body uses fat, rather than glycogen, as their primary source of energy. To do this, keto dieters adhere to a strict regimen of Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) intake. From there, sub-groups split based on how much protein they allow. The metabolic change can lead to weight loss for many, but others use keto for higher strength performance, because ketones are an anti-catabolic, meaning they preserve lean body mass. For this reason, there’s an entire community known as “ketogains,” which has a massively popular Facebook group that corresponds to an even more popular subreddit, /r/ketogains. Still others (including myself) are drawn to keto/modified-Atkins/modified-paleo for gains in mental clarity, since ketones cross the blood-brain barrier and replace glucose as a source of energy for the brain.

With all of its benefits, there is a key nutritional concern that many within this community express: fiber.

Since many keto dieters stay clear of whole grains, legumes, and beans, while simultaneously upping their intake of fat and protein, one concern I’ve seen voiced many times is adequate fiber intake. A search of the keyword “fiber” in the /r/keto subreddit alone yields 9,620 results. Many of these posts ask other redditors how they remain within their carb limit while getting adequate fiber. While some in the keto community express skepticism regarding fiber, most scientific studies are fairly unambiguous about its importance. Aside from encouraging diversity in the microbiome, more recent studies have also shown that non-digestible fiber is used by microbiota to synthesize butyrate, an important source of energy in mitochondria. A healthy population of butyrate-synthesizing microbiota in the gut has also been linked to reduced anxiety, lower stress, and overall better cognition [5]. In short, adequate (or even high) fiber is associated with high metabolic and cognitive performance, which is exactly what I’m aiming for.

Is there a way to slip in and out of ketosis (practicing modified paleo or ketogenic dieting) while also maintaining an adequate or even high amount of fiber from whole food sources? 

This focus on an adequate and varied amount of fiber sources is why I’m so interested in the nutritional profile of cricket flour as an alternative protein source. Most ketogains (and paleo) dieters rely in part on protein supplements, especially surrounding their (probably Crossfit) workouts. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a fairly standard whey concentrate with Chapul’s cricket flour:

Cricket Fiber Graph Chapul

There are a number of things to take away from this comparison (such as the high iron content that Lindsay LaPaugh wrote about recently), but for now I want to focus on the amount of naturally occurring fiber per serving. The whey concentrate lacks fiber, which is expected. For almost exactly the same amount of protein per serving, however, Chapul’s cricket protein flour includes 2 grams of fiber, or 8% of the daily recommended intake.


This combination of high protein and high fiber makes cricket flour extremely unique. Not only does it compete with whey protein concentrate as a protein supplement, but the fiber content also compares favorably to more familiar sources of fiber:

Chapul Fiber Crickert Graph

Gram for gram, cricket flour outperforms other high fiber food sources such as peas and beans.

There’s more going on here than just the amount of fiber. The kind of fiber included per serving of cricket flour adds an even more significant addition to this alternative source of protein.

The fiber in cricket flour is actually composed of chitin and chitosan, a polyaminosaccharide that’s usually found only in crustacea, mollusks, and insects, but also bacteria and fungi [6]. This form of fiber is unique because it comes from the cricket’s hard shell, or exoskeleton. According to some research studies, a diet supplemented with this specific form of fiber binds to dietary lipids, reducing cholesterol and triglycerides in the body [7]. Research has just begun exploring the medicinal opportunities offered by chitin and chitosan.

Given the unique role that cricket flour can serve for paleo and keto consumers, it’s not surprising that one of the most well-known websites in that community, Robb Wolf, includes an homage to cricket protein [8]. More recently, I’ve even seen posts in my ketogains community that mention cricket flour as one of their key supplements. It’s no wonder why.  

Guest Author: Dr. Joel Gladd @brehove 

References:

[1] Kearns, et al. “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents.” JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680-1685. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394

[2] For a genealogy of these diets and how they’re all connected, see “When and Why Should I Use Alternative Diets?”, from Cervenka et al’s The Ketogenic and Modified Atkins Diets: Treatments for Epilepsy and Other Disorders.

[3] There are many interviews with Dom D’Agostino. For just one example, see Rhonda Patrick’s interview with him on YouTube: “Dominic D’Agostino, Ph.D on Modified Atkins Diet, Keto-Adaptation, Ketosis & More.” 9 April 2016.

[4] Sonali Kokra, “A closer look at the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.” The National. 19 Oct. 2016.

[5] Bourassa, et al. “Buyrate, neuroepigenetics and the gut microbiome: Can a high fiber diet improve brain health?”. Neuroscience Letters. June 2016; 625(20): 56-63. doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2016.02.009

[6] Struszczyk, “Chitin and chitosan.” Polimery. 2002(47:9): 619-629.

[7] Dossey, et al, “Nutrient Content and Health Benefits of Insects,” Ch. 3, from Insects as Sustainable Food Ingredients.

[8] Judah Boulet. “True Paleo Protein.” Robb Wolf.

 


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