Munching on crickets for breakfast promotes friendly bacteria in your gut, a new study has found.

The insect snack also reduces an inflammatory protein which has been linked to depression and cancer.

The chirping creatures were also safe to eat in large quantities but could be a healthier and eco-friendly alternative to traditional meats such as beef, lamb or pork.

While more than two billion people around the world regularly eat insects which are also a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

They are sold deep fried in south east Asia but western consumers are a bit more squeamish about tucking into termites and other insects.

So researchers for the first time explored the health effects of eating crickets on the human microbiome in a clinical trial.

Glasgow Times:

Lead author Dr Valerie Stull at University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies explained she was 12 when she ate her insect.

She said: "I was on a trip with my parents in Central America and we were served fried ants.

"I remember being so grossed out initially, but when I put the ant in my mouth, I was really surprised because it tasted like food -- and it was good!"

"There is a lot of interest right now in edible insects.

"It's gaining traction in Europe and in the US as a sustainable, environmentally friendly protein source compared to traditional livestock."

Professor of food science and human nutrition Tiffany Weir at Colorado State University added: "This study is important because insects represent a novel component in Western diets and their health effects in human populations haven't really been studied "With what we now know about the gut microbiota and its relationship to human health, it's important to establish how a novel food might affect gut microbial populations.

"We found that cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition."

Crickets, like other insects, contain fibres, such as chitin, that are different from the dietary fibre found in foods like fruits and vegetables.

Fibre serves as a microbial food source and some fibre types promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics.

The small trial explored whether insect fibres might influence the bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract.

For two weeks, 20 healthy men and women aged 18 to 48 ate either a control breakfast or a breakfast containing 25 grams of powdered cricket meal made into muffins and shakes.

Each participant then ate a normal diet for a two-week "washout period."

For the following two weeks, those who started on the cricket diet consumed a control breakfast and those who started on the control diet consumed a cricket breakfast.

Blood samples, stool samples and gastrointestinal questionnaires were collected at the start, immediately after the first two-week diet period and immediately after the second two-week diet period.

All reported no significant gastrointestinal changes or side effects and researchers found no evidence of changes to overall microbial composition or changes to gut inflammation.

They did see an increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health, and a decrease in an inflammatory protein in the blood called TNF-alpha, which has been linked to other measures of well-being, like depression and cancer.

There was also an increase in the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis.

This strain has been linked to improved gastrointestinal function and other measures of health in studies of a commercially available strain called BB-12.

Dr Stull who has devoured caterpillars, cicadas, grasshoppers and beetle larvae in trips around the world said: "Most of the insects consumed around the world are wild-harvested where they are and when they are available.

"People love flying termites in Zambia, which come out only once or twice a year and are really good; they taste like popcorn and are a crunchy, oily snack.

"Food is very tied to culture, and 20 or 30 years ago, no one in the US was eating sushi because we thought it was disgusting, but now you can get it at a gas station in Nebrasks."

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.