What Happens When You Eat Nothing but Bugs for 7 Days
Days 25-31 of What Happens When You Eat Bugs for 31 Days
By Laura D’Asaro and Meghan Proulx
This is the sixth and final story in our series. Read the previous story here.
The time has come for me to share with you what went down when I ate nothing but bugs for a week. Strap on your seat belts folks, it’s about to get mildly bumpy.
To review, for this week I am allowed to eat bugs, bugs, and only bugs. A dash of seasoning here and a sprinkling of oil there is okay because I made the rules here.
They say you are what you eat and if that’s true, things are about to get VERY Kafkaesque in here.
But Wait, Remind us Why this is Happening
Five years ago, I co-founded a company whose mission is to fix our broken food system by getting people excited about eating bugs.
Sure, they may be the most sustainable source of protein out there, but do they taste good? Are they healthy to eat regularly? I believe I have already proven the answer is yes to both of those questions, but now I want to push it. And I mean really push it... to the outer and extreme limits of what is normal or even remotely recommended for a healthy person.
I asked the question, “what happens when you eat nothing but bugs for a week?” and decided to figure it out for myself.
Day 1 Saturday
I’m not exactly adventurous when it comes to breakfast. I like a nice cup of yogurt or a bowl of oatmeal. Maybe I’ll add cinnamon if I’m feeling zesty.
I wasn’t quite ready to dive right into a plate of crickets, but I had to.
I inventoried my bug supply, ate a few dried unseasoned crickets, and realized that I was in trouble. Remember the lady who ate bugs for a week and hated her life? That was going to be me if I didn't get some fresh or, at least, seasoned bugs.
Luckily, there’s a small store near me that sells Don Bugito's crickets and superworms, so I bought a couple of bags. I then went home and cooked up some frozen crickets with BBQ seasoning.
On my first day I had a couple of social events - a date, and a dinner with my roommate's parents - so we sent texts to both to let them know.
I texted my date to tell him that I was only eating bugs, but I don’t think he actually got the message.
I guess ONLY bugs is a hard thing to communicate! He brought fruit and juice and I had to politely refuse, while he made fun of me and tried to tempt me into eating.
After my date, I went directly to my roommate's parents house for dinner. They had ordered Mexican food, so while everyone else was eating off of plates piled high with burritos, tacos, chips, and salsa, I slowly picked crickets off my plate, trying to make them last the duration of the meal.
After dinner, I was super low energy and not feeling well.
Walking up hills or stairs was a struggle, and I wondered if I was getting a cold. I went home and took a nap for an hour.
It was a friend's birthday, so they tempted me out to go dancing, but I was nowhere near their energy level. I took a seat on a sticky bar stool, pulled out a bag of dried mealworms, and ate them by the handful until I started to feel a bit better.
Day 2: Sunday
Today was about as unpleasant as yesterday. I ate as many crickets and mealworms as I felt I should, but after feeling awful all weekend, I realized that the reason I was feeling so bad is that I wasn’t nearly eating enough calories. After doing the math, I was only eating 500 calories a day at most.
I’ve done intermittent fasting before (my co-founder Rose is a big fan of intermittent fasting for health), but this was different. Different because I didn't feeling like I was starving myself. In fact, after a meal I would feel completely satiated. It wasn't like I was depriving myself, or didn’t want more. And don't tell me "Of course you didn't want more- you were eating only bugs!" After a month, I've gotten pretty good at cooking bugs and they were quite tasty.
My guess is that bugs are just so nutrient-dense - full of proteins, fats and vitamins - that it tricked my body into thinking it was full.
I needed to step it up and put more effort in, because I simply wasn't getting enough calories. After 2 days I had already lost 2 more lbs, bringing my total weight loss on the bug diet to 4 lbs. The thing is that 100 g of crickets seems like a lot, but when I looked it up, it only has 121 calories. I was eating plates of bugs, but it just wasn't that much food.
I figured that small, frequent mini-meals would be the way to go this week. I powered up on some sautéed crickets for lunch, and then went rock climbing with some friends, stopping part-way through to snack on some grasshoppers.
Day 3: Monday
Breaking my own rule of staying away from dried bugs, I found a snack online that is awesome! It's a Thai cricket snack, and done really well. They have different flavors that taste a lot like sunflower seeds. Highly recommended.
Insects taste quite different depending on what you feed them. Tiny Farms had given me two kinds of crickets, one that was finished with carrots and one normal. "Finishing" means they are fed on a specific food for the last week to affect taste or nutrition. I baked both up, and there was a definite difference. The ones with carrots tasted a bit sweeter and more mild, while the normal ones were a hint meatier. I preferred the carrot crickets for sure. In the early days at Chirps, we had a chef who helped us experiment with mealworms, he fed them different spices like sage and rosemary. The crazy part was, even days after eating the spices, they still had distinctly different flavors. It makes me excited for the future of different flavored bugs! You could get completely different products from the same species of cricket just by feeding them a different organic food diet.
Energy update: Running on low, but making it through.
Day 4: (Tuesday)
Today I had an idea I wanted to test. I popped in to a nearby store that caters to gym bros and bought keto strips to test if I was in ketosis. If you haven't heard of the popular Keto Diet, the short is that on this diet you eat very few carbs, forcing your body to burn fat instead. The process your body is forced into is called ketosis during which your body produces ketones which can be detected in urine. So I peed on the stick and the color it changed to indicated my ketones were at a level of about 5, pretty significant actually.
As your body converts to burning fat instead of carbs, you can get what they call the "keto flu" for the adjusting period. That explains some of my low energy - I think to myself as I toss crickets into my mouth.
There is some research around the keto diet that it may help reduce cholesterol, even reduce your risk of cancer or prolong life. I think there is still a lot more research to be done, but there are a lot of followers who definitely could add bugs to their diet :)
These are the passing thoughts I have as I eat yet another cricket dinner.
Day 5: (Wednesday)
I was getting pretty tired of eating just crickets, so after work, I went to a local Cambodian market in Oakland, which, if you live in the Bay Area, is an awesome resource for bugs. They often carry frozen grasshoppers, silkworm pupae, and crickets. They were out of grasshoppers, but they had the silk worms and also giant water bugs. I had never seen one of these in person and had to try.
I went home and decided to cook the silkworms for dinner. I've had dried silkworms before, and up until today, they have been my least favorite bug. They have an extremely strong taste to me, kind of like a rancid nut, so I always provide them as an example when people ask me if there’s a bug out there I won’t eat. Anyway, I did some research on silkworms, and want to nerd out a bit here.
As the story goes, about 5000 years ago, a silkworm pupae fell into an Chinese empress's cup of tea. She plucked the drowned silkworm from her steaming cup and out of curiosity, examined the creature’s insides. Revealed to her there was a long, tightly wound, and incredibly smooth strand of material. Yep, it was silk and it was a hit.
After using up most of nature’s supply, the Chinese began breeding silkworms to make all the fine silken materials they desired.
As part of this process, you have to boil the silkworms. This is because if the silkworm leaves the cocoon, it ruins the silk. That means you get thousands of lbs of boiled and edible silkworms each year as a byproduct of the silk industry. To this day in China and Vietnam, silkworms are eaten and sold at outdoor markets, boiled or fried. This tradition, however, is becoming less common as Western culture takes over. Or so the article said. I wasn't sure if maybe it was because of the taste, but I was willing to find out!
These prepackaged silkworm pupae came already boiled, so I looked up some recipes and decided to pan fry and bake them in the oven. The smell coming from my pan was familiar and strange all at once, a bit bitter but also, is that potatoes? I bit down and the texture was chewy but the taste was remarkably like potato; they had a starchiness that I hadn’t had in any other bug. It was actually pretty good! Nothing like the dried silkworms I had had before. I wasn't allowed ketchup, but I sprinkled them with salt, red pepper, and paprika.
Day 6: Thursday
I had settled into a little routine of frying up crickets in the morning and packing them for my lunch, while for breakfast I eat mealworms or grasshoppers. Then for dinner, I would try something more adventurous.
Today, I brought the leftover silkworms and reheated them in the toaster oven at work. A pungent and unfamiliar yet also somehow familiar odor fills the office and people start looking around wondering what that is. “Is Laura cooking fish in the toaster?” I hear someone mutter. Rose gives me a look, and I take them out, smiling. It's just lunch, Rose!
For dinner, I decided to cook the giant water bugs. I unwrapped all 4 of them, and look down at them as they look up at me. It’s almost as big as my hand, but I cautiously pick one up, and bring it to my nose. Smells like cantaloupe? Or maybe mango? Either way, it was unexpected and didn’t make me feel less intimidated. I researched how to cook water bugs and settled on defrosting and then frying. When the water bugs hit the hot oil, they started to screech like lobster and bubble. I cooked them until there were no more bubbles and they stopped hissing at me, then fried the rest, and put them on a plate with some salt.
How do you eat a Giant Waterbug?
Like this. I didn't know how to eat these things, so I actually had to look it up. Basically you tear off the hard wings and head, and dig in. From what I read, they are supposed to taste like, "watery scrambled eggs with a strong black licorice flavor." Great.I followed procedure, tearing off wings and heads and then gingerly took a bite, trying to be open minded. It was nothing like I have ever tasted. Good? Bad? I couldn't even really decide. It was a little fruity and also somehow meaty. I decided that it's kind of like mango seafood, maybe. The biggest issue isn't really even the taste; there is so much shell, I keep getting pieces of that instead of the meat so I get through three of them and decide that's enough.
The fruity taste is pretty strong and I couldn’t do it any more.
Day 7 Friday
After six days of only eating bugs, I got my blood work done, weighed myself, took my measurements and ate what remained of my bug supply.
Lbs Lost: 6
Measurements: Lost .5 inch off my waist, .25 inch off my bust, and .25 inch off my hips.
Bloodwork: There were a few notable changes.
B12: Yes! This was the one I was hoping to see a change in. Before the bug diet, my levels were at 333. They rose to 791! My levels more than doubled.
After not eating carbs for a week, this is pretty low. Normally fasting levels are 72-99, but this isn't totally out of range.
Besides that, not too much else changed. I was wondering if my iron levels would be through the roof since insects are so high in iron, but my iron levels actually went slightly down from 133 to 96, but all within normal variability.
Is it bad if I say this wasn’t that hard? Ok the last week was VERY unpleasant, but the worst of it was just the low energy and an awkward first date.
The first three weeks were relatively easy. The biggest obstacle was simply the stigma around eating bugs that followed me and my bags of mealworms around for 31 days.
Perhaps now that it’s over, it’s easy to remember only the best parts of this experience (thank goodness I documented each week).
Lessons I learned
Don’t put cricket powder on a bagel
Don’t put cricket powder in your green tea,
Don’t pour ants all over your scrambled eggs.
Also, this is personal preference, but I won’t be eating giant water bugs for dinner.
Ultimately, many of these dishes were LEGITIMATELY good and I fully plan on eating them again and sharing with friends.
In the end, I’m healthy, if not healthier, and right towards the end of my diet, a fantastic study came out showing that cricket powder may improve gut health and reduce inflammation. Check out the Full article, or this easier to digest article.
So that’s it! Go try for yourself. Check out my favorite recipes and if you want to get started on entomophagy, here are some resources to help you out:
Chirps Chips (Duh)
Seek (Granola, snack bites)
Gyminies (Cricket Cookies)
One Hop (Cricket and mealworm Tomato Sauce)
Bold Foods (Cricket Pasta)
Crickets (Dried and seasoned)
General Insect stores
Mithepheap Market (Frozen grasshoppers, crickets, giant water bugs, water bug extract)