Are they healthy? - General

There’s always a new ‘superfood’ around the corner, and edible insects haven’t been immune – lots of articles proclaim them as the next great thing in healthy eating. Because there’s so many different types of edible insect, it doesn’t make sense to generalise. But what does seem to be true is that a lot of edible insects, sourced and cooked correctly, can contain a lot of protein, minerals, and essential fats.

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As with any foodstuff, the key to healthy eating is balance, not ‘superfood’ magic solutions.

Especially when compared to red meat, insects do look quite a sensible option. Guess what contains all the protein of ground beef, but with a fraction of the fat? Grasshoppers! Of course their light weight means you need to eat quite a few to get that benefit, but it’s still pretty extraordinary how much protein they contain considering their size.

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Photo: Nordic Food Lab, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Caterpillars equally pack a huge protein punch and are vastly more nutritious than boring beef. Mopane caterpillars, eaten extensively in southern Africa, contain 48 - 61 per cent protein, compared to just 14-24 per cent in your average beef mince and 40 per cent in steak. Again, the weight and size has to be taken into consideration.

Many insects contain fat. But as we know, there’s ‘good’ fat and ‘bad’ fat. Trans fat is the industrially-produced stuff, found in fast food and confection. It is linked to heart disease and obesity. You won’t find this in, say, a mealworm. Instead you’d find omega fatty acids, essential in a good diet.

Minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium zinc and iron are also vital - deficiencies in these minerals can cause extremely serious health problems, especially (though not only) in developing countries.

Beef is usually held up as the best source of iron and zinc. But it seems that some edible insects can provide much higher concentrations of such minerals. For instance, palm weevil larvae contain twice the average zinc content of beef, according to scientific analysis.

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Photo: Nordic Food Lab, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Iron deficiency is also a widespread global problem, with the World Health Organisation citing anaemia as the cause of a fifth of maternal deaths. That surprising mopane caterpillar has between 5 and 12 times as much iron than beef. Even locusts (Locusta Migratoria) contain, proportionally, more iron than beef does.

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As with any foodstuff, the key to healthy eating is balance, not ‘superfood’ magic solutions. What we are curious about is how edible insects fit into food cultures and diets around the world, and whether they could be part of ‘western’ diets too.


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