“Benefits of eating insects” as well as diets and insects are words extremely rare put together.
Although you might have never eaten insects deliberately and probably never considered the benefits of eating insects, you probably consumed over a pound of insects in your lifetime. Insect parts can be found in numerous products consumed daily, like: bread (flour beetles, weevies and other insects pests that infect granaries are milled along with the grain), fruit and vegetables, canned and processed food. Surprising or not, these insects did you some good by providing extra nutrients (especially proteins) in your meal.
Here are some interesting things related to insects:
Many insects are edible, but few species are nutritious and easy to obtain;
Insects are easy to raise;
Numerous species of insects are low in fat, contain significant quantities of proteins and have a better feed to meat ratio than beef, lamb, pork or chicken;
Insects are tasty – if you don’t feel like eating them as a main diet, you could try to make insect flour and add it to bread, for a significant protein boost;
Insects are beautiful;
Raising insects is environmental friendly.
Insects in the world
Edible insects are starting to be accepted in the western world as a resource worth being considered for present and future food needs. A lot of countries have taken advantage of the health benefits of eating insects for centuries. Africa, Asia and Latin America have the highest consumption of insects per person in the world. Here, hundreds of species have been used as human food for centuries. Some of the most important insects species consumed in these regions include: caterpillars, gross-hoppers, beetale grubs, winged termites, bees, wasps, ants, cicadas, etc.
Usually, insects are not used as emergency food, but are included as a planned part of the diet throughout the year or when seasonally available. In Colombia, Venezuela, South Africa, Mexico, etc. there are a lot of people who prefer insects to fresh meat. Insects are served in famous restaurants, fried with black butter or with onion and garlic.
In dried form most frequently found in village markets of the developing world, insects are very high in crude proteins, many species ranging above 60%. The house cricket seems to be superior to soy proteins as a source of amino acids at all levels of intake. Also, the Mormon cricket seems to be equivalent to soy proteins when referring to nutritional value.
Still, whole insects as a source of protein can be considered to be of a lower quality than vertebrate animal products because of the in-digestibility of chitin. Removal of chitin increases the quality of insect protein to a level comparable to that of products from vertebrate animals. Insects vary widely in fat (energy) content. Insects with the highest quantity of fat are termites and caterpillars.
The African termites have a calorific value of 761 kcal (3196 kJ)/100g, while caterpillar in Nigeria have a reported calorific value of 611 kcal (2566 kJ)/100g. So, termites and caterpillars contain 1.5 more calories than chocolate, 2 times more calories than corn flakes, 3 times more calories than bacon and sausages, 6 times more calories than ham, 15 times more calories than apples etc.
Recent analysis of 94 of the insect species consumed in Mexico also found a high fat caloric value.Excluding pork, soybeans (466 kcal/100 g) was the highest ranking non-insect food tested, plant or animal. Maize was found to have a value of 370 kcal/100 g. Of the insects analyzed, 50% had a higher caloric value than soybeans; 87% were higher than corn; 63% were higher than beef; 70% were higher than fish and beans and 95% were higher than wheat. The five highest caterpillars (of 16 species) had an average caloric value of 659.4, far greater than any of the other analyzed food products.
Another major benefit, among the main health benefits of eating insects, is cholesterol. Cholesterol levels in insects vary from low (none in the edible leaf-cutter ant) to the levels found in animals. Also, insects seem to be very rich in vitamins and minerals: the caterpillars are rich in iron, copper, zinc, vitamin B2; Termites are high in magnesium and copper; the palm weevil larva is rich in zinc, thiamine and riboflavin. The high content of iron and zinc is many edible insects is of particular interest as iron deficiency has become a major problem in women’s diets in the developing world, particularly among pregnant women (the iron deficiency is higher for vegetarians).
Although insects contain a lot of healthy elements and, as presented above, the health benefits of eating insects are a true fact, some of them secrete toxins, produce toxic metabolites or sequester toxic chemicals from food plants. Defensive secretions that may be reactive, irritating or toxic include carboxylic acids, alcohols, aldehydes, lactones, hydrocarbons and steroids. Insects are also a source of injectant, ingestant, contractant and inhalant allergens, and some insects serve as vectors or passive intermediate hosts of vertebrate pathogens such as bacteria, protozoa, viruses, etc.