Adding insect protein to your diet is an unexpected way to get this vital nutrient.
Anyone who gardens has no doubt watched caterpillars inch their way across the leaves of a cucumber plant, crickets jump through corn stalks, or spiders spin webs along protective fencing.
But when you pick those juicy red tomatoes or harvest butternut squash, have you ever considered plucking one of those crawling critters to use as a side dish?
U.S. News and World Report: Travel reports that entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is common in many cultures around the world. Thailand, Ghana, Mexico, China, Brazil, Australia, Japan, and the Netherlands regularly feature insects as part of their daily diet.
In the United States, however, ingesting a grasshopper casserole or cricket covered pasta dish would probably draw shivers and a facial grimace. But some individuals and organizations are trying to change that mindset.
Bill Broadbent, founder of Bugs for Dinner and owner of the edible insect product distribution website Entosense, notes that, given their nutritional value, insects can serve as a substitute for other foods in your current diet.
Benefits of bugs
“That is a trend now due to the fact that crickets have as much protein as beef with all the essential amino acids,” he notes. “They have as much iron as spinach and as much vitamin D as milk and are packed with omega 3s and B vitamins.”
Better still, insects are a prebiotic food, according to Broadbent. “Prebiotics are an antioxidant dietary fiber that remains undigested until it reaches your colon. It then ferments and develops fatty acids leading to better colon health,” says Broadbent. “They are the good bacteria that support good health and work to reduce the number of bad bacteria. Prebiotics are the nutrients probiotics need to thrive.”
According to Broadbent, there are scores of edible bugs, nearly 2,000 of which include local bugs such as crickets, grasshoppers, ants, June bugs, and many more. But what about poisonous species, such as scorpions or tarantulas?
“As far as poisonous bugs, I’m unaware of deadly bugs, if they are cooked. The cooking will make the poison inert,” Broadbent says, adding, “It’s important to wash and cook any bug to kill pathogens and parasites.”
Broadbent does point out that many bugs taste terrible and are considered inedible, specifically ladybugs. “Brightly colored bugs are generally terrible. You also have to be careful of bugs that may have been sprayed with or have ingested pesticides or herbicides,” he says. “That’s why we carry bugs farmed for human consumption.”
Companies, such as Crunchy Critter Farms and Entomo Farms grow insects specifically for human consumption. “Even our imported bugs, like the silkworm dolls and scorpions are raised on farms in Thailand, which has over 2,000 insect farms,” Broadbent says.
Even knowing the nutritional value of insects, it might still require a complete shift in thinking to actually pop that ant or worm into your mouth. Companies such as Broadbent’s have ways to make insects more palatable, beginning with the cooking method.
“Most of the insects are dried or roasted. Crickets are used as topping for soups and salads, while silkworm dolls are added to casseroles and soups as an ingredient,” he says. “Then we have seasoned bugs such as BBQ crickets or spicy chapulines – grasshoppers, a favorite Mexican treat. Covering them with chocolate is the easiest way to get people on the fence to try bugs.”
Insect protein powder
If the thought of eating bugs is a little too much for you, another option is insect protein powder. Broadbent adds, “On top of roasted crickets, a lot of people buy cricket powder You can add it to shakes, use is as an ingredient and you can even add it to flour and bake with it. Protein packed cookies.”
In addition to providing benefits for humans, insects can play a role in sustaining our environment. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that “crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein.” They also emit fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock. Additionally, insects can be grown on organic waste and make a good source of protein for livestock.
Edible insects can be grown in a variety of settings from agricultural fields and forests to fallow land and water bodies, according to FAO and, as such may act “as umbrella species protecting other natural resources.”
Broadbent points out that insects can be grown vertically in a rural or urban environment. “They can be raised and harvested in less time, with less water requiring less land than other protein sources. Many bugs have a 2:1 food to feed ratio and use no pesticides, herbicides, or growth hormones,” he says.
As the population continues to explode – FAO predicts nine billion people will inhabit the planet by 2050 – it makes sense to find a sustainable, nutritional food source that can nourish humans, while preserving the environment.
For those interested in adding some culinary adventure to mealtime, visit Bizarre Food where you’ll find cricket, earthworm, and locust flour; an assortment of canned bugs from Asian forest scorpions and black ants with salt to meal-worms and oven baked tarantula; and sweet treats, such as yellow scorpion lollipops and chocolate covered grasshoppers.
Whether your patients are sick of regular protein powder or want to add a little adventure to their diets, insect protein provides many nutritional benefits and variety from the norm.