Now I have been researching health and nutrition articles for the past few weeks, and one topic that has been coming up often is articles claiming that we need to switch to eating insects because nutrition and carbon emissions and whatnot, but what does the science say?
To be honest, the research into the health-effects of a high-insect diet on the health of humans is kinda in its infancy and tons more research needs to be looked into it. It also doesn’t help that America really doesn’t have many insect eaters, as eating bugs here is seen as nasty. It also doesn’t help that people who eat insects usually don’t stick to particular species, there are many thousands, if not millions, of edible insect species, including mealworms and grasshoppers, this wide range skews the results on which insects are healthy and which are not.
One study in 2013 detailing the nutritional content of insects, not even their effect on human health, claimed:
Although the data were subject to a large variation, it could be concluded that many edible insects provide satisfactorily with energy and protein, meet amino acid requirements for humans, are high in MUFA and/or PUFA, and rich in several micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, and in some cases folic acid. Liabilities of entomophagy include the possible content of allergenic and toxic substances as well as antinutrients and the presence of pathogens. More data are required for a thorough assessment of the nutritional potential of edible insects and proper processing and decontamination methods have to be developed to ensure food safety.
5 Aquatic insects were researched in a study done in the Journal of Insect Science in January of 2015. This study researched insects eaten by a small culture of people in Manipur, India. Like the last study, however, this one did not research the health effects that they have on people, and mainly just looked at nutritional and anti-nutrition values.
The biggest piece of information might come from a blog post by the USDA by a Entomologist and Director of National Institute for Health and Agriculture: Sonni Ramaswami. In the post, he states:
There are many advantages to having insects as food. Insects contain more protein and are lower in fat than traditional meats, and contain a number of micronutrients critical for human well-being. Because of their incredible physiological efficiency, insects require significantly less food to develop on. Insects save a substantial amount of energy and natural resources by their ability to get their heat from the surrounding environment. The environmental impact of insects is also significantly minimal. Finally, their reproduction rate is much higher, making them much easier to raise.
However, for all the advantages of eating insects, there are still many unanswered questions. Little is known about the nutritional quality and safety of eating certain insects. What would it look like to “farm” insects at a mass scale and are there any constraints that need to be considered? There are many unanswered questions about regulation and policy decisions. And of course, as I mentioned above, would eating insects be culturally acceptable to Americans?
As we work toward addressing issues such as food security, climate change, food safety, sustainable energy and childhood obesity, we might have to start thinking outside the box to find viable solutions. Incorporating insects on the dinner plate is just one small step in this direction, but it might lead to big outcomes around the world.
In short, there is not enough evidence to show either way if eating insects in healthy. Healthier protein sources would be beans, soy, legumes, nuts and seeds. Not only do they have more nutrients, but there is very little ick factor when it comes to eating plant-based protein sources.