Why Should People Eat Insects? Hear Me Out…
June 9, 2019
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So, maybe you’ve heard about the increasing ‘hype’ of eating insects and bugs! This is called ‘entomophagy’ if you want to be technical. But you think to yourself after seeing people eat them online, or seeing advertisers like Eat Grub (Now featured in Sainsbury’s)… And you ask yourself, “Why would anybody ever want to eat insects!?”. Well, let me explain why the question should be: “Why should people eat insects?”.
This may be a squeamish subject, but hear me out and please don’t be too harsh! 🙂
A healthy diet may seem hard to imagine for those that eat a lot of junk food, but it’s a matter of experiencing it and learning to love it and the way it makes you feel! This in many ways may be similar, so keep an open mind, and let’s learn!
Well, there are many reasons… These range from being ethical reasons related to climate change and more, to being health reasons, because believe it or not, insects and bugs are extremely healthy! These little critters a highly nutritious and have many benefits!
Furthermore, insects are already eaten by over 2 Billion people! That’s over a quarter of the world’s population.
Research has also shown that the practice of eating insects or bugs has existed in humans for thousands of years and still exists in over 110 countries.
Let’s explore some of the main reasons in this article. I hope to open people up to new experiences and show you that there really is nothing wrong with so-called entomophagy! We find this throughout the world in many cultures, even in developed countries such as Austrailia and France! Escargot anyone?
First of all though, let’s clear up a few myths:
Myth #1: Edible insects are particularly unhygienic or “risky”.
This myth is one that is in fact a learned behaviour. Much like the extreme fear of spiders, the thought that insects are particularly dirty or unhygienic is a behaviour learned from those around us as we grow up. In fact, some of the most common edible insects may be even more hygienic(p.115) than crabs and lobsters! These include grasshoppers, beetle larvae, and more.
There are cultures and societies where these kinds of foods are commonplace or well accepted. In these places you will find that children don’t develop such myths as we do in the West. Additionally, many people (particularly in the US) will consume and have consumed insect parts or insect-derived ingredients. And yet, most people are unaware of this. What we see from this is that they are not particularly harmful, unless you happen to be allergic.
There is also a lower risk of chemical contamination from edible insects, as most of them are sourced wildly. Farming insects could also reduce the use of pesticides and insecticides (funny enough)!
Myth #2: Only primitive or starved cultures consume insects.
This is a belief which probably stems from learned behaviour as well. A lot of people may only see insects and bugs as “gross” or fear-inspiring. Because of this, it’s hard to understand why someone would want to eat any unless they had to. However, in many places (including those developed or developing), these food sources are considered delicacies.
In Thailand, they are commonly eaten and mixed into multiple regional cuisines. In France we find escargot. Chinese night markets are filled with these kinds of foods! And in Italy, we have the famous Sardinian Casu Marzu “Maggot Cheese”. And now in other westernised countries, there are even a few restaurants offering dishes containing these foods.
See what I mean? They’re everywhere (and it’s a good thing)!
Myth #3: Insects and bugs must taste disgusting! Yuck!
Haha, so this one is probably a differing opinoin for everyone. If you think insects to be gross, then you’re probably going to imagine that they taste gross too. That’s natural.
However, believe it or not, they are often times pleasantly flavourful. For example, crickets taste quite nutty, scorpions taste a little bit like jerky, and mealworms are apparently rather mild! If you go to Southeast Asia or China, you’ll probably find sago grubs too. From what I’ve read they’re quite hearty!
As you can see, this makes them naturally versatile, and there’s a lot to choose from to suit you!
Now then, onto the main topic – our reasons!
Let’s touch on some of the Ethical reasons why eating insects might be a good idea. I won’t go into too much detail, because first and foremost this website is a health and nutrition blog! That’s what we’re here for, but these reasons are certainly worth knowing about.
These should help to explain and answer our question: “Why Should People Eat Insects?”.
Climate Change and Sustainability
With the world population of humans increasing every year, food sources are increasing in demand. However, the production of meat requires a lot of land, water, and feed. Adding to this, livestock – particularly cows – produce methane in large amounts. This is a greenhouse gas with an effect up to 23 times higher than that of CO2 on global warming! The FAO state that agriculture is the cause of 14-22% of total greenhouse gas emission worldwide.
So, where do insects and such fit into this? Great question! Well, these animals can be farmed even vertically and therefore can take up much less land. This land doesn’t have to be the same cultivatable land as livestock, either.
Imagine if we could reduce our need for using cultivatable land for agriculture. We could replant that land with trees and other environmentally friendly crops! And, for the same amount of animal protein, they require a lot less food and water too!
Cultural Experiences and Appreciation
Every culture shares this world with every other culture. It is a gift to be able to understand and appreciate these other cultures. Not only can we connect to people around the world, but we can learn about them. We can discover and explore their cuisines, beliefs, languages, and their overall way of life.
As we have already covered, many countries around the world commonly enjoy eating all sorts of critters. Beetles take up the largest percentage of insect and bug consumption worldwide. Caterpillars, larvae, ants, and crickets are other examples.
One of the many things I want to experience in life is to go to these places like Thailand and China and experience these foods. Call me weird, but I’m not the only one! It only takes a quick search on YouTube to find many videos of people enjoying these foods.
If we can open our minds up, we can experience more. We can learn more. And in this example, we can help our own health and that of the planet.
So why should people eat insects? That, is as good a reason as any.
Humanity and Animal Welfare
One reason that I would like to cover now is to do with animal welfare. There are people who don’t eat meat because of the way that animals are raised and farmed and killed. It is considered to be inhumane by some. These people may be missing out on a lot of nutrients, too. Entomophagy may just be a great alternative!
Insects often thrive in dense populations, and arguably do not suffer as much. One reason being the high probability that they are less “aware”. Another being that research would suggest that they do not feel pain. For their species and lifespan, having to evolve such a response would seem unnecessary, and we haven’t detected brain activity suggestive of pain. Furthermore, we have found no nervous system functions or receptors that would suggest pain either. Another reason that they may suffer less is that pain is also largely emotional. For such creatures, it’s hard to say that they have emotions as we know them. Genetics, rather than decision control their actions and responses largely, making them rather “automatic”.
Furthermore, it is much easier for us any insects for them to be killed humanely. For this to happen, insects are often frozen, which puts them in a dormant state. Seeming to have no nervous receptors for pain, they seem neither to for uncomfortable temperatures. (Such receptors are multi-purpose in higher-order animals and are known as nociceptors).
We can then freeze them even further, without knowledge of it or consciousness.
Here comes the next fun part! Let’s explore the nutrition side of things! As we discuss “why should people eat insects”, this is an essential part of the answer!
I’ve already told you that insects and bugs are incredibly healthy. Now we’ll explain why and how, and the health benefits that they can give to us.
Afterwards, I’ll share some recommendations on the best products to get started! These include flavoured insects and healthy energy bars for anyone wanting to take one step at a time and slowly include these into your diet.
Eating insects and bugs is a highly effective way to get in a lot of nutrients, protein, and fats, with very little carbohydrates. These guys are practically treasure chests of nutrition!
The protein and fat contents are things we will discussed separately, so for the meantime, let’s talk about the mineral and vitamin content! Before that, I’d like to point out that they also provide significant amounts of insoluble fibre. This is prebiotic (boosts healthy gut microoganisms) and is important in sppeding digestoin.
Insects are particularly rich sources of calcium, zinc, and iron, but some also provide fair amounts of other trace minerals.
We all know that calcium is good for bones, but it has many more uses within the body. It benefits the heart by aiding the function of and protecting cardiac muscles and regulating blood pressure. It is also important for an alkaline pH level, supports nutrient transportation, and is beneficial for weight loss.
Zinc is a mineral with many different applications and benefits. Some of its main sources include meat, some seafood, oats, almonds, and others. It’s beneficial for the function of neurotransmitters in the brain, and as an antioxidant reduces inflammation and the risk of cancer. Furthermore, it is beneficial for weight loss, reproductive health, the immune system, and skincare.
Iron is essential for efficiently carrying oxygen through the bloodstream, and it’s required for proper muscle and brain function.
These descriptions are all summaries of course, but let’s continue…
Insects are brilliant sources of animal protein! They provide every essential amino acid, making them a complete protein too! The Yellow Mealworm is on average about 50% protein by dry matter. Other insects go even up 80%! The variability can be large (about 20% – 80%) and is dependent on the species, development stage, and diet. Hemipterans or ‘true bugs’ (such as aphids, water crickets, and cicadas) tend to have a high average protein content
Another great example is cricket. Crickets can contain up to 70% protein (dry weight), pound for pound packing in more than beef! Whereas a 100g portion of 90% lean beef may contain around 23 g of protein, 100g of crickets can provide over 30 grams.
Other insects such as mealworms may be lower in protein, but are higher in healthy fats!
High In Healthy Fats
The benefits of eating fat are numerous. We need it to survive. I couldn’t have not included these in the answer to “why should people eat insects?”. I even included them in my Healthiest Foods For Longevity post! The notion that animal fats are bad for us is completely outdated. And as awareness increases, more and more people are learning so.
As I mentioned above, mealworms are high in healthy fats. So are other fatty insects like caterpillars and different types of larvae. These include beneficial Omega-3s, Omega-6s, and saturated fats. Let’s talk by each of them in a little detail.
Omega-3 fatty acids
These are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). It is best to eat their sources as raw as possible because of this. The fats may become oxidised (and harmful) with high heat. However, they play significant roles in brain health, heart health, healthy sleep, skeletal system strength, and in lowering inflammation!
Getting even 3g from animal sources (which provide EDA and DHA) in per week can help us in many ways. Typically, I consume a lot more from fish. Great sources are fatty fish, but insects also provide them in good amounts! Back to mealworms (get some here), they may provide up to 3.3 per 100g serving!
Omega-6 fatty acids…
… are related to Omega-3s but have different roles. They are often found in high amounts in the Western diet, particularly in oxidized forms found in unhealthy snacks. Because of this, the typical American will have a ratio of 14-25:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3. This is highly inflammatory and can lead to many chronic diseases and illnesses. Instead, a more optimal intake is 4-1:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3. This is much closer to our natural diet and benefits human health greatly.
Instead, we should get these Omega-6s from natural food sources such as insects. But also meat, eggs, nuts, hemp seeds, and avocados.
Here are some after benefits of such fatty acids (in the right ratio):
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and related pain of the nerves.
- Regulation of metabolism
- Boosted brain, heart, and bone health
- Proper development and growth
Saturated fats are also an essential component of a healthy diet.
The human brain is about 60% fat, and guess what most of it is? Exactly! Saturated fat. These fats are required also for the distribution of fat-soluble vitamins around the body and to the brain, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. By limiting saturated fats too much, we are therefore depriving ourselves and our organs of other nutrients needed to function.
Believe it or not, saturated fat also plays a protective role in cardiovascular health. In part, this is because they may be protective from heart disease. Did you know that they are also fundamental building blocks of healthy cells and lungs? Additionally, they play important roles in the function of the nervous and immune systems, and are required for proper bone absorption of calcium.
And what about heart health and cholesterol? Although you are are unlikely to find much dietary cholesterol in insects, I would like to comment on this anyway. (Myths about cholesterol and saturated fats are very closely linked). The truth is that by eating food high in saturated fats and in cholesterol, you will not be increasing your blood cholesterol levels, and in fact have a higher chance of lowering them. Low-cholesterol diets have even been associated with increased risk of other illnesses
Where To Try or Get Started?
Now that you yourself can answer the question why should people eat insects, what about how people can eat them?
For those wanting to start out, but are still a little unsure, I highly recommend Eat Grub. They produce healthy flavoured snacks, like bars and roasted crickets. The flavours range from peri-peri, sweet chilli and lime, cacao and coconut, blueberries and almond, and more!
Avoid unhealthy energy bars with additives, by opting for this wholefood alternative! You’ll only find natural ingredients in these, with only 0.3% natural orange flavour in the berry flavoured bars. If you’re the type to eat energy bars, or exercise regularly, then these are awesome! Click the Amazon link above to get some. They’re the cheapest you’ll find!
Another step to take for those still not ready for the plain ingredients, is the flavoured ones! This isn’t the healthiest option, due to rapeseed oil and sugar. But, it’s not the worst way to get started towards the plain ones, or replacing unhealthier snacks. The BBQ selection is quite popular.
For the adventurous lot out there…
There are many kinds of plain insects and bugs! You can eat these on their own, or cook and season them into something more palatable.
I’ll also share some links below to the first ones that I ever tried! They were from Thailand Unique, and were actually pretty nice! I enjoyed the crickets for quite a while, and the scorpion was more for the experience (though I would have prefered something “fresher”)!
Try it! You have my word that they’re actually nice, and worth trying… (But, the scoprion is crunchy). If you’re interested, this company does actually offer more variety than Eat Grub, and often so for brilliant prices!
In A “Snailshell”… Not Sorry! 😉
I’m certainly not saying we should entirely replace our normal animal meats with insects. But maybe some diversity in our diets could help to create a more natural and biodiverse landscape for the planet. We all need to act in order for our precious planet and its nature to be saved.
I particularly like the question of “why should people eat insects”. It gives a lots of think about, and a lot to learn. There are many health reasons, which is why a lot of people – even athletes – are opting for these nutritious food sources.
In the end, I think it comes down to trying something new, and learning to love it!
Trust me, I know it sounds weird. But an open mind and a little courage can go a long way for us, and for the planet. I’m sure you’ll agree with that 🙂
That’s it for this article, it’s been a bit of an adventure. Let me know what you thought below, and tell me of your and stories and experiences with “entomophagy”. (I like that word!)
If you enjoyed this, please check out our other posts and social media, thank you.
Until the next one, stay healthy
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