Picture this. It’s mid-afternoon and you’re feeling peckish. You fancy a snack. So you go to the kitchen, open the cupboard, and what do you pick out? Maybe a biscuit, some crisps, or a piece of fruit. How about some insects?
Hear us out. At the start of June, UFC champion Conor McGregor went viral for doing just that. Sort of. In a video posted to his Instagram story, McGregor can be seen holding a jar full to the brim full of none other than dead bees. After accidentally spilling the jar down himself, he throws the bees back in the jar before taking one unlucky critter and gobbling it up.
We know what you might be thinking. Sure, McGregor is known for enjoying causing a stir. Maybe he was just in lockdown-induced boredom like the rest of us. But eating insects may not actually be his worst idea yet. In fact, back in September of last year, research revealed that a third (32%) of Brits believe that eating insects will become part of mainstream human diets in the UK by 2023, due to growing challenges faced by food production industry. They might be onto something.
The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy, and according to a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), around 2 billion people worldwide in areas including China, Australia and parts of South America already eat insects as part of a traditional diet.
Eating insects: the benefits
Don’t slam your laptop screen shut or chuck your phone across the room in disgust just yet. There have actually been numerous studies into the potential health benefits of eating insects, and the results show that you could reap some serious rewards. Once you get past all the legs and antennae.
All about the environment
We’re all aware in today’s day and age that farming meat is one of the biggest threats to our planet. The world now produces more than four times the quantity of meat it did 50 years ago, producing more than 320 million tonnes a year. And as the global population continues to multiply (according to the World Bank it’s expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050), finding ways to feed the world more sustainably and efficiently while getting the nutrition we need is at the top of the priority list.
Raising livestock produces huge amounts of methane, one of the major contributors to global warming and climate change, and its effect is estimated to be 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. However, raising insects produces between 10 and 80 times less methane than raising cattle, and 8-12 times less ammonia. And since insect farming requires minimal land and water use compared to animal farming, it looks to be a promising, viable alternative to producing meat.
One of the pros of eating insects is that they’re full of protein. While your first thought when thinking of high protein foods might be something like a good old-fashioned steak, insects can provide similar benefits without the ethical and environmental impact that it takes to farm and produce meat from animals.
For example, 100g of crickets contain approximately 21g or protein. And while 100g of ground beef contains about 26g of protein, bugs may actually come out on top when we consider their other nutritional properties.
Full of nutrients:
100g of crickets would provide you with about 5.5g of fat, while 100g of beef contains around 21.2g. These findings have even led some researchers to believe that eating insects could help combat obesity. In the UK, the NHS estimates that obesity affects around every 1 in 4 adults.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that on average you could get up to 200% more iron by swapping red meat for insects. Iron is essential for the human body, as it’s necessary for making haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body, while it also plays a pivotal part in supporting our immune systems. A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency (anaemia), which makes us feel tired and frail.
Insects, crickets in particular, are incredibly rich in B12, with about 24 micrograms of B12 in 100g of ground cricket powder. A B12 deficiency can cause tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and even mental health issues like depression.
Crickets also contain a similar amount of potassium as beef. Potassium is essential for helping us fight cardiac problems, reducing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis and kidney stones.
Which bug is best?
While the edible insect market hasn’t hit the big time just yet, it’s certainly on the rise. Impressively, the global market for edible insects is predicted to exceed £430m by 2023, according to recent research.
Already in the UK, popular edible insects include:
Whole dried crickets:
These smell a bit like prawns and can be milled into use for burgers, tacos or any other meat recipe of your choosing.
High in iron and fibre, mealworms taste a bit like almonds and can be roasted or ground into a flour to be mixed with other ingredients. Mealworms also contain the most protein out of all the major edible insects, with a 100g serving giving you about 24g of protein.
According to Eat Grub, a manufacturer of edible insects, grasshoppers contain gram for gram more protein than beef. They recommend roasting or deep-frying and serving with sweet chilli sauce. Just remove the legs and wings first.
But with the good, comes the not-so-good. As always, there are downsides to everything, and the same is true for eating insects. Here’s a few things you should be aware of before you get your hands dirty…
Despite the fact that insects have been eaten for hundreds of years, there’s still not a huge amount of information available about how they affect the human body. According to Crickster, a study found that insects have the same capacity to trigger allergic reactions as crustaceans like shrimp and lobster. So if you suffer from a shellfish allergy, you should probably avoid eating insects, or speak to a doctor before you do.
Other risks involved with eating insects are that they may potentially contain harmful bacteria, anti-nutrients, pesticides and toxins. While insects may carry any of these, as long as you do your research, source properly produced products, and never eat them raw, you can reap all the benefits we’ve outlined here. McGregor might not be so mad after all, right?
If we’ve managed to convince you that you could be switching out your steaks for stir-fried crickets, let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear what you think. And if you want to find out more, check out this article here.