The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) suggests higher consumption of edible insects. Insects have rightly earned this recommendation through a combination of minimal environmental impact and high nutritional quality.
Indeed, edible insects are high in protein and other nutrients. For example:
- the nutritional values of the house cricket are approximately 60 g protein, 20 g fat, 5 g carbohydrate and 4 g fibre
- the mealworm, or mealworm larva, contains approximately 50 g protein, 25 g fat, 7 g carbohydrate and 7 g fibre
The house cricket and the mealworm have a similar composition, which is characterised by a high protein content, plenty of fat, low carbohydrate content and, surprisingly, given that it is an animal food, fibre in not inconsiderable quantities!
The ratio of protein to fat is 3:1 for the cricket and 2:1 for the mealworm. This ratio tells us that the protein content is higher than the fat content and therefore edible insects are suitable for reduction diets.
Now let's take a closer look at the individual nutrients.
Dried cricket powder has an average of 60% protein, which is higher than the amounts found in beef, eggs, milk and soy (50, 52, 40 and 45%, respectively). Protein has been measured in the dry matter of these foods (Churchward-Venne et al. 2017; Rumpold and Schlüter 2015).
Today's diets should contain at least 40% essential amino acids (those that the body cannot make on its own and urgently needs), with edible insects containing between 46 and 96% (Kinyuru et al. 2015).
Not only do crickets contain the necessary amounts of all amino acids, but they also have more of them than other animal and plant foods (Churchward-Venne et al. 2017; Rumpold and Schluter 2015; von Hackewitz 2018).
Essential amino acids include: lysine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine and phenylalanine.
Lysine is the limiting amino acid in cereals. The term limiting means that the body will only use as much of each amino acid as the limiting amino acid represents. If a food contains a limiting amino acid it becomes a non-full source of protein.
Edible insects contain all amino acids and thus become a complete protein compared to plant sources (Raheem et al. 2019).
The leucine content is comparable to milk but higher than soy protein (Churchward-Venne et al. 2017).
The quality and quantity of essential amino acids depends on the life cycle, sex of the insect, and the feed (Kinyuru et al. 2015; Dobermann, Swift, and Field 2017; von Hackewitz 2018).
Edible insects are a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and contain less cholesterol than meat (Kinyuru et al. 2015).
The consumption of edible insects reduces blood lipids, which contributes to the prevention against diseases of non-communicable origin (Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer,...) (Abby et al, 2022).
Fiber or chitin:
Chitin is a polysaccharide composed of N-acetyl-D-glucosamine molecules linked by a 1,4beta-glycosidic bond. Next to cellulose, it is the most abundant polysaccharide on Earth (Stull et al. 2018; Abby et al, 2022). Chitin possesses antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has a positive effect against cancer (Liaqat and Eltem 2018).
Furthermore, studies show that consuming 25 g of cricket powder per day will increase the amount of probiotic bacteria in the gut (especially Bifidobacterium animalis) and balance the levels of TNF-alpha, a factor that is dysregulated in the pathogenesis of a number of diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, non-specific intestinal inflammation and multiple sclerosis (Stull et al. 2018) .
A diet containing edible insects increases bacterial diversity in the gut, which increases resistance to colonization by pathogenic bacteria (Bruni et al. 2018).
Finally, chitin is partially metabolized by bacteria in the gut to form short fatty acids, which are a source of energy for colonic cells.
Minerals and vitamins:
Edible insects are a good source of calcium and do not contain antinutritional substances (such as oxalates and phytates) that hinder calcium absorption in our bodies (Montowska et al. 2019).
This makes edible insects a good source of calcium and makes them a food that is used to prevent osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). For people who are lactose intolerant or have a diet that excludes dairy products, edible insects are a good alternative to supplement calcium, zinc and protein.
Edible insects are an important source of iron - their content is higher than in beef. At present, however, its usefulness is still the subject of scientific studies (Martin et al, 2018).
Vitamin B12 is essential to the proper functioning of sulfur amino acid metabolism, which is involved in DNA production. Its deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia and also there is no reduction of homocysteine in the blood which is associated with cardiovascular disease (Mason et al, 2018).
Cricket powder contains 10 times more vitamin B12 than beef. Its content in 100 grams is around 2.8 μg, with the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 being 2.5 μg (Mason et al. 2018; Voelker 2019).
Furthermore, edible insects are a good source of vitamin B1, B2, B9 and vitamin A. Among minerals, it is a good source of calcium, sodium, iron and zinc. Their absorption is thought to be comparable to that of smass and fish - i.e. significantly higher than from plant sources (Abby et al, 2022).
And we also look at oxidative stress:
Cricket powder has antioxidant activity - it reduces the number of free radicals and thus protects our cells from oxidative stress that causes Alzheimer's disease, various cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Messina et al, 2019, Abby et al, 2022).
Cricket powder could lead to prevention against cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These diseases of non-infectious origin have a common origin namely oxidative stress.
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