Should we be consuming insects as a protein source?


The world’s population is expected to reach nine billion people in the next 30 years, suggesting that it is growing considerably more quickly than the global food supply.

A growing scarcity of resources such as water and land begs the question: how will we survive?

How do we now make sure that our eating habits will sustain us for future generations? Studies have found insects to be nutritious.

They provide an unlikely source of protein than what we normally eat when we’re told we more protein. Such insects include grasshoppers, crickets and even cockroaches.

People who consume animal products should think about including insect protein in their diets, according to Mpho Tshukudu, a qualified dietitian and spokeswoman for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ASDA).

It is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids like all animal proteins do.

Two billion people consume insects as part of their diet. In South Africa, Venda people consume mopane worms as part of their traditional diet.

Protein forms the building blocks of the body. It is a crucial component that the body uses to develop, maintain and repair muscles, skin and organs. Children require it for growth and while adults need it to function properly.

It is one of those nutrients that are naturally present in food.

According to proponent of the paleo diet Loren Cordain, an evolutionary nutritionist at Colorado State University: “If we continue to eat the same foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors did in the past, we can avoid developing modern ailments like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and even acne.”

Insects have been consumed for centuries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; approximately 2 billion people worldwide consume insects as a staple diet. Picture from freepik

Perhaps this is why scientists are so determined to learn everything they can about ancient diets and lifestyles before they vanish. An expert on the food of the Hadza people of Tanzania, Alyssa Crittenden, is a nutritional anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Tshukudu maintains that in addition to having a favourable ecological impact, insect protein is higher in protein, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals than any other animal protein (poultry, eggs, meat, milk, etc.). Compared to other sources of animal protein, insects utilise far less land and water and produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of body mass.

Are there health any implications?

“There are allergies to insects, although the risk is low. Some insects contain proteins similar to those found in crustaceans or mollusks, this is why allergic reactions can occur when consumed,” Tshukudu told IOL Lifestyle.

“The consumption of edible insects may lead to allergic reactions, particularly in people with asthma, hay fever, or allergic skin rashes. The known allergies are for silkworms, mealworms, caterpillars, Bruchus lentils, sago worms, locusts, grasshoppers, cicadas, bees, Clanis bilineata, and the food additive carmine, which is derived from female Dactylopius coccus insects.”

Insects have been consumed for centuries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; approximately two billion people worldwide consume them as a staple diet. There are over 2000 edible insect species worldwide.

Termites, grasshoppers, Lepidopteran caterpillars, termites, mopane worms, jewel beetles and stink bugs are among the categories of edible insects eaten in South Africa.

“If they are to be included in the formal food system, there should be guidelines on how they are kept, fed and processed,” said Tshukudu.

Insects are delicacies in certain communities and unpleasant in others. A growing number of businesses are processing insects to make protein powders, “mylk,” and burgers because they are a sustainable source of nutrition that is good for people and the environment.

This is done to appeal to consumers who are not accustomed to eating insects but want to eat more sustainably. They are served in upscale restaurants in several countries. For example, Eskimo ant eggs, which are regarded as a delicacy in Mexico, are reported to taste like bacon-flavoured mushrooms. Mealworms have a nutty and crunchy flavour.

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.



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