The consumption of insects is common practice in Africa, South America and other parts of the world, but is also gradually becoming more democratic in our country, especially because they have undeniable virtues for our health. While red meat is decried for the cardiovascular risks it generates, while the current diet does not allow to overcome certain dietary deficiencies and while the conditions of breeding and production are debated, entomophagy is becoming a more and more widespread mode of consumption.
Indeed, edible insects can provide us with many nutrients and sometimes in much larger quantities than the food we are used to eating in France, depending on the species. Proteins, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids: everything our body needs to function properly is provided by larvae and other small animals.
An incredible source of protein
One of the major arguments of insect consumers in terms of nutritional virtues is the contribution of protein. These molecules, divided into several subcategories, are useful to our entire body, from tissues to organs, cells, hormones, etc.
Despite the small size of insects, they are rich in protein, often much more than the meat we are used to eating. Examples include grasshoppers with 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of raw product, mealworms with up to 24% and crickets with almost 21%. These figures may seem abstract, but if you compare them to the protein intake of certain other animals and plants, you can quickly see the value of insects! For the same amount of protein, you’ll get the same or less protein from chicken, eggs or salmon. Edible insects also contain on average more protein than oilseeds (between 14 and 22 g) or legumes (less than 10% on average). However, intakes can vary greatly depending on the species, their stage of development, but also their diet and rearing method.
But beyond the highest concentration of proteins, it is also their composition that is interesting for our body. Indeed, not all proteins are equal, and several studies have shown that those found in edible insects are beneficial:
- The average amount of protein absorbed is 90 grams for a consumption of 100 grams.
- These products contain essential amino acids that are at least as good as those found in plants and often better than those found in beef.
- Some insects contain proteins that are not found in any other food. This is the case of sericin in the silkworm, known for its ability to absorb certain minerals and to lower bad cholesterol.
Click here to find out the nutritional values of the main edible insects to be found without moderation in our plates!
A diet high in unsaturated fatty acids
The other category of essential nutrients in our diet includes several types of lipids. Depending on the species, the fat content can vary greatly, from 5% to over 60% on dry matter (16% on average). One might therefore think that insects are sometimes a fatty food that would not be so good for our health. However, they contain a large majority of unsaturated fats, considered the “good fat”, and essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce by itself. These fatty acids, consumed in adequate quantities, allow our body to protect the cardiovascular system, to fight against cholesterol, to make the nervous system work, etc.
Unlike pork, lamb or beef or certain oils that contain as much or more saturated fatty acids than healthy fats, many insects provide a majority of these beneficial fats. For example, 46% of the fat in a grasshopper is linoleic acid (omega-6) and 16% is alpha linoleic acid (omega-3). Other insects will still contain a significant amount of saturated fat, but not the majority. For example, 39% of the lipids in a termite are saturated, but 48% are unsaturated fats. Depending on the needs and diet of an individual, it will be necessary to turn to certain species of insects rather than others, taking into account their nutritional values. Some of these values are listed and explained in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report published in 2014.
Eat insects to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Integrating insects into one’s diet can also be very beneficial for filling up on minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, etc.) and vitamins, present in some of these edible animals. These micronutrients are essential for growth, bone and reproductive organ development, immune defenses and many other essential functions of our body. However, it is important to know that in order to absorb a maximum of these micronutrients, you should eat the whole insect rather than just the most appetizing part!
The main minerals provided by the consumption of insects
On the mineral side, most edible insects have an interesting iron content. Caterpillars can contain up to 77 mg per 100 g of dry matter, 12 times more than beef, and also contain potassium and magnesium. As for locusts, they provide at least 8 mg of iron per 100 grams of product and mealworms have been shown to have as much iron as beef, and also contain copper, potassium, zinc and other minerals.
Zinc is one of the minerals present in large quantities in various species of larvae, beetles and other insects. The champions are the Red Runner cockroaches with 11.8 mg per 100 g, the weevil larvae with 26.5 mg or the mopane caterpillar with 14 mg. In general, it can be stated that all edible insects are a very interesting source of zinc in food.
Calcium is the third most important mineral to be found in insects, notably in crickets (40.7 mg per 100 g dry matter), mopane caterpillars (174 mg per 100 g dry matter) or in some soldier species.
The contribution of vitamins thanks to entomophagy
Another good reason to add insects to our diet is their vitamin content. The presence of B vitamins is particularly noteworthy:
- Vitamin B1, useful for our nervous and muscular systems, can reach up to 8.9 mg per 100 g of insects.
- Vitamin B2, another energy provider for our body, is found in most of these small edible animals. For example, mealworms contain more than beef by weight.
- As for vitamin B12, it is not found in all species, but the cockroach nymph, the mealworm or the cricket (before the adult stage) are for example very rich in it.
Finally, we can note that vitamin C is present in several insects such as ants, and that the presence of calcium in certain insect-based foods allows a better absorption of vitamin D by our body.
We recommend these other pages: