What even is a superfood? According to it’s official definition a superfood is a particularly nutrient-dense food beneficial for health and well-being. We used to attribute the term superfood to everyday easily accessible foods such as nuts, fish, berries and vegetables. However, more recently it seems to be the more obscure the food, the more difficult it is to get hold of, the more ‘super’ it becomes. Take maca powder, wheatgrass shots, spirulina tablets and in more recent years we’re talking about cricket flour, insect snack bars and even dried locusts for snacking.
The question is are insects really worthy of their superfood status or are they just another ploy to ensure we dig deeper into our pockets?
There are around 1700 insect species which are safe for human consumption. Why we’d want to eat them is another story though… Let’s assess their health benefits and whether they’re superior to other foods we’re more familiar with.
- The protein content…
Insects are a source of protein and insect powders are the latest protein powder which people are adding to their post workout shakes. 100g of cricket flour contains around 68g of protein. However, when compared to whey which contains around 80g per 100g, soy (around 80g per 100g), pea (around 50g per 100g) and hemp (around 60g per 100g) it doesn’t seem to be superior. Remember whole foods should be your primary source of protein. These sources include: eggs, nuts, fish, meat, poultry, yoghurt, milk, beans and pulses etc. Protein powders should be used as a supplement to the diet and not a replacement.
Crickets are a source of calcium, B12 and iron and these nutrients are essential for bone health and energy production. Crickets have been marketed as a healthier alternative to red meat yet still obtaining these nutrients. Although, even if you’re trying to cut back on your red meat consumption it is possible to obtain these vitamins from dairy sources, beans, eggs nuts and green leafy vegetables. If you’re following a plant based diet B12 may be more difficult to obtain, but crickets wouldn’t suffice anyway. In this case I recommend taking a B12 supplement. So far crickets don’t seem to provide any superior health benefits. Although there are some potential environmental benefits…
Studies have identified that 1kg of insects require around 1.7kg of feed. However, livestock require around 6kg of feed for every 1kg. It is suggested that insects convert food more efficiently into body mass. Additionally, researchers have shown that livestock produce significantly more greenhouse gasses and ammonia than insects.
The water requirements to produce a kilo of beef is also drastically higher than that required to produce a kilo of insects. This is due to the water required for the animal and the feed. Thus, it might be more beneficial to eat insects rather than livestock from an environmental point of view.
Studies have found that the risks of diseases associated with livestock are increasing due to the emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens. However, insects are taxinomically so different to humans and livestock that these disease risks are significantly lower.
So to conclude, in terms of health benefits, they are a source of protein, calcium, iron and B12 but, they do not appear to be anymore superior to the foods on our supermarket shelves. With regards to environmental benefits it seems that insects may be better for our carbon footprint than over-consuming on livestock. With more social and media attention focusing on the impact that our lives are having on the environment swapping your livestock consumption for insects or some of the other sources mentioned in this article. Although, personally, I’d rather eat a little less meat and obtain my protein from more plant-based sources in order to look after our environment. Each to their own and for some they’re a complete winner!
Chakravarthy, A. K., Jayasimha, G. T., Rachana, R. R., & Rohini, G. (2016). Insects as Human Food. In Economic and Ecological Significance of Arthropods in Diversified Ecosystems (pp. 133-146). Springer Singapore.
Van Huis, A. (2013). Potential of insects as food and feed in assuring food security. Annual Review of Entomology, 58, 563-583.
Linn, S. E. (2016). The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet. Florida Entomologist, 99(1), 157-158.
Brekelmans, A. (2016). Determinants of Insect Consumption and an Investigation of its Place among other Alternative Protein Sources in the Netherlands.