What would happen to your body if you started eating insects?

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Fancy swapping your pepperoni pizza for crickets, locusts, wasps and worms? We’re not in a huge hurry either, but it turns out, eating grub might actually be good for us with some species boasting higher iron content than beef! We ask the experts what would happen to our bodies if we started eating insects…

Eating insects may be seen as taboo here, but as with many things, this is actually purely cultural, or at least a marketing fail. “Entomophagy means the ingestion of insects. Before you turn your nose up, consider that two billion people worldwide consume more than 1,000 species of insects as part of their regular diet, and it is considered normal,” nutritionist Shona Wilkinson says.

Maybe we in the West should be considering it. Rearing animals for meat is a serious process, taking up huge amounts of water and emitting lots of greenhouse gases. Insects, however, require very little in order to be reared.

Plus, they’re good for us. “Commonly ingested insects are crickets, locusts, beetles, bees, wasps, ants and worms,” Shona says. “Crickets are a nutrient-dense food, as they are high in vitamins and minerals, low in fat and packed with protein. In fact, they contain 60 per cent protein and are a source of riboflavin (B2). If we compare that to beef, which is 22.5 per cent protein, you can see why many people across the world choose insects. Cricket flour contains a good amount of vitamin D, B1 and B6, and is a source of vitamin B2, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese,” Shona goes on.

Helena Gibson-Moore is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “Certain species of insects may also be a good source of ‘healthy’ monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Most edible insects are reported to be good sources of iron, with some species boasting a higher content gram for gram than beef – although how much of the iron in insects is actually absorbed is not known,” she says.

One brand introducing insects to the UK market is Eat Grub. Poppy Reid at Eat Grub says “insects are nutritious, delicious and super sustainable. Crickets are high in nutrients and micronutrients such as vitamin B12, omegas 3 & 6, potassium, magnesium and fibre. The exoskeletons of insects are much like that of shellfish, so they contain a nutrient called chitin. When you eating the insect whole, you can benefit massively from digesting chitin. Recent clinical studies have analysed the positive benefits eating chitin has on the gut. It acts as a probiotic, to keep your system running smoothly.”

A further benefit to eating insects are how different they are to us humans, “even more so than animals that we typically consume in the western world,” Shona says. “This greatly reduces the risk of disease transmission from food to humans such as BSE/CJD, swine and bird flu.”

As for how insects should be consumed – you may have seen gimmicky lollipops, but actually, insect powders are a good way to start – the powders can be used in smoothies or bars, and soak up a huge array of flavours, Poppy says. “Cricket flour can be used in protein bars, baking and tortillas,” Shona says. As for whole insects  – they’re a good meat alternative, but you may find them psychologically tricky to overcome.

Taste-wise, it’s up to each individual, and if you’re allergic to shellfish, steer clear: “cross-reactivity to insects has been noted in people with allergies to crustaceans such as shrimp, lobster and crab,” Helena says. Also, it’s important to bear in mind how much more research is needed. “There is a lack of human trials of insect consumption, therefore little is known about the digestibility and availability of nutrients from insects. As a result recommendations regarding insects as nutritionally adequate for humans currently cannot be made,” Helena says.

But from what we do know, insects can be treated as a good source of protein, full of nutrients. “The latest advice from the United Nations is to consume more insects. We are on the verge of a western entomophagy movement. Insects as a form of food are the future!” Shona says.

By Charlotte

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Main image: Santo Remedio by Nick Hopper

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