It’s Healthy To Eat Insects, Study Suggest

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Think nothing can take the place of a juicy, perfectly cooked burger? Try a plate of fried cockroaches.

Okay, so they won’t exactly taste the same—and it may be tough to even stomach the thought of munching on bugs. But experts say that nutritionally speaking, they’re a good substitute for beef, and may be a valuable food source of the future.

The idea of eating insects isn’t new. They’ve long been included in traditional diets of cultures around the world, and a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that more than 1,900 insect species have been documented as food sources globally.

So researchers from Kings College London and Ningbo University in China set out to measure the nutrient content of various insects, to see if they really could contribute to a well-rounded meal, and measure up to Western staples like beef. The results were published this week in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

The study authors were particularly concerned with iron concentration in insects, since iron is an important nutrient that’s often lacking in vegetarian diets. Not absorbing enough iron from food or supplements can lead to anemia, cognitive problems, weakened immunity, pregnancy complications, and other health issues.

Using a lab model to mimic human digestion, the researchers analyzed the mineral content of grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, and buffalo worms (oy)—along with a sample of sirloin beef—and estimated how much of each nutrient would likely be absorbed if eaten.

The insects had varying levels of different nutrients. Crickets, for example, had the highest levels of iron, calcium, and manganese. And, in fact, iron solubility (a characteristic that allows a mineral to be taken up and used by the body) was significantly higher in the insect samples than in the beef.

Grasshoppers, crickets, and mealworms also had higher concentrations of chemically available calcium, copper, zinc, and magnesium, when compared to the sirloin.

The results support the idea that eating bugs could potentially help meet the nutritional needs of the world’s growing population, the researchers concluded. “Commonly consumed insect species could be excellent sources of bioavailable iron,” they wrote, “and could provide the platform for an alternative strategy for increased mineral intake in the diet of humans.”

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