Everything You Need To Know About Edible Insect Nutrition In 2019

Studies show that edible insects may reduce inflammation, improve your gut health and help develop your brain.

Martin Gomez Thomsen
Nutrition Facts
man eating bugs

The nutritional value of edible insects varies greatly and edible insects are rich in nutrients promoting human health.

In this blogpost you will learn

  • About the nutritional value of edible insects
  • How some edible insects are even healthier than beef and chicken.
  • The edible insects that provides the nutrients most beneficial to you.
  • Why edible insects can develop your brain, reduce inflammation and improve your gut health.
  • And why the nutritional value of edible insects varies so much.

I am super excited to share this with you – let’s get started.

Most edible insects are rich in protein, fat, fiber and energy and can be a significant source of vitamins and minerals for humans.[1,2,3]

The nutritional value varies between species, their environment, geographical location, what they eat and their developmental stage. [3,4,5,6,7]  

Similarly, the nutritional value changes depending on the preparation and processing before consumption (drying, cooking, frying etc.) [8]

The nutritional value of insects is comparable to conventional meats and in some cases even healthier than beef or chicken. [8]

Besides, they may also have some beneficial health effects. Like providing essential elements necessary for brain development, improving gut health and reducing inflammation.[9,10,11]

Bottom line:

The nutritional value of edible insects varies and edible insects are rich in nutrients promoting human health.

What type of nutrients do edible insects contain?

The main nutritious parts of edible insects are protein and fat, followed by fiber, minerals and vitamins. [1,2,8,12]

Most edible insects contain satisfactory amounts of protein, while meeting amino acid requirements for humans. The protein content of edible insects varies from 13-81% of dry matter.  [1,8,12,13]

The fat content of edible insects varies from 2 to 77% of dry matter. [1,2,14,15]

Many edible insects are high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), where total PUFA content may be up to 70% of total fatty acids.

Food rich in PUFA is essential for human health and brain development  [13,16,17,18,19,20]  

Edible insect fiber contents range from 5.1% for termites to 13.6% for true bugs (Hemiptera).

This comes primary from chitin, a carbohydrate present in the exoskeleton of insects. [2,9,21]

The benefits of chitin

Chitin has many health benefits including increasing immune defense, as well as combating inflammation and cancer. [22]

Edible insects are also rich in vital micronutrients including copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc, as well as vitamins including riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and, in some cases, folic acid. [1,8]

The energy content of dried edible insects ranges from 426.3 kcal/100 g for grasshopper, locusts, and crickets (Orthoptera) to 777 kcal/100 g for caterpillars (Lepidoptera). [8,23]

How many crickets do I need to eat to meet my daily calorie requirements?

To meet your daily calorie need of 2500 kcal, you could eat 500 grams of dried crickets. By doing that you would also get a whopping 305 g of protein, 70 g of fat and 50 g of fiber = LEAN GAINS BABY 😉 [1]

table of nutrient composition and energy contents of edible insects
Source: Insects as an Alternative Protein Source

Bottom line:

Edible insects are rich in micro- and macronutrients essential to human health and may benefit you by making you smarter, increasing immune defense, as well as combating inflammation and cancer.

That is great!

If you’d  like to know more about the different nutrients in edible insects and how they benefit can benefit you, read on.

Why edible insects are a good source of proteins

The benefits of protein

Proteins are the building blocks of our body. Our bodies consist of protein from our bones to our muscles, organs, arteries and veins, skin, hair, and fingernails.

Protein is an important nutrient and while most of us eat enough to prevent deficiency, some people could benefit from a much higher protein intake. Benefits like improved weight loss and increased strength & muscle mass. [24,25,26]

However, the way we are getting protein from animal sources today is unsustainable.

This is where edible, protein rich insects come into the picture!

To produce 1 kg of edible insect protein you need 4 times less water, 5 times less feed, 13 times less land, and emit 100 times less CO2 than producing 1 kg of edible beef protein.

This means you can get your proteins, increase your health and ‘save the planet’ by getting more of your protein from insects.

Now you might be asking,

“Which edible insects should I eat to increase my protein intake?”

And that is a great question!

The average protein content can range from 13-81 % of dry matter [23,27] for wild caught edible insects and 38-72% for farmed insects [14,28]

protein content of edible insects
Protein content (% in dry matter) for 7 different species. [29]

Fun fact

Protein content might be even higher than measured since some protein might be bound in the exoskeleton

Here are 4 things you can do to make sure that the edible insects you are eating are high in protein:

  1. Chose a specie high in protein; like crickets, grasshoppers and locusts [2,8]
  2. Chose adult edible insects; Adult edible insects usually have higher protein content than when they are in egg, larvae or pupae form. [30]
  3. Chose farmed insects with documented nutritional composition.
  4. Chose dry-roasted or freeze dried edible insects over fresh insects.

That is great, but how easy is it to digest insects protein compared to other plant and animal based protein sources?

Insect protein digestibility ranges from 76-96%, [23] which is the same or smaller than egg protein (95%) and beef (98%), but even higher than the case of many plant proteins. [27]

One way to increase the protein digestibility of edible insects is by removing chitin, the fiber that makes up the exoskeleton. [31]

Bottom line:

Proteins are important building blocks of our body. Increasing your protein intake might aid weight loss and increase strength and muscle mass. Edible insects are a high quality protein source and can be a great addition to your diet. Edible insect can provide you with high amounts of easy digestible and environmental friendly proteins.

Amino acids in edible insects

amino acids, peptides and protein

Amino acids are the smaller building blocks required to create all the larger protein building blocks of the body.

There are 20 different amino acids, where eight are essential, meaning the body cannot make them and must get them through food.

The eight essential amino acids are: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine and lysine. [12]

Edible insects contain all essential amino acids. Including high amounts of the essential amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, lysine, tryptophan and threonine. [12,32]

Analysis of almost a hundred edible insect species show the essential amino acids represents 46–96% of the total amount of amino acids.[8,29]

complete protein contains all essential amino acids

Bottom line:

Edible insects are a great source of essential amino acids.

Fat in edible insects

fat insect cartoon

Fat is an essential nutrient to the body.

The fats you eat give your body energy, keep your body warm, your skin and hair healthy, help you absorb vitamins from food and produce hormones.

Dietary fats can be either healthy or harmful. The key is to get a good balance of fats in your diet. Eat the healthiest kinds of fats, in the right amounts.

Normally, we divide fatty acids into monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats.

The difference between these fatty acids lies in their chemical structure and how they affect the body.

Unsaturated fatty acids are in general the healthy fatty acids. You get them through plants and fatty fish.

Saturated fatty acids, and trans fats, in too high amounts are generally not good for you. You find them in almost all animal sources as well as in fried and baked foods.

Edible insects are one of the few animal sources that contains higher unsaturated fatty acids than saturated fatty acids. [9]

This means you can increase your healthy fat intake, while keeping your protein intake high by switching from beef to crickets. [9]

The fat content of edible insects it can vary from 2-77% of dry matter and is higher in the larval stages than in adult stages. [1,8,14,15]

fat content edible insects
Fat content (% in dry matter) for 7 different species. [14]

Looking at the total fat content of edible insects. Fatty acids ranges from 10-44% of saturated fatty acids, 2-49% of monounsaturated acids, and 19-74% of polyunsaturated fatty acids. [10]

Edible insects with the highest fat contents are larvae, worms and caterpillars. Whereas the edible insects with the lowest fat contents are grasshoppers and locusts.  [8]

It appears the fat content of the edible insects depends on the plants on which they feed. [2]

Bottom Line:

Fat is an essential nutrient to the body helping with a variety of important functions. By eating edible insects you can increase the amount of healthy fats in your diet, while reducing unhealthy and harmful fats.

Essential fatty acids in edible insects may make you smarter!

omega edible insects

Your body can make most of the fatty acids it needs from other fats. Yet, there are two essential types of polyunsaturated fatty acids that you need to get from food. They are linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid).

We call them "essential" because your body cannot make them itself, or work without them. Your body needs them for brain development, controlling inflammation, and blood clotting.  

Scientist even suggest that edible insects providing essential fatty acids, especially omega-3, played an important role in human evolution and brain development. [10]

Of all PUFA, Edible insects can have up to 76% omega-6 fatty acids and up to 24% omega-3 fatty acids. [10]

Bottom line:

Edible insects are a great source of essential fatty acids. Their essential fatty acids may make you smarter, decrease inflammation and ensure your blood is clotting.

Carbohydrates and fiber in edible insects

bad fly joke

Carbohydrates in edible insects come primary through fiber.

Edible insect fiber contents range from 5.1% for termites to 13.6% for true bugs (Hemiptera). [1,10]

Chitin is the most common form of fiber in the body of insects found primary in their exoskeleton. [9]

The chitin content in commercially farmed edible insects ranges from 2.7 to 49.8 mg per kg of fresh edible insects and from 11.6 to 137.2mg per kg of dried insects. [2,8]

To humans chitin is an indigestible fiber, meaning the body is unable to digest it. Thus, it acts as food (prebiotic) for the healthy bacteria in our gut.

Thereby promoting our immune system, gut health and reducing  inflammation. [8,11]

Chitin has even helped some individuals to be more resistant against pathogenic bacteria and viruses. There are also indications that chitin could reduce allergic reactions to certain individuals [11,14,31].

FUN FACT:

Chitin act like cellulose in the human body and due to this effect it is often called “animal fiber”. [15]

Scientist analyzed the amount of fiber in 7 different species of edible insects. The African migratory locust had the highest content, while the Jamaican field cricket contained the least fiber

chitin fibre content in edible insects
Fiber content (% in dry matter) for 7 different species. [14]

Bottom Line:

Edible insects are high in insoluble fibers in the form of chitin. Eating edible insects high in fiber can boost your immune system, increase your gut health, reduce inflammation, and even help reduce allergic reactions.

Micronutrients in edible insects

Micronutrients (including minerals and vitamins) play an important role in the nutritional value of food.

Micronutrient deficiencies can have major adverse health consequences. Including damaged growth, immune function, mental and physical development and reproductive outcomes.

The most scary part is, that it is not always possible to reverse with nutritional interventions [33]

Luckily, edible insects are rich in micronutrients that can correct and prevent deficiencies[2]

Yet, it does not make sense to make general statements of the micronutrient content in different types of edible insects.

Because the vitamin and mineral content described in the literature varies even within the same species. [1,2]

The variation in the nutritional value of the edible insects change depending on their development stages and diets. [2]

Even so, edible insects provide significant amounts of minerals and vitamins. [1]

Bottom Line:

Micronutrients play an important role in the nutritional value of food. The micronutrient content for edible insects depends on their diets and developmental stage. Even, so edible insects provide significant amounts of micronutrients.

Energy value in edible insects

energy

Edible insects can be a great source of food energy to support the functions of your body and maintain energy balance.

Food energy comes from the macronutrients carbohydrate, protein and fat.

We measure the amount of energy in each macronutrient with kilocalories (kcal) or kilojoule (kJ). Carbohydrate and protein each contain 4 kcal per 1 gram, where 1 g of fat contains 9 kcal.

The energy value of edible insects depends on their composition, primary on the fat content.

Larvae or pupae are usually richer in fat and thus in energy compared to adult edible insects. [2]

High protein insect species, like grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets, have lower energy content around 426 kcal/100 g of dry matter. Where caterpillars and larvae can contain up to 777 kcal/100 g of dry matter. [8,23]

Scientists analyzed 78 kinds of insects and calculated their energy content in the range from 293 to 762 kcal per 100 g of dry matter. [8]

Table 6.1 shows the energy value of selected species of edible insects, expressed in kcal per 100 g fresh weight. [2]

energy content of edible insects
Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security (FAO)

Bottom Line:

Edible insects can be a great source of food energy to support your body’s functions. The energy content of edible insects varies and depends on their composition, feed and developmental stage.

But why does the nutritional value vary so much for edible insects?

Here's why the nutrition value varies so much for edible insects

question mark

The nutritional value of edible insects depends on many factors, e.g., species, developmental stage, sex, diet, and environment. [21,34]

A few separate studies analyzed the nutritional value of edible insects. But, the data are not always comparable. This is due to the variation between species, their diet, their environment and due to the different methods used to analyze the nutritional content. [2]

Finally, how we prepare and process (e.g. drying, boiling or frying) the insects will also influence the nutrition value.

For example, a fried grasshopper will be fattier and have fewer nutrients than a freeze-dried grasshopper.

Bottom Line:

Several factors can affect the nutritional value of edible insects. Factors including the type of species, development stage, diet, environment, processing, and the method used to analyze the nutritional content.

Alright, that makes sense. How can I then know the nutritional value of the edible insects I am eating?

That is a good question! Since the nutritional value depends on so many factors. The only way to be sure of the nutritional value, is to analyze the edible insects yourself or to choose a trusted commercial farmer.

Let’s conclude

Edible insects are rich in micro- and macronutrients essential to human health.  

If you are struggling with a poor memory, a lot of sick days or cancer. Then introducing some edible insects into your diet might benefit you.  

So next time you're planning to cook beef or chicken. You could replace that steak with some edible insects and get higher amounts of lean proteins, essential fatty acids and even fibers.

If you are looking to increase protein intake to lose weight or gain muscle and strength.

Then the best edible insects for you are crickets, grasshoppers and locusts.

Are you however looking for more healthy fats in your diet, choose insects like larvae, caterpillars, worms and pupae.

The nutritional value of edible insects depends on the species, development stage, diet, environment, preparation, processing and the method used to analyze the nutritional content.

Finally, if you want to know the exact nutrient content. Then you should buy farmed insects from a supplier with documented nutritional analysis.

If I left one of your questions unanswered, head down to the comment section and I’ll make sure to give you a heads up. 😉

Bug appetit!

Keep reading

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