And, with FAO support and a concerted effort to change legislation to encourage the sale of insects as food across Europe, it looks like edible insects may be here to stay.
So, how ‘healthy’ are insects compared to meat?
This was the question that we asked in our recent research project, a collaborative effort between researchers in the UK and Japan, funded by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation. The results were published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this week.
We compared the nutritional content of 10 commercially available insects with 3 commonly consumed meats.
To analyse this information we chose two objective measures of the ‘healthiness’ of foods - the WXYfm nutrient profiling model, which is used by the UK government to regulate food advertising, and the Nutrient Value Score (NVS), which is used by the World Food Programme (WFP) to inform the composition of food baskets in refugee camps.
And what were the results?
Well, while insects may indeed have environmental advantages over meat, no insects are objectively ‘healthier’ than meats in a UK context. That is, in a context in which cardiovascular disease is the greatest health problem.
However, crickets, palm weevil larvae and mealworms were all significantly healthier than beef and chicken according to the model used to evaluate foods for refugee camps.This is because these insects have a particularly high vitamin and mineral content, which makes them ideal foods for combatting problems of malnutrition.
Well, if you’re at risk of malnutrition, palm weevils are by far and away your best option, closely followed by mealworms and crickets. This is great news, because all three species can be farmed far more sustainably and efficiently than cows or chickens. Ah, and they’re also delicious.
But otherwise, it looks like insects are on a par with beef in terms of health benefits. Instead, to combat rising incidence of diet-related disease, the best option that we have remains the same - to reduce the amount of animal products that we eat on a day-to-day basis.
For more information, please take a look at the paper, which is open access. The results of this project will also be presented in detail at an upcoming workshop on insects as food and feed to be held at the University of Oxford in December, hosted by the Oxford Martin School.