Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 22, 2017

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No longer content to chirp from the outside, insects are moving to the centre of sustainable food debates.

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How would you like your crickets cooked?

At the recent International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition, one of the topics discussed was using insects as food for humans. Roughly two billion people, mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, consume bugs as a regular part of their diet.1 The UN would like to see this number increase; it even suggests that insects be reintroduced to the western diet. But why should we?

Nutrition

There are 1900 species of insects consumed by humans.2 The nutrient content can vary from species to species and if the larva, pupa or adult forms of the insect are consumed. In general insects are high in good-quality protein.3,4 Their fat content varies, but the good news is that the fat is found in the healthy ration of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fat, making them a great choice. Most are quite nutrient dense, supplying minerals phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium and manganese, along with vitamins thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. When the outer skeleton is eaten, the fibre content is quite high.

Environment

The environment will benefit in a big way if we eat less meat. Cattle rearing is one of the fastest-growing sectors of farming. As populations become more affluent, they adopt more western dietary patterns, including eating more meat and dairy products. This leads to deforestation to make room for pasture land, a greater production of methane -- which is 23 times more warming than CO2 -- and ammonia which causes acid rain. Cultivating insects will supply the nutrition we need, without the environmental costs.5

It is safe?

There is a concern that insects produce chemicals and venoms that can be harmful to humans. We will have to study the different variety of insects -- much like we did with mushrooms -- to determine which will be health promoting and which could be harmful. Like any food substance, people can become allergic to insects. To date, reports do not indicate that allergic reactions are more common than with any other food. Insects do carry bacteria that could cause food poisoning but, as with other types of farming, precautions can eliminate bacterial contamination. Concerns about consuming pesticides will also be forgotten if insects are produce in areas where no pesticides are used.6

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