Bug appetit: The nutritional value of eating insects

Special to The Baltimore Sun
If you've ever considered adding insects to your diet, here's where to start.

Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly contribute guest posts to The Baltimore Sun's Picture of Health blog. The latest post is from Sara Foresman.

The practice of eating insects, known as entomophagy, has existed for thousands of years. Although Western society often scoffs at the thought of touching insects, let alone eating them, many cultures around the world recognize their nutritional value and consider them delicacies.

Entomophagy is friendly to the environment and economical. Insects are efficient at turning what they eat into edible body mass. Certain insects require less than twenty-five percent of feed when compared to cows and require even less space to farm. Thus, they are a healthy, nutritious alternative to staple protein sources and could aide in global food security.

There are over 1,000 different edible insect species, each with different nutritional values. Even the same types of insects vary in quality and quantity of nutrition depending on their metamorphic stage, habitat, diet and preparation style.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, insects are good sources of energy and protein and contain monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and fiber. In some African communities, insects consist of 5-10% of protein consumption. Insects are also rich in micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, zinc and riboflavin.

If you're still a little hesitant to give bugs a try, consider this: Sushi wasn't embraced in America until the late 60s. However, today sushi is enjoyed by many people around the world. If someone hadn't given it a try, Americans wouldn't get to enjoy what has become one of the most popular food trends.

If you aren't someone who wants to dive right in and eat live grasshoppers or mealworms, don't fret. There are less daunting ways to add insects to your diet. One of the most tolerable being cricket flour, which can be substituted on a one-to-one basis for white flour. Substituting this flour in your cakes, cookies, muffins or everyday cooking can provide you with almost five times more protein than white flour. In terms of protein content, cricket flour compares favorably with beef: 100 grams of cricket flour provides 65 grams of protein while 100 grams of steak provides around 28 grams of protein.

If your interest in entomophagy is piqued, there are plenty of online resources available. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is a good place to start.

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