Should I consider eating bugs as a source of protein?

There are reasons to consider eating bugs as a source of protein. Swansea University in the UK, is the host to this year’s Royal Entomology Society conference, and one of the speakers at this year’s conference will be talking about insect protein being a solution to famine.

On the one hand, you might say, “Ew.” On the other, why not? Remember a young Christian Bale in the film “Empire of the Sun”? His character is in an internment camp, and he's told that if he wants to make it through and keep up his strength, he shouldn’t pick the bugs out of his food; he should eat them for the protein. It was disturbing, but it made sense under the circumstances.

According to BBC News, 80 percent of the world’s population eats some sort of insect as part of their diet. You may not be in that 80 percent, and you may be a long way off from being convinced to join them, but the facts are interesting.

Professor Arnold van Huis from Wageningen University in Belgium will be presenting the case for eating insects at the conference. He says that producing one kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of meat from a cow requires 13 kg (about 28 ½ pounds) of vegetable matter as feed.

However, 1 kg (about 2.2 pounds) of meat from a cricket, locust or beetle needs just 1.5 to 2 kg (3.3 to 4.4 pounds) of vegetable matter as feed for the bugs. The environmental impact of raising bugs for meat protein is much less than raising cows for meat protein.

Those numbers are impressive, but you still may not want to put a cricket in your mouth. Despite the fact that there is no “credible reason against eating them, taste-wise and nutritionally, and there’s not a difference between insect meat and that from birds, fish or mammals,” we just can’t get past the fact that in our minds, insects are not food.

So grinding insect meat into patties is one option being considered to make insects more palatable to those of us with objections to seeing whole insects on our plates. Van Huis may have gotten the idea from “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” when Oliver showed children exactly what gets ground up and put into chicken nuggets. The children were grossed out when they saw the process, but once they saw the finished product, they wanted to eat it because it was something they were accustomed to. Could it be the same with bug burgers?

Eating bugs, known as entomophagy, is far more common in Africa and Asia than in the West. In fact, Southeast Asians consume as many as 150­200 species of edible insects. But that could be changing, due to costs and environmental factors.

Applebee’s may not be ready to serve live scorpions doused in liquor (a Chinese delicacy), but insects in the form of powdered bug protein are making their way to the States. While some are already on the market (mostly cricket protein), others are being developed and for good reason—actually several.

  • Many insects are high­-protein, low-­fat.
  • Per pound, insects have more protein than beef or chicken.
  • Producing food from insects is far less expensive than raising livestock.
  • Insects are a renewable food source that does much less damage to the environment than cattle and chicken production.

The takeaway: See if you can stay open to the idea of a protein made from insect biomass. It just may be the inexpensive protein source you’re looking for.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.