Edible insects

April 3, 2023, 3:53 p.m.

Considering that the current population of the planet is already waiting for a global food crisis, in the future, insects could become an effective solution to meeting the nutritional requirements of a growing population.

More than 1 900 species of edible insects are consumed throughout the world, and they are already a nutrient-rich part of many national diets.

Insects have come under the spotlight over the past few years, as scientists seek alternative sources of protein to feed the rapidly expanding global population. A direct nutritional comparison shows that edible insect species have greater protein potential than do conventional meat products — 100 grams of mealworm larvae produces 25 g of protein, whereas 100 g of beef contains 20 g of protein.

Edible insects are a promising alternative food source due to their high nutritional composition and sustainable production. The nutritional value of edible insects is equal or greater than conventional protein sources. Furthermore, it is now known that edible insects can provide health benefits when consumed and if cooked or processed in certain ways, they do not represent safety issues for their consumption.

Insects also have a high food-conversion ratio when compared with livestock.

Edible insects have important nutritional value and can be healthy additions to our diets. They offer energy, fat, protein and fibre and depending on the insect, can be good sources of micronutrients such as zinc, calcium and iron.

Insect-rearing requires minimal access to land and feed, providing income and livelihood opportunities for many in rural and urban communities.

Nowadays, edible insects are considered an outstanding source of nutrients, primarily because they contain high-quality protein, amino acids, and vitamins. Insects are considered a promising alternative protein source towards alleviating future global food shortage problems due to their production considered as being more sustainable by using less agricultural land and water, as well as releasing a smaller amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Edible insects contain bioactive compounds that can provide diverse bioactivities, such as antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory with a positive impact on human health. Edible insects are a nutrient-rich food that can provide a perfect growth medium for diverse microorganisms.

Insect farming in a closed or indoor environment is an important means to making food available continuously year-round, since many insects are available in nature only during certain seasons or months. It is particularly important to increase scale (as well as lower cost) and efficiency of insect and insect-based food production and use for maximum impact to improve food supply and reduce environmental impact. This is especially critical for urban populations. This aspect will become more important in the coming years as the food supply will decrease, government aid schemes will become more restricted, and the human population will continue to increase, posing a serious threat of survival. The number of malnourished and unfed low-income people will increase in both rural and urban areas. In fact, the amount required to treat these anomalies is much more than for prevention.

The biggest danger in all this probably lies in attempts to modify some insects by genetic engineering techniques, which can lead to the appearance of toxic insects, or insects that will otherwise destroy existing ecosystems. Such situations have already occurred and one of the most famous cases is the incident with Africanized bees.

Edible insects are beneficial to human health because they may induce antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory activities.

Evidence shows that edible insects could have a positive effect on gut microbiota, either by their prebiotic effect or their antimicrobial activity against pathogens.

Evidence suggests that the consumption of edible insects not only contributes with high-quality nutrients (protein) to our diet, but also can provide other health benefits, and at the same time do not represent a critical biological and anti-nutritive risk to humans that will be any different than those present in other food commodities like meat, dairy, and plants.

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