The trendiest protein isn’t derived from a scientifically formulated powder or obscure nut – it is right in your own backyard. That’s right: we are talking about eating bugs.
If you find that hard to believe (and are maybe just a mite creeped out), rest assured that this nutrient-dense, eco-friendly protein source has been a part of 80% of the world’s diet all along. Crickets, mealworms, caterpillars, and grasshoppers have some of the highest protein content of all animal sources, while still containing a complete (all nine essential) amino acid profile.
But what about the “ew” factor?
Of course, no one is suggesting that you run outside and start plucking crickets from the yard and throwing them down the hatch raw, although if that’s your thing, we certainly won’t stop you. However, there are many options for consuming these little critters that are much more palatable than feeling them wiggle around in your throat.
So, why bugs?
Nutrition 101 tells us that not all protein is created equal. For a protein to be considered complete, it needs to contain all nine “essential” amino acids. “Essential” means those the body does not make on its own; that is, diet derived.
Crickets, for example, are a complete protein source, containing 16–21 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat, only 5 grams of fat (the good kind), and 121 calories; pretty comparable to beef at 26 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat, and 250 calories per 100 grams, or chicken at 26.5 grams of protein, almost 8 grams of fat, and 195 calories.
Crickets and mealworms also boast 2.2 times the iron in spinach, are low sodium, contain 800 and 1100 mcg calcium, respectively, and 11mg of potassium. And though they might sound understandably unpalatable, they certainly aren’t hard on your gut — both are high in omega-3 fatty acids, an important anti-inflammatory. For something you can grab-and-go, that’s a lot of nutrition in a little package!
Ever heard of a chicken protein shake? How about beef muffins for breakfast? Not so much. The beauty of bug proteins is the many ways in which they can be used. Bugs like crickets or grasshoppers can be dehydrated and ground into flour and spooned into protein shakes, substituted for other flours in baked goods, or purchased like the amazing EXO bars, which were featured at this year’s Paleo f(x)™ Conference. After dehydration, insects can also be roasted in olive oil and salt or garlic and crunched on like a chip, or sprinkled on a salad like croutons — no refrigeration necessary.
Undoubtedly the most important advantage of eating these critters is the comparably small number of resources used. Insect farms are stackable, give off almost no odor, and farming them releases 100 times less greenhouse gas than raising cows, making it possible to farm almost anywhere. Also, while beef cattle require 2,000 gallons of water per pound, bugs require only one gallon per pound of “livestock,” which is significant given drought conditions in many parts of the country, including Southwest Florida.
For every 100 pounds of feed required for typical farm animals, the yield is five pounds of beef, 15 pounds of pork, or 30 pounds of chicken. For cricket protein, it’s a full sixty pounds. Harvesting bugs is done by cooling them until their metabolism stops, then dehydrating them. Once dehydrated, insects can be stored in cool dry storage, eliminating the need for refrigeration. Add to all that the fact that insects can be grown, harvested, and turned into food in fairly close proximity; on the other hand, a chicken, pig, or cow must be taken from the farm to the slaughterhouse, then to the butcher, then to market, creating a need for much higher travel and petroleum resource expenditures, creating a much greater carbon footprint.
But let’s go back to that undeniable “yuck” factor: Although the majority of the world has been eating bugs for thousands of years, there’s something about the idea of eating insects that makes Americans a bit queasy. Maybe it’s all those stomach-turning insect-eating challenges on reality or exotic travel shows that show the creepiest specimens possible. And, maybe it helps (or not) to know that we already consume a pretty significant amount of bug parts in our oh-so-yummy processed foods.
Here’s just one example: wheat flour can contain 75 bug fragments per 50 grams (about ½ cup), tomato paste is allowed 30 fly eggs per 100 grams, and hops (beer) can have 2500 aphids per 10 grams.
That adds up to about five bug parts per bite of pizza and beer. Just saying, bugs are already (unconsciously) part of our diet.
So where does one procure these little bundles of buggy protein joy? Well, if you’ve got some time on your hands, or want a fun, kid-friendly project, you can build your own bug farm — just head down to your local pet store or farm supply store. Or, if watching your food crawl around before you consume it is too much for you, there are plenty of online sources for insect flours on Amazon, exoprotein.com if protein bars are more your taste, and cricketflours.com or Etsy for protein powders.
Next time you’re searching for a protein-rich powder or flour, or a post-workout snack idea, be brave and get creepy crawly with your protein. Bug appétit!
More food for thought…