Insects contain comparable nutrients to red meat, UK, China study suggests

Anne Kennedy
Staff Writer

Have you ever wanted to eat a bug burger instead of a hamburger? Recent research from scientists in the UK and China has shown that bugs provide the same nutrients as a sirloin steak.

Maintaining a stable food supply for the world’s growing population is a challenge for world leaders. Some are looking toward alternative sources of food to supplement those that are being depleted, and one such source is insects. Though insects are a common food in Asia, Africa, South America and Central America, they are a foreign dish in Western cultures.

It has been reported that bugs are good sources of important vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids. However, scientists who were interested in investigating the potential of insect cuisine were concerned that bugs would not provide appropriate levels of iron. Animal products provide an easily accessible source of iron, but it has been shown that populations that rely on plant-based sources of iron often suffer from a lack of iron, which is a condition called iron-deficiency anemia (IDA).

Researchers were interested in the availability and accessibility of iron from insect sources, so they studied four different insects: grasshoppers, crickets, meal worms and buffalo worms. They compared these insect sources to sirloin beef and whole-wheat flour.

The first thing the researchers examined was the concentration of minerals in each food source. While each sample contained different concentrations of the minerals studied (iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese and zinc), only the cricket sample contained similar iron levels to the steak.

The second aspect the researchers studied was the solubility of iron in cells. This is important because one of the main roles of iron is to help transport oxygen throughout the body. The researchers found that iron solubility was significantly higher from insect samples compared to iron from the steak sample. This held even when the sample was mixed with flour (as it likely would be in an average meal).

The final element the researchers looked at was the bioavailability of iron (or how much iron the body is able to actually use). They tested this by exposing cells to the samples for two hours and then measuring how much iron the cells absorbed. They found that iron from the buffalo worm and sirloin was more readily available than iron from the grasshopper, cricket or meal worm.

The researchers concluded that insects could be a stable source of important vitamins and minerals, as long as recipes and portions were properly managed. They also mentioned that, should insects become a more popular food choice, a regulated diet for the insects could increase the availability of vitamins and minerals that the insects could provide. The researchers concluded by explaining that further research is needed to determine the complete nutritional information that commonly consumed insects provide.

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