The consumption of insects is an idea that is consistently getting more popular. Despite a lot of people’s dismissal of the concept, the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that about two billion of the world’s population already eat insects as part of their normal diet .
Although the demand is increasing in Europe and America, insects on a plate is still seen as an exotic dish or some type of novelty product, rather than a viable long-term alternative.
However, the fitness industry seems to have found a solution by incorporating bugs into items like protein powders, ice-creams and brownies.
Let’s look at why gym enthusiasts and fitness brands are jumping on the bandwagon.
Face it, some people will do anything for protein
Health-conscious people and athletes are always hunting for protein.
Scanning menus, analysing food labels, or throwing powder into shakes. Insects offer a convenient, portable source of protein with a very long shelf life. Aside from beef jerky, fitness fanatics find it hard to purchase foods that tick all these boxes, and so unsurprisingly they aren’t turning a blind eye to the idea.
Most edible insects are around 50% protein by weight, some containing up to 75% protein.
The idea of entomophagy is not even that far-fetched concept compared to some other documented trends in the western world, such as consuming human breast milk or a females placenta for the “protein and nutritional benefits”.
In comparison to more popular animal-sources of protein, such as chicken and beef at ~25-35% protein, insects are seen as the denser, superior choice. They also contain a full amino acid profile, with an adequate amount of leucine which is an amino acid that drives anabolism and muscle protein synthesis. Human bioavailability of the nutrients within insects has not yet been analysed by in vivo research, and is currently not known.
More information on the nutritional benefits of entomophagy can be found here.
Avoid the negative health effects of meat
Excess intake of animal products, specifically processed meats, has been shown to contribute to some diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease, and various types of cancer. A combination of factors such as excess saturated fat and cholesterol consumption, and the use of antibiotics and hormones in factory-farmed meat may be having an unnecessary negative impact on your health status.
The World Cancer Research Fund has completed a detailed review of more than 7,000 clinical studies covering links between diet and cancer, concluding that processed meats should be avoided and red meats should be limited .
The American Institute for Cancer Research. found that processed meats increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67 percent . In addition, the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen that has “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans” . They also claim there are “positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence” .
Based on these reports, switching protein sources to insects may be a viable option to get the same nutritional benefits without the potential negative consequences. Although animal-products in moderation are not necessarily damaging to health, the quantities many athletes and fitness enthusiasts consume may be an issue, so equally beneficial alternatives are being looked at.
Vegetarianism is a option many people choose to pursue as a substitute but many individuals aren’t convinced an exclusively plant-based diet can meet their high protein needs to support an intense exercise regime. As displayed below, insect sources contain more protein, omega-3 and fiber, whilst containing less fat and saturated fat than animal-products (also less nitrates, hormones and antibiotics). It might be a win-win situation.
They are easily added to products and meals
Manufacturers are finding that insects can be easily included in protein shakes or bars. Although the insects by themselves are not said to be unappetising, people do report them to be rather plain and dry. Supplement companies are using this to their advantage by using insect flour (particularly mealworm or cricket flour), which can be combined with traditional ingredients such as cocoa, oats, sugar and sweeteners to make for a semi-pleasurable shake or bar. Or even added to a salad like we did:
I’m convinced these products will never be everyone’s cup of tea, but based on the history of sports nutrition companies and the fitness industry, I’d imagine a massive group of people would be willing to try alternatives to the typical whey protein and chicken breast.
The future of sustainability?
The global population will reach a whopping 9.7 billion by 2050, with recent research showing that food production must double by then to meet increasing demands .
Unfortunately, our current agricultural setup is not ideal for this type of demand, and unless serious alterations are made then it will be impossible to successfully support the rise in production.
Organisations such as The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations , The International Livestock Research Institute , and the Economic Research Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture , report the percentage of total land on earth used for raising livestock is 26-45%.
Clearly not much land is available to expand on this statistic.
The fitness industry moving towards insect-based protein may be a method in which to prepare for the future and set up long-term success. Insect-based alternatives also give companies the option to produce their product locally, with less environment damage.
To obtain 1 pound of insects, it takes 2 pounds of feed, 1 gallon of water, and 2 cubic feet of space . In comparison, 1 pound of beef needs 10 pounds of feed, 441 gallons of water , and 2-5 acres of land . This is not only appealing to customers (everyone loves a home-grown product!), but it may be a great business move in terms of cutting out financial costs for the farming and transport of animal products from overseas.
Breanne is the “Cricket Crunching” chief editor at ProteinPromo.com. Created in 2016, ProteinPromo is keen on providing readers with fitness, nutrition and wellness hints and tips as well as money saving offers
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- Van Huis A, Van Itterbeek J, Klunder H, Mertens E. (2013). Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. FAO Forestry Paper 171. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
- Ramos-Elorduy J. (1998). Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co
- The World Cancer Research Fund. (2017). Animal foods. Available from: http://www.wcrf.org/int/research-we-fund/cancer-prevention-recommendations/animal-foods
- American Institute for Cancer Research. (2007). Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR
- International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2015). IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. World Health Organisation
- World Health Organisation. (2015). Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Available from: http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/
- Rumpold BA, Schlüter OK. (2013). Nutritional composition and safety aspects of edible insects. Mol Nutr Food Res.
- Livestock a major threat to environment. (2006). Available from: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html
- Thornton P, Herrero M, Ericksen P. (2017). Livestock and climate change. The International Livestock Research Institute
- Vesterby M, Krupa KS. (1997). Major Uses of Land in the United States. Resource Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Statistical Bulletin No. 973.
- Beckett JL, Oltjen JW. (1993) Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States. Anim. Sci.
- McBride WD, Mathews K. (2011). The Diverse Structure and Organization of U.S. Beef Cow-Calf Farms. United States Department of Agriculture: Economic Information Bulletin Number 73
- Martin, D. (2014). Edible: An Adventure Into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I heard about this and have seen a couple of places that sell it but have been afraid to try it.
Just ordered a batch on Amazon after reading the post…here’s hoping I don’t chicken out!
I would gladly incorporate cricket protein powder if I could obtain it cheaper than whey protein. Maybe I’ll get a smaller amount of cricket and mix both together.
As for eating whole insects… I think that we in the Western hemisphere (maybe even more so in the US?) tend to be squeamish if our animal food is still recognizable as the animal it came from. The thinking often seems to be as follows… Beef steak, yes! A boiled beef head on a plate? No, thanks. Fried fish fillets? Yum! Steamed fish that still has the skin, head and tail? Nope!
I know some who can’t even stand the idea of meat on the bone but will gladly eat boneless cuts every day! This thinking may not be quite rational, but it can be a barrier.
I tend to be a more adventurous eater. I work near a famous public market with all kinds of eclectic and unusual products, and I think on my lunch break I’ll go see if any of the stalls sell insects!
I share your pain regarding the price. Ordered a small bag which I’m waiting on for a novelty but the price means it won’t be a regular occurrence unless I get a raise at work!
You’re right to highlight the West’s snobbery regarding meat. People stick to such boring staples which means that for the more adventurous like you and me, liver, heart, kidneys and all sorts of delicious alternatives are cheap!
Let me know if you found any insects at lunch…I’d say that’d raise some eyebrows at work!
Haha, unfortunately the only places with insects on the menu are too far for me to reach on my lunch break. I’ll have to go on a weekend.
Interestingly enough, a nearby baseball stadium has started selling roasted grasshoppers during games, and apparently, they’ve been a big hit! Too bad I’m not big on sporting events.
Haha really? That’s incredible regarding the baseball stadium. I wouldn’t have thought that sports fans would be a natural market but I suppose a few beers can make one open to new experiences! Let me know how weekend insect shopping goes… the bags I ordered finally came and once my gag reflux relaxed, I found them quite addictive!
The biggest issue is the price. People aren’t going to pay more for something that tastes worse and has an unavailable stigma. If it’s proven to be as effective as other proteins and becomes cheaper than alternatives such as whey I wouldn’t really have any problem buying it
Hey Ben, I’ve found that myself. After the article I went looking for some but the price is more off-putting than the actual texture! I suspect cheap insect burgers will be the way to go in future.