Crickets, Black Soldier Flies and Bugs, Oh My!
Are Insects Really Healthy? Here's the Tea
They are small, crawling (sometimes flying) creatures that play an incredible and essential role in our ecosystem. They may look frightening and the idea of eating them is unappetizing — but after learning more about insects and how they are a healthy, sustainable option for the future of food, we may be able to put the fear factor to rest.
From Fear to Facts: Let's Learn about Edible Insects
So, how healthy are insects anyway?
This surprisingly common question reflects the increasing global interest in insect consumption due to their potential as a sustainable food source and traditional meat alternative.
Disclaimer: When talking about insects, we're focusing on edible insects! Not just any bug you see in your backyard.
Did you know that edible insects are a powerhouse in providing the essential nutrients and energy that help meet the dietary requirements of both humans and animals?
They also have the potential to provide bioactive compounds that offer added health benefits beyond nutrition; specifically, the reduction and prevention of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. The nutritional value of edible insects goes beyond the protein food group and is similar to other food groups like fruits and vegetables.
It really is difficult to generalize the nutrient composition of insects since there are over 2,100 different edible insect species consumed in the world. That's literally and figuratively a lot to take in, isn't it?
In fact, some insect researchers view edible insects as the same category as meat, fish, eggs, and milk. Insects have the ability to provide protein, fat and micronutrients such as minerals to humans and animals alike.
The digestibility of certain edible insects has been documented by researchers conducting appropriate studies. Components such as protein, fat and essential amino acid digestibility are all good for several different species, including black soldier fly larvae, crickets, and mealworms.
Where do our Pets Come in?
We talked about the benefits of insects in dog food here. But there is more and we wanted to provide an update.
The nutrients insects provide compliments the dietary needs in dogs very well. In dogs, insect protein and fat digestibility have been studied from various insect species and the result is positive with high digestibility. Insect protein is high quality as it provides essential amino acids.
Many insect species also contain high levels of essential micronutrients, like iron and zinc. A study investigating the bioavailability of zinc and iron in different edible insect species, including crickets and mealworms, found good bioavailability but variation between the species. With the complexity of absorption of these minerals in the body, more research needs to be done to investigate micronutrient digestibility of insects.
A study investigating the digestibility of black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) in diets for dogs found calcium digestibility was higher in the diet including BSFL compared to the control diet (venison). This research leans toward a potential increase in the bioavailability of calcium in BSFL diets but explains the need for further research to confirm these findings.
Where do our Pets Come in? Nutrition-Based Studies
Studies have found bioactive compounds in insects which helps to reduce health risks and strengthen immune systems. Similar studies have found antioxidant activity in different insect species. Antioxidants can prevent molecular damage in the body, and foods rich in antioxidants have been considered beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular and other diseases.
It was found that black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), the same insect used in HOPE Pet Food Treats (Berry Buglicious), could help in the prevention of osteoarthritis in dogs. It was also found that a diet including 30% BSFL can provide glucosamine, an essential antioxidant, in similar amounts to a commercial supplement. Glucosamine is an ingredient often seen in senior pet diets to support joint health, is used by the body to help build tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and the fluid surrounding joints.
However, we need more studies done with humans and animals to further confirm any antioxidant activity. Regardless, including insects (crickets and black soldier fly larvae) in pet diets has shown to promote gut microbiome diversity in dogs and humans.
The Future of Food?
As edible insect research continues, existing research demonstrates the nutritional benefits of implementing insects into our pets and our own diets. Since insects share many nutritional characteristics of traditional meat sources and provide additional valuable nutrients when part of an animal or humans’ diet, they offer a viable food option and have the potential to be an innovative solution to reducing our carbon footprint. Insects provide bioactive compounds, like antioxidants, and can potentially help prevent and combat various health conditions in both animal and human diets. If you are interested in reading about entomophagy, check out this blog.
More research is required to evaluate micronutrient bioavailability, as well as further research to evaluate bioactive compounds in insects. HOPE is currently conducting research of our own to further our learnings about alternative proteins such as algae, yeast and of course, our beloved Black Soldier Flies. You can learn more about that on our Ingredients Page!