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The Nutritional Quality of Insects as Food

Essentially edible insects are an animal-source food contributing high quality protein and fat in the context of human nutrition. Protein and fat nutritional quality varies between insects and the life stage of consumption (egg, larvae, pupae, adult) when they are consumed, and the feeding history of the insects (Roos, 2018).
Generally, the macronutrients composition of crickets are characteristic for meat and fish, with typical range across insect species of 40–70% protein of dry weight, and fat content in the range of 5–40% of the dry matter.
At Entis products we use house crickets; Acheta domesticus, and Gryllodes sigillatus.
Table 1. Nutritional values of crickets (dried) used in Entis products
SFA = Saturated Fatty Acids, MUFA = Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, PUFA = Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Crickets used by Entis have high contents of minerals important for human nutrition, such as iron and zinc.

Chitin

Beyond their nutritional value, food insects may also provide unique functional benefits to human health. Particularly interesting is chitin. Crickets are characterized by having an exoskeleton which is made up of chitin. Chitin is a complex polysaccharide structure which is recognized as dietary fibre, assumed to pass largely undigested through the gastrointestinal tract. Otto Selenius proposes in his study that chitin and its derivative compounds can take part in maintaining healthy gut microbiota, by promoting or inhibiting the growth of several gut bacteria depending on the chitinous substrate. Healthy composition of gut microbiota can prevent intestinal disease states and food digestion problems. Chitooligosaccharides appear promising as potential prebiotic compounds associated with insect food products (Selenius et al., 2018).

Fat quality

While crickets are primarily known as a potential protein source, it furthermore contains a high quality of lipids (e.g. omega-3 and omega-6). We as humans need to get the essential omega-3 (α-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) fatty acids from the diet. While omega-6 fatty acids are available from various food sources, also plant foods, omega-3 fatty acids are scarcer, and at risk of being deficient in diets with little animal-source foods (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010).
The compositions of saturated fat (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) determines the nutritional quality of dietary fat. Replacing SFA with PUFA in diets are documented to reduce risk of coronary heart disease and intake of long-chained omega-3 PUFA are beneficial for the brain development of infants and young children.

Protein quality

Protein quality in relation to human requirements can be evaluated based on amino acid composition and the digestibility of the protein, assessed in various standardized methods. The overall picture is that amino acid profiles of crickets are favourable for human requirements, including all essential amino acids in the right balance.
Table 2. Essential Amino Acid content (g/100 g dry weight) of the house cricket Acheta domesticus, traditional protein sources and daily EAA recommendation per day for adult (g/ 70 kg)
Figure 1. Essential Amino Acid content (g/100 g dry weight) of the house cricket Acheta domesticus and traditional protein sources.
Acheta domesticus data:(van Huis and Tomberlin, 2017); Traditional protein source data: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (January 2020); daily protein recommendation adults: (Joint Expert Consultation on Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition et al., 2007)

Minerals and trace elements

Insects are generally consumed as whole (e.g. when powdered), including all tissue types such as head, organs etc. in the edible portion. This contribute to a generally higher content of minerals and vitamins, comparing to animal-source foods such as meat where a large proportion of the animal is not considered edible. This beneficial aspect of insects being consumed whole is similar to that the consumption of small fish, which are consumed whole with bones, head etc., is a much better source of minerals and vitamins compared to larger fish where only the fillet is consumed.

Insects are good sources of minerals like iron and zinc. Iron and zinc from animal-food sources are beneficial because of high bioavailability. Crickets also contain calcium, magnesium, sodium and chloride, selenium, and iodine.

Calcium is essential for the formation and maintenance of bone health. It is also necessary for blood clotting and for muscle and nerve functions. calcium deficiency can lead to osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults and rickets and retarded growth in children. An excess intake can cause the formation of kidney stones and neural motor dysfunction.

Magnesium is important for teeth and bone structure. In addition, magnesium is required as a cofactor for various enzymes involved in energy metabolism and for RNA, DNA, and protein synthesis. Like calcium, magnesium is required for blood clotting.

Iron comes in two different types: heme (meat, offal) and non heme (pulses, vegetables, cereals, and dairy). Iron aids the transport of oxygen via haemoglobin present in red blood cells. Iron deficiency is probably the most common nutrient deficiency throughout the world and affects all populations.

Zinc is present in all body tissues and important for immune system, protein synthesis, growth, and wound healing. Zinc is also vital in synthesis of insulin.

Sodium and chloride help maintain the body’s water balance and sodium is essential for both nerve and muscle function. An excess of sodium chloride may result in high blood pressure whilst lack of salt may cause muscle cramps.

Selenium is essential in the production of red blood cells and development of the immune system. It is also important in thyroid metabolism. Areas with low selenium content in the soil have higher prevalence in selenium deficiency.

Iodine is essential in the synthesis of thyroxin. The thyroid hormone controls the metabolic processes in the body and affects energy metabolism as well as mental function (Campbell-Platt and International Union of Food Science and Technology, 2009).

References

Campbell-Platt, G., International Union of Food Science and Technology (Eds.), 2009. Food science and technology. Wiley-Blackwell ; IUFoST, Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Ames, Iowa : [Oakville, Ont.].

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Ed.), 2010. Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition: report of an expert consultation: 10-14 November 2008, Geneva, FAO food and nutrition paper. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

Joint Expert Consultation on Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition, Weltgesundheitsorganisation, FAO, United Nations University (Eds.), 2007. Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition: report of a joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation ; [Geneva, 9 - 16 April 2002], WHO technical report series. WHO, Geneva.

Roos, N., 2018. Insects and Human Nutrition, in: Halloran, A., Flore, R., Vantomme, P., Roos, N. (Eds.), Edible Insects in Sustainable Food Systems. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 83–91. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-74011-9_5

Selenius, O., Korpela, J., Salminen, S., Gomez Gallego, C., 2018. Effect of Chitin and Chitooligosaccharide on In vitro Growth of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Escherichia coli TG. Appl. Food Biotechnol. 5. https://doi.org/10.22037/afb.v5i3.20468

van Huis, A., Tomberlin, J.K. (Eds.), 2017. Insects as food and feed: from production to consumption. Wageningen Academic Publishers, The Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.3920/978-90-8686-849-0

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (January 2020) https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/ [1 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170604/nutrients] [2 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172188/nutrients ] [3 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174270/nutrients ]

 

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