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Edible Insects Nutrition Guide: Protein, Fatty Acids, Vitamins, Minerals & More


different edible insects

Insects most commonly used for food and feed include black soldier fly larvae, adult crickets, mealworms, and silkworm pupae


The world of insects as food and feed not only offers sustainable benefits but also exceptional nutritional value.


This article explores the composition of proteins, essential amino acids, fats, minerals, vitamins, and other compounds in edible insects, highlighting their importance for the human diet and that of many animals.


It is very important to know that the nutritional value of different insects can vary due to different factors, such as life stage, diets, environment, analytical methods and processing techniques.


👇 Now let's look at the nutritional value of insects!


Proteins


Edible insects are predominantly rich in proteins, with a range between 25 and 80% on a dry matter basis.


This content positions them alongside or even above traditional protein sources like meats, cereals, and legumes.


Their protein digestibility is generally high, although it can be affected by factors such as binding to chitin and processing methods.


Crickets, locusts, and grasshoppers stand out as high-protein insects, which is why they are in high demand in the human food market.


cricket powder

Edible crickets, such as house crickets and Jamaican field crickets, can contain more than 60% of protein


Essential Amino Acids


Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, represent one of the most important nutritional benefits of eating insects.

Essential amino acids, which the body cannot synthesize and must obtain from food, are found in abundance in many edible insects.


For example, the house cricket (Acheta domesticus) has a consistent amino acid composition, unaffected by diet or life stage.


Holometabolous species, meaning they have a complete metamorphosis, like the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) show specific amino acid patterns set within a life stage, regardless of diet.


Fats and Fatty Acids


Insect fat content, typically the second most abundant compound, varies significantly across species, ranging from 10 to 70% on a dry basis.


These fats are composed of different types of fatty acids, which are classified into saturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated.


Insects as food and feed are particularly rich in unsaturated fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated types like omega 3, 6, or 9.


While most species are unable to synthesize linoleic and linolenic acids and thus require dietary supplementation, there are exceptions such as the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) and the house cricket, which can apparently synthesize these fatty acids on their own.


black soldier larvae

Thanks to their high content of unsaturated fatty acids, black soldier fly larvae are an attractive ingredient for feeding pets, fish and poultry


Vitamins


The nutritional value of insects includes a range of vitamins, such as vitamin C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12.


Some vitamins are not synthesized in insects, but are derived from their diet, like vitamin E.


In particular, mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and Jamaican field crickets (Gryllus assimilis) have been found to contain high levels of vitamin B12.


Recent studies by Dr. Dennis Oonincx from Wageningen have revealed that some insects have the ability to produce vitamin D3 after exposure to UV-B light, such as T. molitor, capable of synthesizing more than 6,000 IU/kg DM of this vitamin.


Minerals


Insects as food and feed can be good sources of iron, zinc, copper, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and selenium, meeting the dietary needs of both humans and animals.


Insects generally contain low calcium levels due to their non-mineralized skeleton. But there are some exceptions.


Most insects have an exoskeleton mainly made up of protein and chitin, but the black soldier fly larvae and face fly larvae (Musca autumnalis) differ, featuring a mineralized exoskeleton where calcium and other minerals are integrated into the cuticle, resulting in a higher calcium content.


Higher levels of calcium occasionally reported in farm-raised crickets are likely due to dietary calcium remaining in the gut.


mealworms in bowl

Mealworms are known to be a good source of iron, zinc and magnesium, making them suitable for both human and animal consumption


Other Nutritional Components


The advantages of an insect-based diet also include the presence of carotenoids, chitin, and a range of bioactive substances such as interferons, hormones, and lecithin.


Additionally, insects as food and feed are often rich in choline, vital for numerous bodily functions, and taurine, found abundantly in species like house crickets, grasshoppers, and fruit flies. Taurine is essential for certain animals, including cats, poultry, and aquaculture species.


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Closing thoughts


The nutritional value of insects is impressive, making them a sustainable and healthful choice.


Their rich content in proteins, essential amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals positions them as a promising alternative to traditional food and feed sources, aligning with the growing interest in more sustainable and nutritious options.


To follow the latest trends in insects as food and feed, follow Insect Academy on LinkedIn.


👋 See you in the next edition!



References

Nutritional Composition, Health Benefits, and Application Value of Edible Insects: A Review: https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11243961


Nutritional value of insects and ways to manipulate their composition: https://doi.org/10.3920/JIFF2020.0050


Nutritional Value, Protein and Peptide Composition of Edible Cricket Powders: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2019.03.062


Review of Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens) as Animal Feed and Human Food: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/foods6100091


Fats and major fatty acids present in edible insects utilised as food and livestock feed: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.vas.2023.100312


Silkworm Pupae: A Functional Food with Health Benefits for Humans: https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11111594

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