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Guzzling down some tasty bugs for dinner may sound like the opening scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, but it could become a more widespread reality, too. While there’s no doubt that the idea of eating insects can be unappealing (to most Westerners, at least), a new study from Rutgers University reveals how this alternative food choice could be both nutritious and sustainable.
“For a long time the prevailing wisdom was that mammals didn’t produce an enzyme that could break down the exoskeletons of insects, so they were considered to be very difficult to digest,” explains Mareike Janiak, the study’s lead author and doctoral candidate from the Department of Anthropology. “We now know from research on bats and mice, and now my research on primates, that this isn’t true.”
Along with her collaborators from Kent State University, Janiak found that almost all living primates, including humans, could digest insects. The truth of the matter is that insects were a popular choice for our ancestors since they were easy to find—and full of nutrients.
Guess What: People Already Eat Bugs.
Of course, in Western cultures, it’s not all that common to eat insects. And yet, a wide variety of bugs are a staple of some people’s diets around the world. They are often considered a superfood and the United Nations report that around two billion people now eat insects on a regular basis. What’s more, many types of insects include healthy fats, fiber, protein, vitamins and essential minerals.
While people who regularly eat insects may have high levels of the right enzyme it takes to break them down, there’s little research focusing on the rest of us. That has led some scientists to believe that before we can add them to our diet, more research needs to be done that compares people of different cultures and their stomach enzymes.
Want to Eat Insects? Here’s How.
Despite this, Janiak believes that there is a way that we can all eat insects, regardless of whether we do already or what enzymes we do or don’t have in our stomachs. The key to chomping down on ants, grasshoppers, or beetles as a novice is pretty simple. As she explains, you have to whip out your best culinary skills and cook the insects. And if you’re not bold enough to cook your own bugs? Companies like Lithic Nutrition do the prep work and make cricket bars (protein bars sourced with ground crickets) plus supplement powders you can more easily add to your diet.
“Unfortunately, most of the human research so far has been done using Western culture participants rather than comparing people from various cultures that actually eat insects regularly,” says Janiak. “But for humans, even if we didn’t have an enzyme, the exoskeleton becomes a lot easier to chew and digest once the insect has been cooked.”