Source: Forbes, 17-10-2016
Sam Lemonick, Contributor
I guess I’ll go eat worms, because it turns out they have more iron than sirloin beef.
Crunchy honeycomb moth larvae in a store of Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo. Jumbo is the first national supermarket chain to stock shelves with products made from meal-worms, buffalo worms and moth larvae. (REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)
New research has found that buffalo worms are a better source of iron than beef, and grasshoppers aren’t far behind.
Insects are an attractive replacement for food animals like cows. They’re high in protein and relatively low in fat, which makes them a healthy option. They also have environmental advantages over livestock, like not needing a lot of land to graze on. And they don’t fart as much as cows, who make the greenhouse gas methane.
But can insects really take over the role meat plays in our diets? Meat is more than just protein; it also has minerals like iron and calcium. Nutrition researcher Gladys Latunde-Dada of King’s College London wanted to find out.
Her team gathered a few popular insects like crickets, grasshoppers and buffalo worms, which are beetle larvae, to compare them against sirloin beef.
They measured how well minerals like calcium, iron and zinc in those insects dissolve into a solution of simulated stomach juices. The researchers also tested how well our bodies can extract iron from these bugs, using intestinal cells grown in a lab as a proxy. Not all sources of iron are equal, because the metal is packaged in different forms in plant and animal tissue. The iron in meat tends to be more accessible to our digestive system than from wheat, for instance. They published their results in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Insects, they found, have much more soluble iron than sirloin. Crickets have almost three times as much. The results for other minerals was mixed. Mealworms have the most soluble magnesium, for instance, while grasshoppers have the most zinc.
The more important measure, however, is how much of that iron our cells can get. And in terms of cellular iron uptake, buffalo worms beat sirloin beef by about one third. Grasshoppers and mealworms came in at about three-quarters of beef’s iron uptake. They didn’t do the same analyses of accessibility for the other minerals.
The authors say that makes insects an even more attractive replacement or supplement for meat. Not only are they a good source of protein, it appears they could fill other holes left by cutting meat out of our diets.
Disclosure: I am a former employee of the American Chemical Society, which publishes the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and a current contract writer for their Reactions video series.