TERAMO, Italy — Insects and bugs aren’t exactly the most appetizing food items, but that doesn’t stop a quarter of the earth’s population — an estimated two billion people — from eating insects on a daily basis. It can be hard for the rest of us to wrap our heads around eating bugs, but that doesn’t change the fact that many insects are excellent sources of protein, fiber, and vitamins. Now, a new study out of Italy has found one more reason to consider eating insects; certain types are absolutely packed with antioxidants.
To be clear, researchers only analyzed insects already commercially available for eating. So, this study does not advocate searching your garden for dinner tonight.
Of the edible insects analyzed, grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets displayed the highest levels of antioxidants — almost five times more than fresh orange juice! It’s worth noting here that all of those insects are vegetarians, while carnivorous bugs, such as giant cicadas, giant water bugs, black tarantulas and black scorpions all displayed negligible antioxidant rankings. To be fair, scorpions and spiders aren’t insects, but arachnids.
Now, these insects were analyzed in the form of a fat-free dust. You can already imagine how hard that would be to swallow, but researchers say that even if the dust was diluted 88% in water, it would still boast about 75% of the antioxidant qualities of orange juice — a testament to just how filled with antioxidants these little critters are.
Additionally, fat taken from giant cicadas and silkworms displayed twice the antioxidant levels of olive oil.
Testing edible insects for antioxidants
For the study, researchers purchased a wide range of commercially available edible insects. Then, they removed any inedible parts like wings or stingers, and ground the insects into two materials: fat and the aforementioned fat-free dust. Each substance was then tested for antioxidants.
“Edible insects are an excellent source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, vitamins and fiber. But until now, nobody had compared them with classical functional foods such as olive oil or orange juice in terms of antioxidant activity,” explains lead author Mauro Serafini in a release.
Besides the health benefits, researchers say more people should consider trying edible insects because of their incredibly small carbon, land, and water footprints compared to livestock. While Serafini and his team admit that it won’t be easy to convince most people to eat something that looks unappetizing and tastes even worse, they stress that consumers should remember all of the health benefits that insects can offer.
Researchers caution this is just the first step of many in humans unlocking the full potential of insect-based antioxidants. Additional testing is needed in order to clarify the effects of these antioxidants in humans. Once that is established, the study’s authors say adjustments can be made to insects’ diets and lifestyles to cultivate more specific types of antioxidants.
“In the future, we might also adapt dietary regimens for insect rearing in order to increase their antioxidant content for animal or human consumption,” Serafini says.
The study is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
This article was first published on July 15, 2019.