Edible Insects: The Perfect Sustainable Diet?
Updated: Mar 10
Different diets can help reduce your environmental impact. But are any of them perfect? What makes them sustainable? And how do edible insects fit into this diet?
Can Diets be Low-Impact and Healthy?
Diets that are low-impact aim to consider the damage to the environment that food production can create. Alongside this, the sustainability of what we eat also needs to be considered as time moves on, populations increase and resources begin to run out.
An example of one of these is the low-carbon diet. This involves eating in an ‘earth-conscious way’ and avoiding foods with big carbon footprints, namely meat and animal-based products. The rules also include eating seasonally and regionally, no waste and dodging processed and packaged foods. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?
The downside of this diet though is the cutting out of important food groups. Losing meat and animal products can lead to a lack in protein, as well as vitamins and iron, if not replaced with other alternatives. And what if said alternatives are not environmentally friendly?
Those who think the low-carbon diet is a bit too extreme may opt for the flexitarian diet. Combining ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian’, this involves reducing the consumption of meat, but not cutting it out. Pros of this diet include a lesser carbon footprint at a more manageable level and the straightforwardness and flexibility that comes with it.
However, in terms of health, flexitarians tend to eat more calories in carbohydrates and nuts to get their protein source and need to pay close attention to levels of B12, vitamin D and calcium. Also, those with iron deficiencies can’t have as many no-meat days than those without.
A large part of these diets is fruit and vegetables, which most assume don’t harm the environment- but they don’t consider air miles. Most fruit and vegetables come from other countries by air, which is the least environmentally friendly way to transport food, followed by lorry which further adds to CO₂emissions.
These diets, that appear to benefit our ever-changing environment, can be improved by also benefitting our health and reducing air miles. But how?
Introducing Insects: The Alternative Protein Source
The solution, of course, is insects. Anything meat/fruit/vegetables can do; insects can do better!
Eating insects is a healthy way to live and the process of transforming insects into food is just as environmentally friendly and sustainable as the previously mentioned diets, if not more. Perhaps the meat-days of a flexitarian could be filled with protein-packed insects instead?
With new hybrids like half beef, half insect burgers coming onto the scene, inclusion of insects in our everyday diets is on its way to reality. Replacing our conventional protein choices of beef, pork, chicken, lamb and fish with insect-based protein will have a positive impact on our health and environment.
Still unsure? Well, insects are already found in food additives like cochineal, which is made of crushed red beetles (used for food colouring) and shellac, which is female lac bug secretion (used to improve shine of sweets and fruit). It’s nothing new!
Our Diet’s Impact on the Environment
It’s safe to say we all care a bit more about our environment at the moment and our diets can align with that. Low-carbon and flexitarian diets aim to look after our world, and entomophagy is no different.
Our farming practices are devastating for the environment as it’s such a CO₂ intensive process and the livestock itself takes up 60% of all agricultural land and is fed with ⅓ of all the crops we grow. Furthermore, this industry accounts for over 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions and if cows were a country, they’d be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter.
But wait, fruit and vegetables are healthy and surely they’re good for the environment? Unfortunately not. 95% of fruit comes from abroad and half of vegetables are imported, leading to the issue of air miles. This refers to how far food has travelled from its origin to your plate, and transport equals pollution. But not to fear- insects are here!
Insects reproduce a lot, grow fast, require little water and food and produce low CO₂ emissions. They can also save ⅓ of land used for world’s agriculture. Insects can be farmed vertically, reducing land space used and are cold-blooded so require less energy to stay warm. They can also convert agricultural by-products and food waste into food.
As for air miles, insects can be grown at home easily. Reducing this travel time will have a less impact on the environment and is the ideal way to live sustainably. You can’t get food more local than your own kitchen!
Insect farming is certainly the way forward to a sustainable future.
Edible Insects are incredibly Healthy
The issue with the flexitarian and low-carbon diets is that their focus is on the environment, perhaps leaving health to one side. While consuming more plants does equal more fibre, antioxidants and nutrients, cutting down meat and fish intake can lead to a lack of protein so an alternative source needs to be provided as part of a healthy diet.
That’s where insects come in!
Edible insects are found to be very high in protein and low in fat- mealworms are over 55% protein, which comes way above beef, pork and chicken. They’re also high in iron (more than spinach), calcium (more than milk), fibre and B12, which would be beneficial to those that lack these components in their diets.
If you need more convincing, how about the high levels of antioxidants, low levels of carbohydrates and the fact that they’re sugar free?
Insects are a need for many people’s diets and they’re beginning to find out why!
A Entomophagy Diet?
The future of diets is in our hands. Edible insects can be the new leader in diets for the health and environmentally conscious. With the world’s population set to reach 9 billion by 2050, sustainable food alternatives are a must, so an entomophagy diet is the answer.
Unfamiliarity of insect eating is nothing more than an initial obstacle and education detailing its vast benefits for the environment and our health is the key to shifting public perception away from disgust.
After acceptance, edible insects will take the world by storm as the next healthy diet everyone is talking about. So, if you’re considering a flexitarian diet, or simply want to reduce your carbon footprint, why not incorporate insects?
Your health and environment will thank you!
By Lucy Godber
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