Nutritional Value of Insects: Interview with Tiffany Afflick, GB Swim Team Nutrition Advisor
Updated: May 12
Here at BeoBia, we are often asked about the nutritional value of insects. So, we spoke to Tiffany Afflick, Nutrition Advisor to the Great Britain swimming team, to find out whether insects are more or less healthy than commonly consumed meats.
In this interview, we discuss the nutritional benefits of eating insects, health and nutrition trends, the impact of the Coronavirus on people’s attitudes towards food consumption, and Tiffany shares some of her favourite bug recipes.
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Please can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
I’m Tiffany, and I’m a Sports Nutrition Advisor and recipe developer. I’m a Loughborough University graduate, and since graduating I’ve been working as a freelance consultant – offering nutrition workshops, 1-1 services for athletes, and developing recipes for a range of nutrition brands.
For the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with the British swimming team, where I have been supporting the head nutritionist with important race-preparation strategies for our athletes.
Of course, all of this is documented on my social media channels, (you can find me at @thecookingyam), where I share my recipes and health tips! My work is varied, but I love it!
What’s your experience with using insects in food?
As a keen foodie, I had heard about the consumption of insects as a delicacy and alternative protein source in Asian countries. I knew there must be a strong nutritional basis for the consumption of insects, but it wasn’t until I met Thomas Constant (Founder and CEO at BeoBia) that I began to understand the power of insect protein.
With much of my work centred around developing nutritious recipes, it was a natural fit for myself and Beobia to collaborate so that we could create delicious insect-based meals. It was a completely new experience for me when I first started using insects in my baking (I began with powdered mealworms), but the knowledge I had allowed me to predict how the texture and flavour of the insect powder would complement other ingredients. I find the mealworm powder particularly easy to work with because it’s so versatile – it makes for an easy flour substitute and can work well as a natural protein powder for smoothies and breakfast bowls.
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Do you have any favourite bug recipes?
That’s a tough question! Looking back, we’ve made quite a few recipes and to me, each of them is special because of the use of sustainable protein. If I had to choose, however, it would either be the insect protein granola or the chocolate-dipped insect cookies.
The granola is a particular favourite of mine because I’m a big fan of breakfast! It’s commonly known in the nutrition sphere that Western breakfasts are typically lacking in protein, and so I find the insect granola a great option for boosting your breakfast protein intake. This is particularly useful if you exercise in the morning and breakfast serves as a recovery meal afterwards, as protein is essential for recovery from exercise training.
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Would you choose edible insects as a source of protein over more traditional sources like meat or fish?
Personally, I don’t eat meat and I rarely eat fish so it’s important that I focus on alternative protein sources to meet my protein requirements. Meat-free diets are becoming increasingly popular for many reasons: health, sustainability, cost etc. But what is out there for us in terms of alternative protein sources?
There are few vegan protein sources that provide all of the amino acids that we need – these are the small units, or ‘building blocks’ that are needed to build muscle. Quinoa and tofu are the most common complete vegan protein sources, but they’re lacking in some nutrients.
Not only do insects provide high-quality protein, but they’re also a fantastic source of unsaturated fatty acids (these are important for lowering cholesterol and are found in oily fish), and nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium.
Though there are huge benefits of meat-free diets, the biggest pitfall is the lack of essential nutrients – with iron, calcium and vitamin B12 being some of the main concerns. The exact nutrient profiles vary depending on the type of insect, but on a whole, insect protein could be the way to go if you’re looking for a complete source of nutrients to substitute for meat.
What nutritional trends are you paying attention to?
As a recipe developer, it’s my job to keep up with common food trends so that I know which type of recipes my audience are looking for. Obviously, the meat-free movement is the biggest nutrition and foodie trend that we’re experiencing right now. And so much of my work focuses on meat-free recipes, using the best ingredients to substitute for key nutrients that meat provides.
Are there any common nutrition myths you would like to ‘set straight’?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve been asked about is whether it’s possible to be healthy, to train well and to recover well from exercise on a meat-free diet. My answer is this: with a well-planned, high-quality meat-free diet it’s possible to live a healthy, active life. Whether you’re a recreationally active individual or an athlete, good nutrition is essential and there’s no reason why this can’t be achieved on a meat-free diet.
My advice is that if you are considering or are already consuming a meat-free diet, ensure you’re consuming a well-balanced diet containing high-quality proteins, healthy unsaturated fats, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. For athletes, protein and nutrients such as iron, B vitamins and omega 3 are particularly important, so carefully planning diet composition and energy intake is essential to ensure you're getting all of the nutrients you need. It’s useful to consult a nutritionist if you’re completely new to meat-free diets and want to try it for yourself, especially if you’re an athlete.
Do you think the Coronavirus will impact people's attitudes towards how we produce and consume food?
I definitely think the Coronavirus outbreak will have a huge impact on how we think about and produce food in the future. Throughout our time in lockdown, we’ve experienced shortages in staple foods such as eggs, pasta, and fresh produce, and so we’ve been forced to look for alternatives and substitutes when our usual products aren’t available.
We’ve had to become more flexible with our food choices, and we’ve had to make a conscious effort to make the most of our food – in my opinion, these are really positive behavioural changes that we should take forward with us. I’m hoping that we’ve learnt to reduce our reliance on certain types of foods and will become more open-minded in experimenting with different foods.
For more insight into the impact of COVID-19 on our food habits, check out our blog.
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