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Are Fried Worms Healthier Than Fried Chicken?

A recent study, "Are edible insects more or less 'healthy' than commonly consumed meats?" attempted to determine just that.

Commercially farmed insects are more sustainable and less expensive to raise than livestock, so there has been a push to expand production and promotion of these foods. But are insects healthier than beef, pork, and chicken? Researchers from Rikkyo University in Tokyo and Oxford University in the UK wanted to find out.

In the study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compiled available nutrition data for sources of traditional animal protein including: pork, chicken, and beef; and commercially available insects: cricket, honeybee, silkworm, mopane caterpillar, palm weevil, and mealworm. Using their data, each protein source was assigned a nutrition score on two scales, the Ofcom model and the Nutrient Value Score (NVS).

Mealworms. Photo by Peter Halasz.

The Ofcom model is used in the UK to evaluate food quality and regulate the advertising of high fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) foods to children to prevent overnutrition and overweight. The Nutrient Value Score (NVS) is used to score foods in areas where risk of undernutrition is high.

On the Ofcom scale, there were no significant differences in quality between animal meat and insect sources. On the NVS scale, crickets, palm weevil larvae, and mealworm scored higher than beef and chicken, due to higher micronutrient content. However, micronutrient differences may have been due to the fact that, in some cases, researchers had to compare nutrition scores of fresh animal meat with nutrition scores for dried insects. This was due to a lack of available fresh weight nutrition information for some of the insects studied.

While meat and insects did not differ much on average, there was significant variation within the insect species included. As a result, researchers concluded that all insects should not be categorized as a single food group.

Photo: Mealworms, by Peter Halasz

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