Insect protein: The real deal or just crickets?

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How about a big bowl of toasted crickets for breakfast?

The first time I heard of insect protein as a dietary supplement was a few years ago. At that time it was said to be much more economical than any other protein sources: it's renewable and may be just as good as other sources (more on that in a moment).

First of all, insects have been a part of the diet in many cultures for a very long time - we're talking thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. Take a walk through the night markets of Bangkok or Seoul, and you’ll find a variety of bugs on offer - like crunchy fried scorpions or steamed silkworm larvae.

But for most North Americans, the idea of scarfing back a cup of bugs as an on-the-go snack is disgusting. Fortunately, there are now insect protein options available that are more appealing to our palates.

In the case of insect protein supplements, crickets are the mainstay. According to one Canadian company appropriately named "Crickstart", crickets are easy to farm, provide lots of protein, and most importantly require fewer resources to grow. Crickets prefer to live in tight quarters, piled on top of one another, something that would never work in the cattle industry. So the process of producing insect protein is much better for the environment.

But how effective are insects as a source of protein?

Whey protein has been shown to be the best source of protein followed by caseine, egg and soy. For more on this, check this great resource. A recent study of insect protein looked at amino acid blood levels, an indicator of how well a protein is absorbed, and compared it with whey and soy. The study found insect protein raises blood amino acid levels at a level comparable to soy protein.  

So it’s good, but not as good as whey. But if you are dairy sensitive and want to try something other than the terrible tasting vegan proteins available, consider insect protein. (And don't try to tell me they taste good, I won't believe you). 

Happy cricketing!

Dr. Oake

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