Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 08 2016

Eating Insects: No Longer a Fringe Choice

By Mark Sisson
47 Comments

fried insects

Three years ago, my pal Gabi Lewis—founder of Exo, who make the best cricket protein bars on the planet—made a compelling case for eating more insects. Today, I’ll build on these arguments and, based on new evidence, offer even more reasons you should consider incorporating edible insects into your diet.

Though few people reading this consider insects anything but a novelty, for many human cultures they were (and are) staple foods. Humans have been eating insects for millions of years, starting with our distant ancestors and continuing through the present day.

Fecal fossils (coprolites) from Mexico show evidence of prehistoric consumption of ticks (evil bastards), ants, larvae, lice, and mites. Both the Bible and Koran permit insect consumption, particularly of locusts. Aristotle snacked on cicadas. The Hadza of Tanzania love wild honeycomb with bees still nestled in the wax cells.  Thailand has incredible outdoor bug markets, with baskets of spiders and crickets and dragonflies and scorpions and entire ant colonies (queen, workers, soldiers) ready to be eaten. Chapulines, stir-fried crickets in chile and lime, are my go-to appetizer anytime I visit a Oaxacan restaurant.

The squeamish are the weird ones.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Insects are plentiful and tend to travel in bunches, particularly in tropical climates. You can grab ’em without tools or ridiculous amounts of planning and coordination. Depending on the insect, hunting it won’t get you killed (stung, maybe). They’re a relatively easy-to-obtain, difficult-to-extinguish, reliable source of animal protein. Not every eland hunt was successful, after all.

Okay, but why does this matter for the average Westerner already eating quality animal foods?

I get the sustainability argument. Insects reproduce rapidly, consume very few fossil fuels, require less water and food than cattle to produce the same amount of calories, protein, B-vitamins, vital minerals, and essential fatty acids.

According to a 2013 FAO report, broader incorporation of edible bugs could balance the worldwide food (and animal feed) supply and provide animal protein at a lower price-point and ecological footprint to those who desperately need it but aren’t in a position to eat pasture-raised, shade-grown, gluten-free beef.

Insects are clearly a promising avenue for populations who can’t afford or obtain precious animal foods. What about someone like me—who can afford and obtain high quality pastured meats?

What’s in it for me?

Entomophagy is mandible-to-abdomen eating

Eating the whole animal is the goal of most conscious meat-eaters. It’s more sustainable—no waste. It’s more nutrient-dense—you eat organs, connective tissue and muscles, not just the latter. But it’s a pain, since we buy everything piecemeal these days and not every bit is even available. When you eat an insect, you eat the whole animal. I’ve love access to grass-fed cattle the size of mice that I could pop into my mouth whole, but that’d take some serious genetic engineering. Insects (along with shellfish and small fatty fish) work for now.

Insects offer copious nutrition

In one recent study, researchers compared the mineral contents of four edible bugs—crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, and buffalo worms—to that of good old beef. Both crickets and grasshoppers had more iron than beef, and other minerals like magnesium and calcium were more bioavailable from bugs than the same ones found in beef.

A previous overview (PDF) of the insect nutrition literature by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is worth reading. Here are some of its findings:

A 3-ounce serving of mopane caterpillar provides over a gram of potassium, half the calcium of a glass of milk, almost half the RDI of magnesium, 200% the manganese RDI, 400% the iron RDI, 100% the copper RDI, and more zinc than beef.

Most insects are extremely high in thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2), and a great many are high in B12.

Insects have chitin

An insect’s exoskeleton is made of chitin. If we have enough chitinase, the enzyme that breaks it down, we can convert chitin to chitosan. if we don’t produce chitinase, chitin has the potential to act like fiber. Why does this matter?

Chitosan is a cool compound. There’s very little study into it, but it may increase fecal excretion of dioxins and PCBs (two prominent xenoestrogenic compounds) when eaten before breakfast, help people lose weight, and lower oxidized LDL.

Fiber is also helpful. If we can convert “animal fiber” (various connective tissues like cartilage and tendons) into short-chain fatty acids, I wouldn’t be surprised if “bug fiber” has similar effects.

Is it happening?

I think so.

Exo is doing very well. I’m happy to have invested in them.

The consumer response to cricket products has overwhelmed supply. People are eating it and making products out of it faster than they can make the stuff. That’s going to drive innovation.

Not too long ago, the EU released a report recommending a variety of insects, including houseflies, crickets, and silkworms, for use as human food and livestock feed. I’m not sure edible houseflies will ever catch on as human food, but otherwise it looks credible.

According to a recent survey, about a third of Americans are “interested in eating more bugs.” That number is trending upward, too. Another study found that youth, especially males with “weak attitudes” toward meat, are increasingly open to eating insects. The more concerned they were about environmental issues, the more likely they were to be on board with insects as a significant portion of their diet.

I expect some developments moving forward:

Greater realization of insects’ potential as a savory ingredient

Right now, the majority of insect flour products on the market are on the sweeter side, incorporating dates and other sweet fruits as binders. In contrast, most insects were and are traditionally consumed as salty, savory foods, like the grilled dragonflies of Bali, the fatty witchetty grubs of the Australian outback, or the spicy, salty, citrusy chapulines of Oaxaca. I think that’s the next culinary frontier for entomophagy—celebrating, rather than hiding the flavor of the bug itself.

More tinkering with insect feed

Just like chickens and pigs, the fatty acid composition of an insect depends on the fatty acid composition of its feed. If you raise a cricket on the same soy and corn garbage we give pigs and poultry, that cricket will have a ridiculous amount of linoleic acid. If you roast and grind that cricket into cricket flour, you’ll damage a lot of the fragile PUFAs.

On the other hand, if you put more thought into that cricket’s feed, you’ll be able to create better fatty acid profiles. Feed it algae, and you might boost the EPA/DHA content. Feed it more MUFA and SFA, you get a cricket higher in both fats that can withstand roasting and grinding.

Better mass-market eggs

Chickens are avowed omnivores if you let ’em, feasting on lizards, frogs, and as many insects as they can find. The ancestral environment of the chicken—southeast Asian jungles—teems with insects. Pastured chickens produce incredible eggs, and it’s not only—or even mostly—caused by all the weeds, greens, and grasses in their diet. Equally important are the insects they get to eat. Right now, non-pastured chickens might get a few grubs or mealworms as treats. It’s not enough to change the quality of the eggs.

As bug farming gets easier, cheaper, and bigger, I expect feed insects will replace a large portion of the corn, soy, and corn-and-soy byproducts that currently comprise poultry feed. And the eggs will get much better.

All in all, I expect big things. Bugs will get cheaper and tastier. Producers will get better at raising them, and the food and restaurant industries will get better at preparing them. Consumers are growing more open to the idea of eating them, so demand will rise. Growing populations will need the vitamins, minerals, fats, and protein only animal foods can truly provide, and insects will be an obvious solution.

But it’s not a foregone conclusion. As a member of the Primal community, you drive this train. If anyone’s going to get the ball rolling, it’s you all.

So get on it.

Try Exo bars.

Go down to the local Oaxacan restaurant and try the chapulines.

Find a restaurant near you serving insects.

Or order your own and start experimenting in the kitchen.

That’s it for today, folks. Now let’s hear from you.

Have you eaten bugs yet? What’s your favorite? If not, what’s stopping you?

Thanks for reading!

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47 thoughts on “Eating Insects: No Longer a Fringe Choice”

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  1. Sorry, Mark, but no thanks. I don’t mind getting my insects second-hand, by way of eating eggs, but otherwise I will skip them. Bad enough that you might get the occasional cockroach or housefly on your plate at a restaurant. Life is short and there are too many really delicious things to eat for me to resort to dining on bugs.

    1. If you’re willing to eat shrimp or shellfish, bugs aren’t a big stretch.

    2. Your reasoning points to merely a lack of exposure to tastily cooked insects. Keep your mind open to the experience when it presents itself because some can taste as good as any conventional food!

  2. This is definitely not the post to introduce the new girlfriend sporting a few extra pounds to the benefits of the paleo lifestyle

    1. With an attitude like that, you won’t have to worry about her being your new girlfriend for very long…

      1. In my defense, she is the one that mentioned she wants to lose 20 lbs, not me! She is wonderful just as she is. I am lucky to have met her.

        1. She is lucky to have met you who knows about nutrition and losing weight. Not many people knows these information.

        2. I support the attempt at life optimization assistance! In my experience, it’s so difficult though to avoid resentment even if the results are what the other partner suggested in the first place.
          Maybe it easier to have another issue to ask help with in a sort of trade deal, even if the problem is partially fabricated haha

          1. Good point. She’s taking something for fibromyalgia so I sent her an older MDA post that had a great string of comments from people who live with it. I’m sticking with the feeling better tactic and reinforcing the fact that she looks great to me. Even more so now that I have had a more intimate look.

  3. I was given a box of Crickettes, I ate like 2 of them and kept the rest to offer them at my workplace as an experiment. Of 20 men I offered them only two said they were ready to eat them (*). From 20 women … not one!
    Note: my daughter dogs ate the remaining Crickettes, much to my regret, so I could not continue my research

    (*) when they said yes I promptly recanted the offer, I needed all the Crickettes for myself

  4. Eating insects is strictly for my cats and not for me. They eat flies and crickets just fine.

  5. I eagerly await the day when bugs are cheaper and readily available where I live. As it stands, I can’t justify a $3.50 protein bar when the same money buys me a nice chuck-eye steak with a lot more nutrition and protein.
    Exo bars are the most delicious protein bars I’ve tasted – especially that BBQ bar they had a while back, but cost to much to be much more than a novelty.

    1. Why buy insects? Just scrape them off the windshield of your car in the summertime and, voila!, you’ve got lunch.

  6. Ahh yes, insects. These creepy crawlies provide a good amount of nutrition when eaten in abundance. Insects are the reason why many hunter gather tribes survived long enough to pass on their genetics. Areas of the world where animal protein was scarce the natives would simply eat insects.

  7. I’ve always been curious to try the Exo bars, but have been very reluctant since finding out the hard way I have a shrimp allergy. What information is out there on cricket (or other terrestrial bug) allergies?

  8. I would definitely try insects. I mean, from an objective standpoint, eating a hacked off bloody piece of dead mammal flesh is much more gross, yet we don’t think twice about it. I did cringe however when I read about the ticks, lice and spiders. Not sure I could get my head around that.

    1. Not to mention we also tear limbs off living things working hard to grow in the garden and rip their reproductive parts right off of them as they stand in the orchard.

  9. I am very interested in the topic of using insects as feed for livestock. That could be something that would very beneficial, both financial and the health of our society. I would definitely be open to trying insects as a form of protein and nutrients. However, I think I’ll opt for the “hiding the flavor of the insect” option for now.

  10. How do you stop people with the pesticides contaminating your meal? I can’t even talk my neighbors out of using Roundup on their weed “garden.” It’s like if they spray it enough, they hope grass will grow instead. Hawaii seems absurdly gung-ho with the Roundup. I don’t even trust my cats to eat a random large cockroach because I know how phobic people are of bugs and what they spray them with (they will still eat them, but I cringe!). I tell my kids that I’d rather they have worms in their lettuce than some kind of perfect bug-free type sold in a sterile plastic container. That makes me suspicious. If a bug won’t eat it, maybe we shouldn’t eat it either! I’d be game for eating bugs if they were thoughtfully raised.

  11. I’m waiting for the price to drop. No way am I buying an 8-oz bag of cricket flour for $24 when I could buy a helluva good steak for $48 a pound.

    1. Hi Naomi,

      Consider “bang for your buck”, there’s a great new study to consider regarding nutritional benefits and bioavilability. of nutrients in insects vs meat (see below) also, as far as fiber goes, crickets contain lots of it (see below) and you can’t find that in a steak.

      Also, with scale and farming efficiency the price will come down too.

      Here are 2 great references.

      Last, use coupon code “onus” for 20% off in our store at http://www.entomofarms.com

      Reference: http://www.marthastewart.com/1507974/eat-insects-not-steak-new-study-suggests?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=msl_643135912

      http://entomofarms.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/EntomoFarms_ChitinandChitin-OligosaccharideAssessmentandMarketing2vf.pdf

    2. I don’t remember the price exactly, but on Amazon, it was lower than that–or I wouldn’t have bought it. And what I got was Amazon Prime available, so no more high shipping from Thailand cost.

  12. It’s discouraging how many people on this comment section said “no thanks” for insects. They should not call themselves primal if they don’t want to eat them. Besides, if they eat shrimp, they already eat insects. It’s all in their head.

    1. Or in your case … on your face. 🙂

      I’ll gladly have my primal tattoo removed if eating insects is what I have to do to earn that label. I’m now switching from primal to the Mediterranean diet minus legumes and with extra non-insect protein.

  13. Clearly, there are those of us that are not ready to embrace insects as food. But it does amaze me how our palates evolve via primal eating. Not too long ago, the thought of raw oysters and liver made me gag. Now, I love raw oysters, freshly shucked, and I’m looking forward to the chicken livers sauteed in pastured bacon I’m having this evening. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to eat a plate of crickets, and I don’t need to encourage my “candy bar” addiction, in any form, but I don’t sweat over the little green worms or aphids on my homegrown lettuce, kale, and chard. I just remind my dinner guests that we are eating paleo…

  14. I raised crickets in a closet for a couple of years while I had a pet lizard. It was quite easy. I bought 12 adults from the pet store, and was soon producing hundreds (if not thousands) of crickets per week. I gave the extras back to the pet store.

    All it took was one large plastic tub (with holes on each end covered with screen for air) for the adults, a pint container with damp sand for them to lay eggs in, an egg carton for them to hide in, a small automatic waterer with a sponge in the bowl to provide water and prevent drowning, an electric heating pad, and 3-4 shoe-box sized containers for the juveniles (one box per age group). From egg laying to adult took about 4 weeks. Once per day, I moistened the sand with a spray bottle, and also checked water and food levels. Once per week, I moved the sand container to a shoe-box sized tub and put a new sand container in the adult tub.

    Not knowing better alternatives, I fed them cat food covered in calcium powder. If I were to do it again, I’d probably feed them a bit of everything I eat, although I’d avoid feeding conventional produce. Non-organic fresh veggie snacks sometimes killed off 1/4 to 1/2 the population.

    I doubt it would be difficult to scale up the operation in order to feed/supplement a small flock of chickens. An adventurous person could raise them for personal consumption.

  15. Not gonna do it … wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.

  16. I’ll try anything at least once! Besides if you’ve ever eaten a lobster or crab it’s basically just a giant saltwater bug. People in cultures that eat bugs seem to love them so I’m willing to bet once you get over the ick factor they might be delicious.

  17. Eat more insects? Sure, and I do. But they are expensive and it is doubtful they will supplant traditional protein sources et cetera.

  18. I was a vegetarian for over 30 years, and never thought I’d eat meat again. When I started eating meat, I never thought I would venture to things like chicken liver, which I actually love (with a little bacon!) Sardines used to completely gross me out. Now I can’t get enough of them. But while I respect all of Mark’s points, I just can’t wrap my head around eating insects right now.

  19. The only thing that’s stopping me is availability. If I can find them in the grocery store I will buy them so fast… but order them? They probably don’t ship to Canada and if they do, the shipping is prohibitive. As for Exo bars, I don’t like protein bars. At all.

  20. Mark, I with you on this but let’s not forget, that today’s AG business is about minimum expense and maximum gains. In other words, future Insects growers may go the way of CAFO cattle growers (i.e. feed type) rather then grass fed. Let’s hope I am wrong on this.

    Also, the only difference between eating crickets of the sea to crickets of the land is physiological, which in time can be overcome.

  21. I’ve eaten quite a lot of various bugs in my time. First tasting was in the Army, then Thailand.

    I’m not a fan, the texture is gross and the taste leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not big on Shelfish either. Don’t really like it.

    1. So could I just capsulize cricket flour or any other insect flour and derive the same benefits(if not greater, because no binders/fillers) as a supplement? The paper entomo put forth looks encouraging. Thanks Jarrod

  22. I like the (cacao and coconut) exo bars but have moved away from snacking (bar nuts and dark chocolate) and don’t really appreciate the highish sugar content.

    I’m lucky enough to live in a country where eating insects isn’t considered weird. I usually avoid the area but I think myeongdong (tourist hell) in Seoul is good for crickets, and there’s a bbq restaurant near Seoul Station that does ‘bun dae gi’ (silkworm) stew as a free side dish. I’m sure there’s plenty of others that do silkworm but I’ve not come across them yet. The taste is way preferable to the look and smell, and I really need to get back there sometime.

  23. 1) You’ll never know you’re eating crickets if you eat an EXO bar. They taste like Larabars–nuts and fuit.
    2) You can make the same thing at home easily, and now that there is cricket flour available on Amazon Prime, it’s not too expensive and definitely cheaper than exo bars. (And for even cheaper, it sounds really easy to grow your own crickets.) Just combine in the Vitamix your choice of nuts, dried fuits, coconut, and any seasonings you want and some cricket flour. I also add collagen powder. My daughter and husband had no idea they ate crickets. (My husband now knows however.)
    3) Cricket flour hides well in quesadillas and probably would in mac and cheese, too. You just need to be creative if someone asks what the brown is all about.
    4) I bet it would “disappear” in soup, too and add protein to stir fried ground meat.

  24. For a while, I have been thinking that if precooked/deep-frozen larvae and insects were as widely available as precooked/deep-frozen shrimp, I might give them a try. Then again, the thing with land insects and their larvae is that they may contain pathogens. I believe – perhaps erroneously – that shrimp and other seafood are safer than land insects that often get in contact with manure and rubbish.