True Paleo Protein

Posted: 28/07/2013 in English, Paleo Diet, Science and stuff
Tags: , ,

Written by: Judah Boulet

Photo by Tim Olson

Photo by Tim Olson

“Cricket is my reason for living.” Harold Larwood, a professional cricketer in the 20’s and 30’s said this in reference to the sport he so loved.  As we look forward to the later half of the 21st century, with global populations reaching 9 billion people, far surpassing the earth’s carrying capacity, could it be that Cricket, the insect, be the reason for all of us living?  As the world’s population grows the demands for a sustainable protein source to meet the nutritional needs of the worlds inhabitants, in all corners of the globe, while maintaining some sense of wilderness presence, is absolutely necessary.

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects.  This practice happens to be widely accepted and normal in most corners of the world, by many cultures, outside of the US, Canada, and Europe.  What many do not know is that insects happen to be a highly valuable source of nutrition, and relatively inexpensive to raise.  They also represent a potential highly sustainable source of protein to meet the world’s rising populations.  They are easy to raise, do not take up much space, do not make much waste, and do not require much biomass to grow, and there are thousands of varieties each with a different taste.

While you may initially scoff at eating an insect, many of you have probably eaten a close relative of all insects, and actually call it a delicacy.  The next time you have King Crab or Lobster, realize you are eating an arthropod, just like a cricket. Arthropods are arthropods, whether it is the $40 lobster in front of you or the crickets outside.  You may consider insects disgusting, scavengers of the earth, but realize for a moment what those lobsters and crabs are doing on the ocean floor.  It’s not so sexy.

Insects also happen to be a true paleo protein.  If we look at the human family tree and we look to our closest primate relatives, we see that many of these species ate insects.  It is easy to extrapolate to the conclusion that in the evolution of our species, insects were a part of the diet.    If we look to modern day hunter gatherer tribes, we also see a reliance on insects as part of their nutrition and diet.  If we want to truly “eat paleo”, should we at least not consider bugs?

Just like any common day American protein source, there is a range of nutritional components.  Some insects have a greater percentage of fat, compared to protein, and all have a low carbohydrate profile. (See table 1) While relative amounts vary from insect source to insect source, insects also provide a source of bioavailable iron, zinc and calcium.5 Some sources also have high content of the omega 3, alpha-linolenic acid.6

Table 1
This table taken fromhttp://www.ent.iastate.edu/misc/insectnutrition.html
Insect Protein (g) Fat (g) Carbohydrate Calcium (mg) Iron (mg)
Giant Water Beetle 19.8 8.3 2.1 43.5 13.6
Red Ant 13.9 3.5 2.9 47.8 5.7
Silk Worm Pupae 9.6 5.6 2.3 41.7 1.8
Dung Beetle 17.2 4.3 .2 30.9 7.7
Cricket 12.9 5.5 5.1 75.8 9.5
Grasshopper 20.6 6.1 3.9 35.2 5.0
Grasshopper 14.3 3.3 2.2 27.5 3.0
June Beetle 13.4 1.4 2.9 22.6 6.0
Caterpillar 28.2 N/A N/A N/A 35.5
Caterpillar 9.7 N/A N/A N/A 1.9
Termite 14.2 N/A N/A N/A 35.5
Weevil 6.7 N/A N/A N/A 13.1
Beef (Lean Ground) 27.4 N/A N/A N/A 3.5
Fish (Broiled Cod) 28.5 N/A N/A N/A 1.0

While each insect has its own nutritional profile, biochemical analysis and comparison of the protein amino acid breakdown of cricket protein shows that it is a complete protein source and contains all essential amino acids.  Comparing ground crickets, with no chemical processing needed, to three traditional pure protein sources, the profile stacks up rather sharply.(Table 2)

Table 1The amino acidprofiles of wholecrickets are

comparable

per 100g to other

protein isolates in

regard to AA

Breakdown.

per 100 g values listed in grams
NOW BrandSoy Isolate Now BrandEgg White Now BrandWhey Concentrate Whole Ground Cricket
L-Alanine 6.00 2.61 3.20 5.55
L-Arginine 4.20 4.58 1.69 3.68
L-Aspartic Acid 8.38 7.04 6.59 6.29
L-Glutamic Acid 10.50 11.62 11.99 9.07
Glycine 2.63 2.53 1.10 3.62
L-Histidine 1.75 1.62 1.00 1.94
L-Isoleucine  3.63 2.96 3.80 3.09
L-Leucine  6.03 4.93 0.04 5.52
L-Lysine  4.70 3.80 5.77 4.79
L-Methionine  3.93 0.77 1.63 1.93
L-Phenylalanine  4.25 3.17 1.96 2.86
L-Proline 2.83 3.10 3.83 4.50
L-Serine 5.13 3.17 3.08 3.72
L-Threonine  3.48 2.32 4.25 2.75
L-Valine  5.17 3.03 3.39 4.42
L-Tryptophan 1.63 n/a 1.01 0.6*

*all cricket data taken from Wang et al. 2005 except Tryptophan data taken from Nakagaki 1987

Bold represents essential amino acids

While biochemical analysis shows potential nutritional value, does it compare with standard protein sources in terms of growth? Most of the growth studies to look at protein quality as a feed source have been done in rats and chickens and compared to some standard protein feed source.  In every study, whether on various butterfly or moth larvae1, 3, beetles1, termites1, grasshoppers2 or Crickets4 the insect protein provided a valuable and reliable source of nutrition, and had no effect on weight gain in the insect fed group versus the control fed.  These results were independent of processing/cooking/preparing the insects, and preparing the insects in some cases may enhance bioavailability of the nutrients.1

So the question remains, when will we embrace utilizing insects as a protein source?  I can understand how the notion of eating a whole insect may be hard to take, so an alternative may be to start using things like cricket flour.  Marcel Dicke, a Dutch entomologist, gave a talk on TED in 2010, which is very a compelling talk, and definitely worth a watch regardless if this repulses you.

1Ekpo, K.E. Effects on processing on the protein quality of four popular insects cosumed in S. Nigeria, Archives of Applied Science Research 2011, 3(6): 307-326

2Solomon M et. al. Nutritional Evaluation of the Giant Grasshopper Protein ad the possible effects of its high dietray fibre on Amino acid and mineral bioavailability, African Journal of Food, Agriculture and development 2008, 8(2)

3Xia Z, et al. Nutritional evaluation of protein from Clanis bilieata, an edible insect

4 Wang, et al. Evaluation of Nutritional Value of Field Crickets as a Poultry Feedstuff

5 Christensen D, et. al.Entomophagy among the Luo of Kenya, a potential mineral source? International Journal of Food Science

6 Longvah, T et. al Eri silkworm: a source of edible oil with a high content of α-linolenic acid and of significant nutritional value.J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Jul ;92(9):1988-93. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5572. Epub 2012 Jan 30

Judah Boulet is Owner and Head Coach at No Risk CrossFit/Northern RI Strength and Conditioning.  He holds a MS in Pharmacology and Toxicology and spends his days, and nights as a High School Science Teacher, and Adjunct Nutrition Instructor.

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Comments
  1. Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
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    • Well, I used to start the blog with my daily workouts. Then I started to post some articles from other sites or my experience as a trainer, etc. Sometimes I d not post anything for weeks because cannot find anything usefuI or I work like hell.

      It will come no worries. There is always a first step for everything.

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