How Entomophagy Works

Benefits of Eating Bugs

Ma'am, would you care for more scorpions?
Ma'am, would you care for more scorpions?
Lara Jo Regan/Getty Images

The benefits of consuming insects are multifold, starting with the fact that they're good for you. Consider the following: 100 grams of crickets contains 121 calories. Only 49.5 calories come from fat. Where you really see the nutritional value is in the 12.9 grams of protein and 75.8 milligrams of iron. They also have about 5 grams of carbohydrates. If you're watching your figure and want to cut down on the carbs, go with a silk worm pupae or a nice steaming bowl of termites. Neither of these has any carbohydrates, and they're both great sources of protein and calories. But if it's protein you seek, look no further than the caterpillar. These little fellows pack a walloping 28 grams of protein per 100 grams [source: Lyon]. They're also loaded with iron, thiamine and niacin. You may know those last two by their more common names -- vitamins B1 and B3.

Compare the nutritional value of insects to beef and even fish and it's pretty clear which one is the smart food. While having protein levels on par with caterpillars, lean ground beef and cod come up short in iron and vitamin levels. Crickets also contain a lot of calcium, which we know is good for bone development. Besides nutritional value, insects are also abundant and environmentally sustainable. Farming and harvesting insects takes very little water and transport fuel compared to livestock, grains and even vegetables. It's also more efficient than raising cattle. One hundred pounds of feed produces 10 pounds of beef. The same amount of feed would produce more than four times that amount in crickets [source: National Geographic]. If America and Europe got on board, insects could help to provide a sustainable food source for the future.

Mmmmmm, maggot skewers. Mmmmmm, maggot skewers.
Mmmmmm, maggot skewers.
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So where do you get these things? Well, it's best to not venture into your backyard seeking beetles or termites. Chances are, anything in an urban area will be flush with pesticides. Your best bet is to buy them or raise them yourself. Pet stores and bait shops will have mealworms and crickets. You can also special order most anything from insect suppliers on the Internet.

There are a couple of things you should do before eating insects. To freshen them up, feed them fresh grains for a couple of days. This will clean out anything unsavory they may have eaten. Even though many insects can be eaten raw, you'll want to cook them to make sure it's safe and to improve the taste. Wash them with water and put them in the freezer for about 15 minutes to kill them. You may want to cut the heads from the worms, though you don't need to. Crickets can have their legs and wings removed -- there's not much meat there anyway.

If you're in a survival situation, insects may save your life. But be careful what you eat, as some can be toxic. It's doubtful that you'll die from eating a forbidden bug, but you can get sick. One common rule of thumb you can follow is:

Red, orange yellow, forget this fellow.

Black, green or brown, wolf it down.

Avoid eating brightly colored bugs or ones that have a strong odor. This odor is their way of saying "buzz off," and you should do just that. If you're an outdoor enthusiast, the safest thing to do is keep a book of edible plants and insects in your emergency kit.

For more information on strange foods and other oddities, please crawl ahead to the following page.