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UN Reports Eating Insects Could Curb Obesity and Global Warming

Update Date: May 13, 2013 11:57 AM EDT

With the obesity epidemic continuing to grow and global warming causing drastic climate changes, the United Nations has announced a new way of curbing both global issues: eat more insects. For most people living in developed Western countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, this new recommendation might sound farfetched and disgusting. However, there are over 1,900 species of insects that are eaten today, totaling over two billion insects eaten primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Insects in these countries have provided a more reliable source of food that contains nutrients comparable to meat.

"In the West we have a cultural bias, and think that because insects come from developing countries, they cannot be good," said scientist Arnold van Huis from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. van Huis was one of the authors of the report conducted by the Forestry Department of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The new report analyzed the potential benefits of incorporating insects to daily foods. First, it stated that most insects provided almost the same levels of protein and minerals, which include iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc, as meats. For example, red ants, small grasshoppers and beetles all have comparable levels of protein as lean ground beef. These insects could be considered to be even healthier because they do not contain as much fat as the beef. The most commonly eaten insects include beetles and caterpillars, with bees, wasps, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and ants not far behind. The least common ones are flies and termites.

Second, if insects could somewhat be normalized in Western cuisine, it would benefit global warming because the cultivation of insects causes less damage on the environment than livestock. Insect farming would be less land dependent and it would also produce smaller levels of greenhouse gases. Third, insect farming would also give jobs to poor people in developing countries. These people, particularly women since they are the ones that tend to acquire the insects, could earn more money via this insect business. These developing countries' export levels would also rise.

Despite these benefits, the idea of eating insects might still be hard to swallow for some people. If it helps, the report states that some products already have insects in them. For example, Italian aperitif and some international brands of strawberry yogurt use the insect, cochineal, to help dye these products. Furthermore, some pharmaceuticals have also incorporated coloring derived from insects.

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