When most people go on a health kick they eat more lettuce or hit the gym. Not so one PhD student who has taken healthy eating to a whole new level. Peter Bickerton has admitted he eats tens of thousands of insects in a bid to ward off heart disease. The 24-year-old has gorged on [...]


Sunday Times 2

Anyone for a locust pizza or worm taco?


When most people go on a health kick they eat more lettuce or hit the gym.

Not so one PhD student who has taken healthy eating to a whole new level.

Crunchy crickets: Mr Bickerton started researching low cholesterol diets when he discovered that he had a very strong family history of heart disease. He discovered that insects are very low in cholesterol (Reuters)

Peter Bickerton has admitted he eats tens of thousands of insects in a bid to ward off heart disease.

The 24-year-old has gorged on more than 10,000 crickets, 5,000 locusts and 1,000 waxworms.

A typical day for Mr Bickerton consists of freeze-dried locust oatmeal for breakfast, a cricket sandwich for lunch and a plate of waxworm tacos for dinner.

Mr Bickerton believes eating insects is the most effective way of preventing high cholesterol and, therefore, heart disease.

And the diet is particularly poignant as he has a strong and tragic family history of heart disease.

To raise awareness about the health benefits of insect eating, Mr Bickerton gives talks around the world and even hosts bug tasting events to encourage others to sample the tiny critters.

Mr Bickerton, from Blackburn, explains that itwas a chain of medical scares among his relatives that prompted him to totally transform his diet.

He said: ‘It all started when my uncle died of a heart attack at the young age of 45. Then a few months later, another one of my uncles suffered a heart attack, needing triple bypass surgery.

‘When my aunt suffered a stroke not long after, my family realised that this was no coincidence and that something much worse was going on.

A waitress carries plates of ant eggs, left, maguey worms, right, and grasshoppers at the Corazon de Maguey restaurant in Mexico City (Reuters)

‘We all had our cholesterol levels tested and my mum and each of her seven siblings were diagnosed with dangerously high levels of cholesterol.

‘Their diagnosis really jolted me. I was still young and I knew that I had to act now to avoid suffering the same fate as the rest of my family.

‘Everything I’ve read points to the fact that eating bugs is the surest way of avoiding heart disease. It is the healthiest lifestyle out there.’
Mr Bickerton – who is completing his doctoral research in Plant Sciences at the University of Manchester – first ate insects on a fieldtrip to Ecuador in 2009.

‘A native tribe brought some three-inch-long, barbecued beetle larvae for us to try. It was just like an incredible explosion of taste in my mouth, I had never eaten anything like it,’ he said.

But it was only in 2011 that Peter started doing more research into insect eating – or ‘entomophagy’.

He said: ‘Heart disease is caused by high cholesterol and the only source of cholesterol is saturated fats. Studies show that insects have significantly less saturated fats than other edible animal meat that’s out there.

‘Even if you don’t eat meat, the typical vegetarian option you’d get in a pub is laden with saturated fats. But in bugs, it’s negligible.

‘Not only that, insects have twice as much protein than beef and far more omega-3 fatty acids than in fish. In fact, research has shown that 100g of locusts for example has more nutrients than other meat.’

These findings led Mr Bickerton to start incorporating bugs into his diet – combining insect protein with the normal meat dishes he ate.
He said: ‘The first recipe I ever created with bugs was by blending beef mince with locusts in a food processor and making burgers out of them.

‘It took a lot of improvisation but the final product was delicious. The locusts gave the burgers a really nutty aroma.

‘I started experimenting more with the recipe and a few attempts later, I was able to make the burgers entirely out of locusts. Soon after, I decided to entirely cut other meats from my diet.’

Mr Bickerton began experimenting in the kitchen, rustling up dishes like locust pizza, waxworm tagine and cricket-filled nut roast. For desert, he would bake mealworm cakes and puddings.

He said: ‘The trick to cooking bugs is seeing them as you would any other meat – it’s about looking at a cricket as if it’s a chicken fillet or a king prawn.

‘You can whack some locusts in sweet chilli sauce for a stir-fry or stick some waxworms in pasta sauce to make a bug-Bolognese. It’s simple.’

Since embarking on the insect eating lifestyle, Mr Bickerton claims he has never felt better.

He said: ‘I’m the picture of health now. Before, my weight used to fluctuate. But as a result of eating bugs which are such a lean meat, I’ve maintained a healthy weight of 10st 10lbs.

‘My energy levels have vastly improved too and I believe that’s down to how insects – like grasshoppers for example – have 10 times more iron than other meats.

‘I’m only in my twenties and was lucky to not be diagnosed with high cholesterol like the rest of my family. A diet rich in bugs is the ultimate preventive measure.’

Mr Bickerton admits that in spite of his endorsement of their health benefits, some of his family and friends are repulsed by his bug chomping ways: ‘A few of my mates think it’s really weird and will never accept it.

‘My mum meanwhile has made it clear that she will never eat an insect. It doesn’t matter what I do – I could never convince her to try it.
‘It’s a shame. People have this idea that insects are dirty but they are not at all. The livestock we eat are pumped with hormones and drugs.

‘But insects effectively only feed on leaves and you can breed them in a very hygienic warehouse. They are the cleanest and freshest form of meat.’

One person that Mr Bickerton has managed to convert, however, is his girlfriend of six months, Marina, 21.

He said: ‘When I first told Marina that I ate bugs, she was intrigued. Then after a night-out, I cooked her some locusts in tomato sauce and she loved it!

‘Now we often eat insects together. For a romantic date, I might make her something special like a roasted butternut squash infused with some locust heads.’

Mr Bickerton orders his insects from a live breeder in Somerset and admits their costly retail price in the UK is a downside to the lifestyle.

He said: ‘Apart from me, the only other living things who really eat insects in Britain are people’s pet reptiles and birds. So I’ve got to pay premium rates for these bugs – a bag of locusts will set you back around £9.

‘My dream is to eventually have my own insect-growing sanctuary, where I can breed my own crickets, locusts, dung beetles and mealworms to eat.’

Although Mr Bickerton initially began consuming bugs for their health benefits, he admits that now his appetite for insects is insatiable.
He said: ‘I get cravings for them – I have to make sure that my freezer is always stocked up with crickets and worms.

‘I just love the taste of insects, they’re very pleasant. But it’s their texture which I like the most – that subtle crunch and the squish when you bite through it.

‘My favourite species to eat are locusts. They have an inherently sweet flavour and their heads are really nutty.’

As well as enjoying the taste of bugs, Mr Bickerton also believes that they are a sustainable way of feeding our rapidly expanding global population.

He said: ‘The amount of water, grain and resources that you need to rear livestock is ridiculous.

‘The wastage is far less with bugs. If people ate less cow, sheep, pig and chicken and ate more insects instead, everything would balance. For instance, there would be more grain for people who are starving.’

© Daily Mail, London

IS EATING INSECTS REALLY GOOD FOR YOU?Last summer the World Health Organisation suggested that eating bugs could be the solution to worldwide food shortages.
It said insects are a good source of protein and contain a range of minerals.

Some beetles, ants, crickets and grasshoppers come close to lean red meat in terms of protein per gram.

They can be rich in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

They are also a source of fibre and are lower in cholesterol than beef or pork.

Crickets are also a course of calcium.

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