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Sustainable Proteins, and How to Cook Bugs.

  • While eating healthy and nutritious food is essential for every human, we should also take steps to minimise our negative impact on the planet. Choosing alternative sustainable protein sources can help decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the food you eat produces and reduce energy usage.

  • Spirulina is one of the best alternatives to conventional unsustainable sources of protein such as meat because it contains more than 60% of protein by weight. This blue algae is also rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, and minerals, including copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, and manganese.

  • Other sustainable protein sources include legumes, soy products, seafood, eggs, chicken, nuts and seeds, Ezekiel bread, protein-rich vegetables, potatoes, milk, garden peas, and rice.

Food is an essential part of our daily lives. But unfortunately, many food production practices have a strong negative impact on our planet, with greenhouse gas emissions and increased energy use being the most dangerous factors. And while we can’t eliminate carbon emissions attributed to the food we eat entirely, we can choose more eco-friendly options. For example, protein is an essential part of any healthy diet, but the production of animal protein is very harmful to the environment since it requires a lot of resources such as land, animal feed, chemical fertilisers, and water. Plus, livestock produces a lot of methane, further exacerbating the impact of animal farming on our planet.

Most environmentally conscious people find themselves choosing between being environmentally friendly or catering to their taste buds every time they’re planning what meal to eat. However, there is a way to do both by finding delicious protein alternatives to meet our daily protein needs. So keep reading to discover the best sustainable protein sources!

Edible insects

Insects have the potential to produce less GHG emissions, and use less resources, than conventional animal agriculture for similar amounts of protein.5 Like most animals, insects are rich in protein and a number of essential amino acids.6 The digestibility of protein from insects is higher than plant proteins and only slightly lower than egg or beef protein.6 They are also a surprising source of dietary fibre chitin.7 The nutritional content of insects can vary greatly by species, stage of growth, and feed. For example, adult mealworms are a source of iron, iodine, magnesium, and zinc; while larvae are rich in B vitamins.7

Many insect species are eaten around the world with little evidence of ill-effects, suggesting they are safe to eat.4 Potential hazards (from biological or chemical contamination) are likely to depend on production, harvesting and processing techniques, and need a full assessment. More research is needed, for instance, into the potential hazards of farming insects fed on food waste (a potentially cost-effective solution)

Algae and aquatic plants

Algae can be broadly divided into microalgae and macroalgae (seaweed). Algae reproduce rapidly and have a higher productivity compared to conventional crops. They can be cultivated in bioreactors (microalgae), or in sea- and recycled water (macroalgae/seaweed), requiring less land.9 Algae can accumulate minerals like calcium, iron and copper at much higher levels than land-grown foods.10

Some varieties of seaweed are relatively high in protein, low in fat, and provide vitamins and minerals, and some essential amino acids.10 They are also one of the few plant sources of vitamin B12 – important for vegetarians and vegans – with a single portion of Ulva lactuca (sea lettuce) providing the recommended intake for adults.10 Seaweeds are staple foods in Japan and Korea. They can easily be added to sushi bowls, pasta dishes, smoothies, and salads, while microalgae are commonly sold as food supplements (such as spirulina and chlorella).

Duckweeds are small aquatic plants used as feed for domestic animals. They are also mixed into soups and salads in some parts of the world, particularly in Asia. Dried duckweed is a promising, fast-growing, high quality protein source (amino acid composition similar to meat), with up to 40% protein content.

Upcoming improved plant protein sources

Plant protein sources that are eaten widely include soy, wheat, vegetables, and potatoes. Rapeseed (canola) oil, popularly used in cooking, leaves behind a protein-rich ingredient when extracted from the seed. This rapeseed meal has been used in animal feed for a long time, but its use in human food has been limited due to its sensory qualities (e.g. taste) and potential contaminants.4,13 New processing methods are in rapid development to boost the safety, nutritional and sensory potential of rapeseed protein.4

Researchers of the EU-funded Protein2Food project are improving the protein quality and quantity of seed crops (amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa) and legumes (lupin, chickpeas, faba beans, and lentils) underused in Europe. Developing varieties suited to European climate and soils, improving crop management, and technological innovation, will lead to new plant-based and protein-rich foods, such as meat alternatives, bakery products, pasta, breakfast cereals, and snacks

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Cheers, and have a happy hump day

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