The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has defined four “novel foods” based on insects as safe for children too (as reported by the Italian Journal of Pediatrics). The doubts of pediatricians
To protect the planet, we need to look for new sources of alternative proteins to the most common ones such as meat, the production of which pollutes and requires a lot of space and resources such as water and feed, and fish which is overexploited. One of the solutions is to replace them, at least in part, with insects, unusual and mentally rejected for us because they are considered inedible, dirty and disgusting, but traditional for the cuisines of at least 2 billion human beings in Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania.
The best known and most consumed in the world are worms, caterpillars, grasshoppers and ants. Between February 2022 and February 2023, The European Commission has authorized the European Union (EU) to place four insect-derived products on the market which are part of the so-called new ones foods or novel food, which refers to any food or ingredient not used for human consumption on a significant scale in the EU before 15 May 1997.
Approved novel foods
The four novel foods, which in reality are not new given that insect-based foods have been used since Greek antiquity, are: dried yellow worm (Tenebrio molitor larva); frozen and dried locust (Locusta migratoria) formulations; frozen and dried whole cricket (Acheta domesticus) formulations; cricket powder (Acheta domesticus) partially degreased. In order to be placed on the market, all these products have undergone a safety assessment by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). They have been defined as safe for consumption by the entire European population, including children, we read in an article published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics in which the authors specify that on the basis of current knowledge, while recognizing the possible ecological advantage, further investigations are needed before pronouncing on a possible use in the diet of the little ones.
More studies by age group
“EFSA’s analysis of novel foods is not age-specific and this is one of the reasons for concern about the possible inclusion of these products in children’s diets,” he explains Lorenzo Norsa, pediatrician gastroenterologist until the end of the year at Pope John XXIII in Bergamo and from 1 January at the Vittore Buzzi Children’s Hospital in Milan, coordinator of the Nutrition area of the Italian Society of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Pediatric Nutrition (SIGENP) and co-author of the research. «The analysis is based on large-scale applicability on the European market of these foods and on a principle of non-hazardousness. However, the nutritional needs of some particular age groups such as i.e. are not specifically taken into consideration infants and children as well as the territorial differences that determine different dietary patterns such as Mediterranean diet typical of our area”.
Why proteins are important
Proteins are one of the fundamental fuels for the growth of our children. «They contribute to the formation of tissues especially during phases of growth acceleration such as the period of early childhood (0-12 months) and the pubertal period (12-16 years)», continues the pediatrician. «The potential nutritional benefits of insect flours are due to their high protein density which can vary from 14% to 75% of the content for some products on the market. Furthermore, at other latitudes than ours these foods have been used to supplement possible iron deficiencies even if the results reported in the literature are not always convincing.”
Nutrition and environment
«On the nutritional side, we do not have any studies that demonstrate that their use as a replacement for other sources of protein in children normally fed with a balanced diet such as the Mediterranean one could represent a real benefit», specifies Norsa. «On the contrary, the potential advantage on environmental sustainability and ecology of this form of protein which does not require large land for cultivation and which does not produce high quantities of material to be disposed of seems indisputable».
The possible development of allergies
«The potential allergic risk derives from the integration of a new food which, however, has been described as causing anaphylactic reactions in studies from the East» specifies Norsa. «Furthermore, there may be a potential allergic overlap of some components of insect flour with shellfish, foods with a high allergenic potential. Attention must, therefore, be paid in particular to the first administrations in small patients.”
What the new generations can teach
Dining habits within a culture evolve over generations so young consumers may adopt new practices that they will then pass on to their children more easily than today’s adults. Childhood is an important period, as the food preferences learned in the first years of life remain even in adulthood. «We are certainly in a phase of great cultural change and the new generations are teaching us a lot, especially about environmental battles. However, in order to think about introducing new foods onto the market, especially in growing population groups such as children, it is important to have convincing evidence on their safety, but also on their possible beneficial impact in nutritional terms.”
New task for pediatric nutritionists
«Novel foods, and I’m not just talking about insects, which are introduced massively into our diet are a recent phenomenon and destined to develop more and more in the coming years», he concludes Claudio Romano, president of SIGENP and director of Gastroenterology and Pediatric Cystic Fibrosis at the University of Messina, co-author of the cited study. «It is not enough to investigate whether they are indicated in the diet of adults. It is necessary to specifically clarify, and without leaving gray areas, whether they can be included in childhood nutrition and what any precautions are: this is a new and very delicate task which concerns pediatrician nutritionists and therefore our scientific society . I would say a new area of work.”
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December 28, 2023 (changed December 28, 2023 | 07:45)
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