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J Hum Evol. 2014 Jun;71:70-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.02.007. Epub 2014 Mar 14.

Macronutrient contributions of insects to the diets of hunter-gatherers: a geometric analysis.

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Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Veterinary Science and School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia. Electronic address:
Department of Anthropology, Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York, USA; New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, New York, USA.
School of Biological Sciences and the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


We present a geometric model for examining the macronutrient contributions of insects in the diets of pre-agricultural humans, and relate the findings to some contemporary societies that regularly eat insects. The model integrates published data on the macronutrient composition of insects and other foods in the diets of humans, recommended human macronutrient intakes, and estimated macronutrient intakes to examine the assumption that insects provided to pre-agricultural humans an invertebrate equivalent of vertebrate-derived meats, serving primarily as a source of protein. Our analysis suggests that insects vary more widely in their macronutrient content than is likely to be the case for most wild vertebrate meats, spanning a broad range of protein, fat and carbohydrate concentrations. Potentially, therefore, in terms of their proportional macronutrient composition, insects could serve as equivalents not only of wild meat, but of a range of other foods including some shellfish, nuts, pulses, vegetables and even fruits. Furthermore, humans might systematically manipulate the composition of edible insects to meet specific needs through pre-ingestive processing, such as cooking and selective removal of body parts. We present data suggesting that in modern societies for which protein is the more limiting macronutrient, pre-ingestive processing of edible insects might serve to concentrate protein. It is likely, however, that the dietary significance of insects was different for Paleolithic hunter-gatherers who were more limited in non-protein energy. Our conclusions are constrained by available data, but highlight the need for further studies, and suggest that our model provides an integrative framework for conceiving these studies.


Human diet; Human entomophagy; Human insectivory; Nutritional ecology; Nutritional geometry; Pre-ingestive processing; Protein

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