Edible insects are a great source of protein and are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D was not on that list yet, but WUR researchers have found a way to change this: ultraviolet light.
Mealworms. © Shutterstock
By exposing insects to UV light, some species become very rich in vitamin D. Three of the four species that were studied had considerably higher levels in the individuals that had been exposed to UV light compared to those that had not. Mealworms even exhibited a sixty times higher level after exposure, which led to them having the same levels as ‘fatty fish’, one of the few good sources of vitamin D. The results of the study were published in Scientific Reports last Wednesday.
‘Insect producers are positive about this development, as it means they can greatly increase the nutritional value of insects’, says researcher Dennis Oonincx (Animal Nutrition). Producers are currently exploring the possibilities to apply this. Oonincx was recently awarded a Veni grant to further study the effects of UV radiation on insect production and now wants to also study the effects on the animals. ‘If the vitamin D proves to be good for the insects’ immune system, then they will become healthier, which means we could better use them as biological pesticides, for example.’
Vitamin D deficiencies in humans are linked to various chronic diseases. It can be absorbed from food, but it can also be produced by the skin. However, the latter is only possible with enough solar power, which is not the case in winter. Clothing, sunscreens and pigmented skin also form limiting factors in the production of vitamin D. ‘Food therefore is an important source of vitamin D’, says Oonincx.