What Are The Health Benefits of Mealworms?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on June 02, 2024
4 min read

Mealworms are part of the population of edible insects. Their consumption is embraced in Asia and parts of Europe. Mealworms are packed with nutrients, especially protein. 

This nutritious delicacy is fit for both pet and human consumption. You can enjoy it in various forms, including fried, roasted, and even live! What better way to spice up your diet than to include mealworms?

The mealworm is often mistaken for an ordinary worm, but it’s a darkling beetle in its larval form. Adult insects generally have a black or dark brown color and are between 1.25 cm and 1.8 cm long. The larvae are about 2.5 cm long or a little longer. They have a short breeding cycle. The eggs are laid 4 to 17 days after mating.

To breed mealworms, you need a little patience and at least 100 of them for a good head start. The rest of the process is relatively easy, especially if you have a good eye for detail. Proper hygiene is also a plus. 

Breeding mealworms is cost-effective, as you only need a big well-aired container, a suitable food substrate, water, and an optimum temperature (75°F). Regular checks will also be necessary to remove dead mealworms.

Mealworms provide several nutrients, including protein, fat, vitamins, and fiber.

Live mealworms have more moisture content than dried ones. The moisture content of a live mealworm is 62%, in contrast with 5% for a dried mealworm.

Interestingly, the moisture content influences the protein content in live and dried mealworms. There are observable differences in the protein value in live and dried mealworms, and of other nutrient values as well.

Dried mealworms have more protein value, at 53%. Fat and fiber values are 28% and 6%, respectively. Live mealworms have a protein value of 20%, fat value of 13%, and 2% fiber. Based on their nutritional makeup, dried mealworms overall have more nutritional value.

You may have some reservations about consuming mealworms due to safety concerns over their edibility, but organizations like the European Food Safety Authority have cleared this up by approving mealworms for human consumption. They conducted thorough scientific research and discovered that the microbes in mealworms' gut system don’t pose any health risks to humans.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bugs/insects are considered food if that is their intended use.

There are several ways to include mealworms in your diet. Before we get to that, you must be wondering how they taste. Mealworms have a peanut-like taste. Many exciting recipes are available to guide you on including mealworms in your ordinary meals.

Mealworms are commercially available, and you can buy them from your local shops or pet store. Before being prepared, live mealworms need to stay in food substrates such as wheat flour or cornmeal for a day or slightly longer.

After this period, rinse them with clean water and take out the dead ones, which will have a noticeably darker color. Place the live ones in a plastic bag, then freeze them for about 15 minutes.

Oven-baked mealworms are a nice treat if you enjoy crispy or crunchy food. You can marinate them with your favorite spices for a mouthful of flavor. Leave them to bake at 200°F for 60 minutes.

Pan-fried mealworms are shallow fried with a little oil after letting them marinate in your favorite spices. You can also eat them plain, salted as salad and pasta toppings, or dipped in your favorite sauce or chocolate.

Both of the above cooking methods eliminate moisture, leading to an overall increase in nutritional value. Their peanut-like taste can even make them a worthy substitute for nuts in cookies, protein bars, cakes, and other pastries.

Dried mealworms can replace wheat flour as the star ingredient, but they also make an excellent supplementary ingredient. Dried mealworm flour can be added to other types of flour.

The recipe ideas are endless while leaving lots of room for creativity and exploration.

Edible insects such as mealworms provide your body with lots of nutrients. 

Mealworm protein is a body-building nutrient. Protein enhances your body’s ability to repair and regenerate cells, promoting quick wound healing. It also plays a crucial role in antibody production. Antibodies boost your immunity by fighting off foreign disease-causing agents.

Mealworm carbohydrate is an energy-giving nutrient. Carbohydrates ensure you have sufficient fuel for an active day at work, school, or play. It increases your blood glucose levels, which in turn results in replenishing your energy storage reserves.

Mealworm fat ensures a steady supply of healthy unsaturated fat. Healthy fat intake is beneficial to your body. Mealworm fat ensures a steady supply of healthy unsaturated fat. Mealworms contain monounsaturated fats, which fall under the good unsaturated fats category.

Mealworm fiber is a complex carbohydrate. Dietary fiber lowers your risk of constipation, decreases cholesterol, and regulates your blood glucose levels.

Mealworm micronutrients include several minerals and vitamins. Mealworm minerals include copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, sodium, and potassium. Mealworm vitamins include vitamins B5, B12, and B2.

Minerals are vital for bone growth and development, whereas vitamins enhance your body’s ability to fight infections.

Here are some of the most important takeaways about mealworms:

  • Mealworms are edible.
  • They have a high protein content.
  • They can be processed into food products such as flour.
  • The European Union has approved them for human consumption.
  • They have antinutritional factors that can reduce the absorption and utilization (bioavailability) of macronutrients and micronutrients such as oxalic acid and phytic acid.
  • They may cause mild allergic reactions.

Mealworms help provide a balanced diet necessary to prevent malnutrition and other nutrient deficiency disorders. Life is too short to spend it eating your ordinary everyday meals. If you're nervous about eating mealworms, you could start gradually with small portions to mask the taste. Then again, you might love it at first bite!