A pair of Witchetty Grubs

Australian bush tucker

Adventurer Bear Grylls has claimed that, “Pound for pound, insects contain more protein than beef”. Let’s investigate this claim!

In this lesson, we learn

  • how to convert between different units: pound to grams, witchetty grub to protein and protein to witchetty grub
  • how to use proportionality to find out how much witchetty grub do you need to satisfy your daily protein needs?
  • that insects are an undervalued food group.

Where is the protein?

There are few cows in the deserts of outback Australia. In fact, prior to European settlement in 1788 there were exactly zero cows. So what did people eat? Well, they actually had a pretty healthy diet which included… insects.

“Insects represent a genuine food category – their consumption is by no means a mere emergency measure”

Meyer-Rochow 1976.

This quote is especially true for the witchetty grub, which is an insect which used to be in the diet of Aboriginal Australians, because of its high nutritional value and delicious flavor. Bear Grylls makes the case that insects contain more protein than beef. Let’s see if this claim is supported by evidence!

Convert witchetty grubs to protein

Dried witchetty grub larva is about protein. The relation between witchetty grubs and protein is given by the equation:

Or, in terms of pounds

Beef, in comparison, is only protein.

Again, in terms of pounds

Now let’s look at Bear Grylls’s claim. One pound of witchetty grub contains pounds of protein, compared to one pound of beef, which contains pounds of protein. Since

we conclude that pound for pound, witchetty grub contains more protein than beef! So this claim holds up under closer mathematical scrutiny. Thanks for the dietary advice, Mr Grylls.

Convert protein to witchetty grubs

How many witchetty grubs do you need to eat in order to obtain one gram of protein? We can obtain this information by rearranging the equation into:

So to obtain one gram of protein, you need to eat grams of witchetty grubs.

Q1 (E): How many grams of beef do you need to eat in order to obtain one gram of protein?

How much witchetty grub does your little brother or sister need?

Your daily protein requirements vary. For example, school aged children require roughly grams of protein every day. So how much witchetty grub do school aged children require? We use equation as follows:

How much witchetty grub do you need?

Q2 (C): Before you introduce witchetty grub to your diet, you should know that protein requirements increase with age. Use an internet search to find out your daily recommended protein intake, and then let us know how much witchetty grub you need per day in the comments. It might help to know that one whole dried larval witchetty grub weighs about grams.

Discussion

Aboriginal Australians were certainly not the only groups to appreciate the nutritional value of insects as a food source. Can you find some other interesting examples, and perhaps share some protein/gram statistics?

Answers

A1. Rearrange equation into

So the answer is about grams of Beef.

A2. If my recommended daily protein intake is grams, then I need

References

Meyer-Rochow, V.B. 1976. The use of insects as human food. Food and Nutr.; Notes and Reviews 33(4): 151-152. (Introduction)

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Maths for Humans: Linear and Quadratic Relations

UNSW Sydney

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