A plate of bugs at an insect cuisine competition in the Southeast Asian country Laos. (Thomas Calame/AP)

The latest weapon in the fight against hunger, global warming and pollution might be flying by you right now.

Edible insects are being promoted as a low-fat, high-protein food for people, pets and feed animals (or livestock). The United Nations, an international organization that helps countries work together, says the bugs come with appetizing side benefits: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and livestock pollution, creating jobs in poor countries and feeding the millions of hungry people in the world.

Some edible-insect information in bite-size form:

Who eats insects?

Two billion people do, mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said last week as it issued a report exploring edible insect potential.

Some insects may already be in your food. Demand for natural food coloring instead of artificial dyes is increasing, the agency’s experts say. A red coloring produced from the cochineal, a scaled insect that lives in Peru, already is used in a popular brand of strawberry yogurt.

They’re packed with protein

Scientists who have studied the nutritional value of edible insects have found that red ants, small grasshoppers and some water beetles pack enough protein to rank with lean ground beef while having less fat.

Are you bored with whole-wheat pasta or brown rice that your parents prepare to help you get fiber in your diet? Edible insects are fiber-filled, and they also contain useful minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

Which to choose?

Beetles and caterpillars are the most common among the more than 1,900 insect species that people eat. Other popular insect foods are bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. Less popular are termites and flies, according to the U.N. report.

They’re eco-friendly

Insects don’t need to eat much before they can become food themselves. Cattle need to be fed about four times as much to produce the same amount of food. Most insects raised for food are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than livestock, the U.N. agency says.

Bugs squash poverty

Edible insects are a moneymaker. In Africa, someone who gathers four big water bottles full of grasshoppers can sell them for as much as $20. Some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia bring even higher prices at market. As an entree, they are considered head and thorax above the average bug.

Associated Press