Searching out strange food trends can be a dirty business, literally. One very strange trend – but we have to confess we’ve actually done this ourselves – is eating dirt.
It turns out there are medical terms for ingesting “earth-related materials” and “non-food” items like charcoal or dirt or clay or whathaveyou. Eating dirt is called “geophagia.” Eating other stuff like paint chips is called “pica.” In parts of this country, geophagia especially long carried a stigma. In other parts, not so much.
In the South, people who ate clay were called “dirt eaters” and for years they were thought to have not just physical but also psychological disorders. Well, it turns out that’s not true, of course, but you can read up on it at http://www.magneticclay.com/eating-clay.php.
The article says, “Clay-eating, the practice known as geophagy or geophagia, has long been a puzzle to Western medical practitioners. Until recently, eating chalk, soil and other earth-related materials was seen as an abnormal behavior, one which deprived the diet of valuable nutrients. In the southern United States, eating clay carried a stigma; those who ate clay were labeled ‘dirt eaters’ or ‘clay eaters’ and diagnosed with psychological disorders. Pica, the abnormal ingestion of non-food substances, remains an official diagnosis for those who eat clay, dirt, or soil, according to the DSM IV and the American Dietetic Association.”
The better way to get calcium and other minerals is to take supplements, and in some cases eating clay can expose the person eating to high levels of arsenic and lead. Not especially healthy.
There’s a new “wellness trend” that is meant to remove toxins and heavy metals and the like from our bodies, and wouldn’t you just know it involves eating “healing clay.” Pros and cons to this, and HuffPo.com takes, in this post, the con side: “While there is some evidence that clays can help remove toxicants from food sources when used in a culinary context, there is no substantial medical evidence that these clays, including popular bentonite clay, remove toxins.” Read the whole enchilada at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/26/shailene-woodley-eat-clay_n_5030570.html
ABCnews.com takes a more positive look in a 2005 piece posted at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Diet/story?id=1167623. It says, among other reassuring tidbits, that “It may simply be that women who had this craving were more likely to survive and pass on this tendency to their offspring.”