There are some people who actually crave dirt, generally speaking, some women during pregnancy have a craving for dirt. On the other hand, there are people who eat dirt simply because they have nothing else to eat, the meaning of mud cake takes a whole other meaning in countries like Haiti.
Yes, you can eat dirt to survive although dirt has zero nutritional value it could still contain minerals and vitamins which are found in clay, these will increase your chances of survival. There are a lot of people eating dirt every day, some do it to survive while others simply crave dirt as they lack certain minerals from their daily diet.
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Throughout our human history during especially hard times, people resorted to eating dirt due to desperation. Although you might think that this is ancient history and people nowadays are fairly well off and almost nobody is forced to eat dirt to survive, but the hard truth is that even this day there are thousands of people who get by eating dirt. In places like Africa and Haiti, people are often forced to eat dirt to survive.
As children practice cooking in the mud they create some sort of mud cake, now imagine grown people creating these mud cakes and eating them. While most people eat dirt in order to survive there are some that do it due to its health benefits and there is even a restaurant in Tokyo serving meals made out of dirt. People who often eat dirt due to their health benefits claim that eating dirt is actually healthy as our processed food is sterile in most cases and we need the micro bacteria for our guts.
In some way this is true but there are better ways to getting healthy bacteria in our guts than to eating dirt, vegetables will do the job infinitely better and most of these do not pose a health risk as dirt does. We live in a strange world, most of us can afford our basic needs like food, water, and shelter but not all of us. While people can survive on dirt for a limited amount of time but we can not live off it, if we could dirt would solve world hunger.
The human body is not designed to eat dirt, in fact, no animal is designed to eat dirt, as the nutritional value of dirt is extremely low, even lower than the nutritional value of grass. Even the animals that have specialized in eating grass have evolved to take out as many nutrients of the grass as possible, most often these animals have 2 stomachs and they often regurgitate the grass in their mouth to chew it again.
The process of eating dirt is called Geophagia, while some will try to convince you that this is a natural thing as pregnant women and even some animals do crave dirt. The truth is that these people and animals have a vitamin deficiency and they do not actually crave dirt, rather than they crave clay. You would be probably better off, eating cockroaches than dirt, for more information check out my recent article Can you eat cockroaches? ( Superfood ? ).
Eating dirt lowers your chances of survival
Eating dirt will trick your body that something nutritious has been ingested, as the body is starving it will need as much energy as possible to digest the dirt and gain some extra energy. In addition to this, you might also feel satiated, which will give your mind a signal that you can relax and maybe even take a nap as your body is trying to digest the dirt. By doing this there is no guarantee that you will ever wake up, as your body will struggle more and more out of desperation to get some energy out of the dirt which has almost zero nutritional value.
This false hope of finally having something to eat can easily kill a man in a malnourished condition. Once a person has become severely malnourished his brain functions will actually start to decline, the small primitive brain will be more active in this case, which will fight to the end no matter what. But if you eat dirt the only thing you are doing is tricking your mind and body that you have some food, and this is an extremely bad idea. What happens if you eat dirt, is that you expose yourself to dangerous bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and even viruses. If you are wondering if you can eat pine needles thence check out my recent article Can you eat pine needles? ( Top 4 Edible Pine Needles ).
Dangers of eating dirt in a survival situation
While eating a handful of dirt won’t be as harmful as eating dirt for long periods of time, but you still can have a lot of side effects. As for how dangerous the dirt is will depend on the area where you are eating dirt, if you eat dirt in a forested area away from large groups of people then it is safer although not safe to eat. But if you eat dirt in an area where there are a lot of people, no sewage, and the ground is contaminated with urine, and fecal matter then you expose yourself to all kinds of additional diseases.
Usually where people eat dirt in order to survive there is also a shortage of freshwater, combining contaminated water with dirt will end up in disaster. While the human body is made to absorb as many nutrients as it needs from anything we eat, but your body will actually consume more energy trying to digest the dirt than the amount of energy that we would gain from it. Also in case of eating larger quantities than a mouthful, this will absorb the digestive acids and in some cases, it may even block your stomach.
You would probably be better off in terms of nutrition by drinking your own urine than eating dirt. While dirt has almost no nutritional value the one thing it does is that it fools your brain that you are full. This is extremely dangerous as people who are forced to eat dirt are often on the brink of starvation, while our body is slowly starting to eat itself to keep us alive, but once we fill our stomach with dirt that has no nutritional value we force our stomach to absorb and try and digest it, which it can’t as it is dirt. Dirt can be filled with a lot of bacteria and parasites, some of which you can treat with antibiotics, but not all of them, if you want more information about how to get antibiotics without a prescription, then check out my recent article How to get antibiotics for prepping? ( Top 18 Sources ).
Benefits of eating dirt
There are some people who actually crave dirt, usually pregnant women. Usually, these have some kind of vitamin and mineral deficiency, and at some point during their life came in contact with dirt by ingesting it. The brain remembers that they got a specific mineral from the dirt and that is why people crave it, this is the same reason why people crave certain types of foods. This is how the brain lets you know that you need more carbs, protein, fats, and vitamins. Eating mud treatment is fairly common in some Asian countries, although these treatments provide pre-treated and sterilized dirt.
Clay contains magnesium and calcium, magnesium is needed for the healthy function of our organs, while calcium is needed for our bones. These are the 2 main minerals why people, especially pregnant women crave dirt, this is mostly due to an imbalanced diet. Even in the USA where you can eat whatever you want, most people are still magnesium deficient which could explain some of the dirt cravings.
Some people argue that eating dirt is actually beneficial due to its probiotic properties, but this is a two-edged sword, while some dirt can have beneficial probiotics but not all of them do. Unless you analyze the dirt in a lab you have no idea what kind of probiotics it does contain, and if you are already doing that just go to a pharmacy and get some vitamin supplements or eat some vegetables. If you are wondering if you can eat city pigeons then check out my recent article Can you eat city pigeons? ( Pigeon Eggs? ).
Dirt eating addiction
There are people who can also become addicted to eating dirt, even if they are not in a starvation situation. The main reason for this is that your brain only knows one source from where it gets its dose of magnesium if your diet lacks in magnesium. These people need to check what kind of deficiencies they have with a doctor, once the deficiency has been identified they take supplements and the dirt-eating addiction fades away.
There are certain countries where eating dirt is a cultural behavior, this is mostly due to extreme poverty but not to actual starvation.
This is one of the most dangerous types of dirt to eat, usually sand is in arid environments, meaning that the dirt cannot absorb enough water to become regular soil. If you have seen any desert you probably noticed that there are very few plants able to survive there, and even the plants which do manage to survive are not in actual sand but in more nutritious dirt. Sand is composed mainly of quartz and silicone which cannot be digested and has 0 nutritional value.
In addition to this, sand can easily absorb the acid in your stomach and as you are probably already dehydrated will just speed up your death. Being dehydrated means that your stomach is also not so well lubricated in order to help pass the food through it, adding sand to it will only worsen the situation. As sand is mainly composed of quartz and silicone this can do serious damage to your gut and the lining of your gut.
When people refer to eating dirt they usually eat dirt from the topsoil, usually, this is filled with bacteria, parasites, bugs, and decaying plant matter. Although this is the most nutritious type of soil which people eat it is still not considered safe for consumption. While it can prolong your life for some time, eating dirt especially in a survival situation is extremely dangerous. If a person is so desperate that he is forced to eat dirt in order to survive, he is in no shape able to fend off potential parasites or bacteria from the dirt.
There are some cultures that clean or treat dirt so that it only consists of clay, which does have some nutritional value. But in most cases, people who have to survive by eating dirt will not have the knowledge on how to clean or treat it. During hard times you might have to ration food, for more information check out my recent article How to ration food ( In 6 Easy Steps ).
Eating volcanic soil
This is one of the most fertile soil types for plants, some people might argue that if it is good for plants then it should also be good for human consumption. While volcanic soil is filled with a lot of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, even if consumed in small amounts could disrupt your stomach’s function severely. Volcanic soil is mostly composed of ash, with time this has compacted into volcanic soil, once ingesting it you could end up blocking your entire stomach as it is starting to be digested.
How to clean dirt for eating in a survival situation
Most people do know that eating dirt can be very dangerous, especially for a malnourished person. This is why some decide to clean dirt before eating it, now you might think that there is no way somebody can clean dirt and you are right. People mostly refine the dirt into clay and filter out the impurities, some do it with water and some with boiling water to also kill the harmful bacteria and parasites.
Filtering dirt with water
The process is simple, take a recipient, fill it with water, and place the dirt in it. Wait for a couple of hours so the clay settles down in the bottom of the recipient and the excess dirt rises on top of the water. Remove this excess dirt and repeat the process several times till the water looks clear. Once you have accomplished it, take a piece of cloth put it on top of the recipient, and drain the recipient.
Purifying dirt by boiling it
Some people go the extra mile in making sure the dirt is as safe as possible to eat. Put the dirt into a pot, add water and boil the water, from time to time scoop up the dirt which has risen on top of the water. Do this several times, and by the end filter it with water as mentioned above, while this might take a longer time than the previous method, boiling water will kill most of the bacteria and parasites.
What is the difference between eating mud vs dirt
Mud and dirt usually have the same ingredients which are dirt, the only difference is that mud has a lot of water in it. In a desperate situation such as dehydration could force someone to eat mud if he can not find any water. This is even more dangerous than eating dirt as mud contains a lot of water, water which makes it much easier for bacteria to thrive, which you will ingest by either eating or drinking mud.
You can eat dirt to survive, although as it has almost zero to no nutritional value. In some cases eating dirt will actually cause more harm than good, as a weakened body can not spare the excess energy in order to digest dirt. In this case, eating dirt will probably be a death sentence. The one thing that eating dirt could accomplish is that you will feel more satiated but as time passes by and your body is struggling to digest it using precious water and energy you might discover that eating dirt was a bad idea.