Can you eat dirt to survive? Yes, you can eat dirt to survive but not because of its nutritious value which is almost zero, dirt will fill your stomach and make you feel more satiated. Although being satiated is good in most cases, it is not in the case of dirt as your body will use more energy to try and digest the dirt than the dirt actually has in it. In theory, you can prolong your life by eating dirt by some hours and maybe even days.
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Can you eat dirt to survive
Trought 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 they are thousands of people who get by eating dirt. Places like in 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 dirts 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 then to eating dirt, vegetables will do the job infinitely better and most of these do not pose as 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 of a limited amount of time but we can not live off it, if we could dirt would solve the world hunger.
The human body is not designed to eat dirt, in fact, no animal is designed to eat dirt, as dirts nutritional value is extremely low, even lower than the nutritional value of grass. Even the animals that have specialized to 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.
Eating dirt will trick your mind and body
Eating dirt will trick your body that something nutritious has been ingested, as the body is starving it will 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.
Dangers of eating dirt
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 than 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, 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 fresh water, combining contaminated water with dirt is a recipe for 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 which 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 doesn’t have almost any 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 which has no nutritional value we force our stomach to absorb and try and digest it, which it can’t as it is dirt.
During WW2 when the allied forces were liberating concentration camps where people were starving to death they have noticed that giving these people regular food will kill them. Digesting uses a lot of energy, that is why you get sleepy after a good lunch, in the case of concentration camp survivors these have limited amounts of energy. Like the energy to keep their hearts pumping, if you add food into the equation they might die as their body doesn’t have enough energy stored to digest the food and keep the vital organs functioning.
Now consider the shock a persons body gets when his body is not only trying to keep all of the organs functioning but also digesting dirt. The way how the allied forces fed these people is with a 100% liquid diet, consisting of sugar, water, and rye flour. This might sound disgusting but it was all that the body of a starving person could take, in addition to this liquids are more easily absorbed by the body.
In case of the sugar, water and rye flour diet, this had 2 benefits, easy to digest and very nutritious. Another major risk of eating dirt is ingesting parasites, while in most cases these are destroyed by the acid in the stomach but this happens in only healthy people, not people who are malnourished and have a high risk of not being able to fight off disease and parasites.
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 you 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.
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 supplement or eat some vegetables.
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 take supplements and the dirt-eating addiction should fade away.
There are certain countries where eating dirt is a cultural behavior, this is mostly due to extreme poverty but not actual starvation.
Types of dirt
Depending on the area where you live, some types of dirt are more dangerous to eat than others. Do keep in mind that you should not eat dirt under any normal circumstances, even in a survival situation eating dirt should be the last resort.
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 trough 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 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.
This is one of the most fertile soil types for plants, some people might argue that if it is good for plants than 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 stomachs 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
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 top of the recipient and drain the recipient.
Purifying dirt with boiling
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 longer time than the previous method, boiling water will kill most of the bacteria and parasites.
Eating mud vs Dirt
Mud and dirt usually have the same ingredients which is 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 as 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 none 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 fill 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.