We'll let Anushka and Lily mould the clay story though ;)
This is a condition known as PICA syndrome. PICA is a habit or act of eating non-food items such as soil, clay, stone, chalk, ect. While not all people that have iron deficiency anaemia crave eating non-food substances such as clay or soil it is more common than you might think. When we become deficient in a nutrient such as iron, our bodies instinctively seek out what we have been lacking. Some soil/clay are mineral dense, therefore our body thinks we will be able to get a high dose of these nutrients if we consume them.
Can iron deficiency be linked to periods?
Menstruating women require adequate levels of iron to regulate their periods. If a woman is experiencing heavy or prolonged period bleeds this may cause a reduction in iron levels. If this continues to happen over multiple cycles it may cause them to become iron deficient. Likewise, if a woman is experiencing chronic iron deficiency it may reduce her red blood cell quality and quantity causing irregular period bleeds.
What can people craving clay or soil do about it?
There is no specific test for PICA but if you are experiencing these cravings, we recommend seeing your doctor or health care practitioner and getting the appropriate testing done to see if you are low or deficient in any of your essential nutrients. It is important to remember not to self-prescribe with supplements if you have not checked your levels as it may cause more harm than good.
What other non-food items might people crave if they are deficient in something?
There is no set non-food item a person might crave if they are deficient in a specific nutrient. Those with PICA experience a range of cravings depending on the individual. The most common cravings spoken about in PICA studies seem to be among clay, soil, stone, brick, paper, chalk and soap. It is common however to crave particular foods when deficient in specific nutrients. For example if a person is feeling fatigued around their period, experiencing high stress or anxiety they might have an increased demand for magnesium. If these demands aren’t met through the diet it could cause a decrease in magnesium levels resulting in an additional side effect of sugar cravings.
Finally, hypothetically, we've caved and eaten the soil. Is there any nutrients involved or is this dangerous?
You would assume that there may be a benefit in consuming these substances if our body is having such strong cravings but, unfortunately that is not the case. The minerals found in these items are not in a form our bodies can break down into beneficial nutrients, in fact it may be harmful. These substances can contain heavy metals such as lead or mercury, that can be toxic or poisonous in the body. Eating soil may lead to a parasitic infection and in severe cases or long-term consumption of these non-food items it may create intestinal blocking with the need for surgical intervention.
We thought this was also the perfect time to share an iron-rich recipe from the girls behind our favourite hormone happy recipes. This time it's a Spanakopita. You're welcome.
Inspired by Anushka's yiayia’s spanakopita, a Greek spinach and feta pie. We’ve skipped the pastry to make room for more leafy greens (and because we’re lazy). This is one of our favourite ways to get a big serve of spinach in, and in turn a nice dose of iron.
This recipe is from The Bare Kitchen a recipe ebook written by Lily Zurlino and Anushka Malcolm of Bare Health Studio.
1 large bunch spinach (or 500g mixed dark leafy greens such as kale, rainbow chard, spinach)
1 brown onion, diced
2 handfuls dill
1 tbsp buckwheat flour (or preferred flour)
100g goat milk feta
A pinch of pepper
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Sauté onion for five minutes or until fragrant. Add greens. Heat through for approx. 5 minutes or until wilted. Transfer the spinach and onion to a mixing bowl and add dill, buckwheat flour, feta and eggs, and combine well. Put the mixture into a lined 20 x 20cm baking tray. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes or until golden and no visible liquid.