Kick the Clay Eating Trend to the Curb


I don’t mean this type of clay.

I’m talking about the edible clay or “healing clay” that’s suddenly become the next big thing.

I’ve done two recent interviews on the clay-eating craze: Is Clay Eating the Next Oil Pulling? for You Beauty and a radio interview for WTOP.  I certainly didn’t intend to be an expert on clay eating, and I don’t mean to pick on actress Shailene Woodley who seemed to get the (clay) ball rolling, so to speak.  She was interviewed on this beauty blog, describing clay as “one of the best things you can put into your body” and then clay-eating became the talk of the town. Here’s Shailene describing why she eats clay to David Letterman.

So what’s this clay thing all about?

Like many home remedies, clay eating (known to scientists as geophagy) is something that was practiced for generations in certain cultures, including Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East. But just because there were  reasons for it at the time — people didn’t have access to certain nutrients in their diet, like calcium and iron, which are found in dirt or clay — it doesn’t mean it’s relevant today.  Dirt may have been the first mineral supplement, but we certainly have better sources now.  The long history of earth-eating was reviewed in this New York Times article back in 1986.

But besides viewing clay as a source of nutrients, now it’s being touted as a way to remove toxins, heavy metals, impurities and chemicals that we eat.  For starters, our own bodies do a pretty good job of that on their own.  And even if there’s evidence that clays can help remove metals, that may not be a good thing, according to Dr. David Katz:

Removing metal from the body is not necessarily good — iron, for example, is a metal and essential to health. So, there cold conceivably by benefits, but there could certainly be harms — and a favorable benefit/harm ratio has not been established to justify recommending this.

There’s also concern that over-consumption of clay could make you constipated or the clay could be contaminated — exposing someone to arsenic, lead and other toxicants that naturally occur in soil.

As Kent Sepkowitz explained in The Daily Beast, You Probably Shouldn’t Try to Lose 20 Pounds by Eating Clay:

The purported benefits of geophagy, including its ability to somehow take toxins out of the system, strike me as nutty and decidedly untrue, though surely there is some impact on digestion. What needs a bit more consideration is the risk side. Dirt, after all, is dirty, and—be it clay from Attapulgus, Georgia, or the fields of Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, or the Oklahoma hills that Woody Guthrie once sang about—contains the excrement from countless animals who work the territory as they look for non-dirt nourishment.

Mother Earth is riddled with bacteria, too (remember anthrax?), and all sorts of other pathogens. That probably means tomorrow’s clay-eaters will have to buy their goods from reliable traffickers of this hot new commodity. Inevitably a connoisseur’s palate will develop, as taste is considered along with the guarantee that the product is certified to be germ-free. That will bring down claims that certain brands of clay are over-processed and not natural enough. And then counter-claims and counter-counter, and on and on.

It might be easier for us all to just say no—and avoid the risk of stepping in it.

Clay eating is also being viewed as a weight loss strategy, with actress Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny, claiming that it helped her lose 20 pounds for her next film. Here’s where  it becomes concerning — relying on clay shakes to help “cleanse” and lose weight quickly.  Once again, why are people getting their diet advice from Hollywood instead of health professionals?

The current clay-eating trend is different from the disorder known as pica, which is a persistent desire to eat dirt, paint chips and other  inedible substances.  Rather than an uncontrollable craving like pica, this trend is driven by the belief that clay is going to make you healthier, thinner, cleaner.  All distractions to me.

Even so, there’s no shortage of options to eat clay (no, it’s not about digging dirt in your backyard).  Amazon offers a wide range of “healing” clays, which is often bentonite clay.  You can even buy a clay chocolate bar.  Here’s a description from 11ByEvelyn feel good Claybars:

Bentonite clay expands in your intestinal track and sweeps out radioactive particles taken in from contaminated food. The tiny clay platelets find their way into the smallest of spaces and expand, pushing out toxins that are trapped. A small ball of Bentonite clay offers a huge amount of negative plate area to attract positively charged particles like plutonium. Chocolate and healing clay is a winning combination. The slightly chalky texture really adds to the chocolate and makes it less waxy. The trace minerals found in the bentonite clay aren’t commonly found in today’s diet and are no doubt a major cause of disease.


Like other trends, this too shall pass.  In the meantime, I’d recommend you use the clay for a facial mask instead of eating or drinking it.

clay mask brk


Images:  Pistachio by Bart Tieman on flickr, Clay Bar by Evelyn Oliva on flickr, Indian Healing Clay by Brooklyn Farm Girl in flickr

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