health

The one trend our health and fitness editor refuses to try.

YUM.

by NATALIA HAWK

I’m the Mamamia guinea pig. I’ll try most health and fitness trends if they’re in the news. Oil pulling, Tough Mudder, stand-up paddleboarding… after all, curiosity killed the cat, not the human.

But there is one trend taking off that I’m not at all keen on. It’s the eating and drinking of clay – a practice which is traditionally known as “geophagy”.

Yes, clay. As in, the stuff that is found in the ground and generally utilised by children who need to make dioramas for school projects.

It’s now being widely consumed, largely for two different purposes:

1. It fills up your stomach, working as an appetite suppressant in that you don’t have to eat much of anything else; and

2. There are claims that it flushes toxins from your body. Ran Knishinsky, author of the book The Clay Cure, claims that clay has the power to “treat ailments affecting digestion, circulation, menstruation, and the liver, skin, and prostate”, and “remedies symptoms of arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, gum diseases, and migraines.”

Historically, people have been eating clay for a really long time – largely because of the first reason. Way back when there were no supermarkets, clay was useful for filling up the belly when there was not a whole lot of food around; it also contained minerals that couldn’t be found in other sources. Native Americans and other indigenous cultures have been eating clay for a very long time. The practice is also common in Africa, especially amongst pregnant women seeking more minerals in their diet.

There is also evidence of clay being used as traditional remedies for ailments such as digestive issues, bacterial infection and being poisoned.

In the modern Western world, the super-hardcore-health people (you know, the same ones that have been onto alkalised water and activated almonds for ages) strongly believe that clay has detoxing benefits, and have been mixing clay into water and buying eating clay for awhile now. But recently, the practice has hit the mainstream, with more and more people incorporating it into their diets – just like they’ve incorporated green smoothies and protein powder.

This is partly due to actress Shailene Woodley (star of Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars) writing about her clay-eating habits for US beauty website, Into The Gloss:

Clay is one of the best things you can put in your body… your body doesn’t absorb it, and it apparently provides a negative charge, so it bonds to negative isotopes. And, this is crazy: it also helps clean heavy metals out of your body. My friend starting eating it and the next day she called me and said, ‘Dude, my shit smells like metal.’ She was really worried, but we did some research together and everything said that when you first start eating clay, your bowel movements, pee, and even you, yourself, will smell like metal. You should obviously be careful about your source. Bentonite clay is good, but Mountain Rose Herbs has a great clay source. I get all of my herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs, too.

I’m immediately put off by the idea of consuming anything that makes your body and bowel movements smell like metal. But hey, Shailene isn’t the only celebrity doing it. Zoe Kravitz, who featured in the film The Road Within as a girl struggling with eating disorders, told US Weekly that she ended up drinking clay on a daily basis “because it cleans out your body and fills you up.”

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So. Should you be raiding your kid’s craft supplies for some clay to add to your lunch?

Charlene

I asked Charlene Grosse, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), whether there was any truth behind the clay-eating claims.

“When it comes down to the scientific evidence, detox diets fall short and could potentially cause more harm than good,” Charlene tells me. “The clay diet is no different. There is no evidence to support the claims that clay ‘flushes’ toxins from your body and the presence of the clay in the gut, or the ‘binding’ action specified in the diet outline may reduce the absorption of important vitamins and minerals.”

In fact, the clay diet can be compared to other diets which promote the consumption of non-food material as appetite suppressants, such as the cotton-wool diet. “These diets act by filling the stomach with non- digestible material and tricking your body into thinking it is full. DAA does not recommend putting any non-food related material into your digestive system unless under the direction of a medical practitioner as it may cause damage to the organs of your digestive tract.”

So can consuming clay actually do more harm than good?

“The safety of the clay diet is highly questionable, as clay may be a vehicle for different bacteria or chemicals that are present in soil,” says Charlene. “If people are replacing nutrient-rich foods in their diet with clay this may make it difficult to meet your nutritional needs. This can be dangerous, especially for children, adolescents, pregnant or breastfeeding women and older adults. A healthy diet should be balanced and contain a variety of healthy foods to meet individual nutritional needs.”

“Damn!” I hear you mutter. “I really want to detox or lose some weight, and clay-eating seemed like a really good way to do it.”

Well, you’re in luck. Here are Charlene’s tops for detoxing and losing weight in a healthy and sustainable way:

Healthy adults have extraordinary systems for removing toxins from our bodies every day. Our lungs, kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract and immune system remove and neutralise toxic substances within hours after we eat them. DAA warns that there is no scientific evidence to suggest our bodies need ‘help’ to remove these toxins.

The best diet (for weight and overall health) is one that is based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines which is sustainable in the long term. It is important to look at the diet as a whole, rather than individual foods for successful and sustainable weight loss.

This is based on the strongest evidence, including plenty of vegetables, fruit, low fat dairy, whole grain breads and cereals, lean meats, chicken and fish, nuts and seeds, increasing sources of fibre and reducing intake of saturated fat, salt and added sugar. Incorporating regular exercise, plenty of water and moderate alcohol if you choose to drink.

When it comes to losing weight, there is no ‘magic-bullet’ and not all diets suit everyone. That is why you should see an Accredited Practising Dietitian for expert dietary advice to meet your individual goals to achieve and maintain optimal health.

Flick through our gallery of some of the other fad diets that have come and gone over the years:

Would you ever eat clay?

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