Eating soil – nzu or ulo, has always been something some people just do in Nigeria, whether pregnant or not. According to them, they just love the taste.
For most women, pregnancy is a time of strange cravings and eating foods you wouldn’t normally touch. For some people it’s anything with sour taste, for some it’s the smell of dust with water sprinkled on it, but for some it’s a craving for soil.
For me it was a craving for chicken wings and burger from a particular fast food chain.
Right now I’m still into chicken wings, and anytime I travel to Europe, I look for that particular burger from the same fast food chain. It makes me wonder about the women who started eating soil during pregnancy. Have you stopped or are you still at it?
In Nigeria, this craving is not peculiar to pregnant women, teenagers and even men eat it.
One of my friends, a Medical Doctor always has a wrap of soil pellets in her bag. After eating it her mouth looks like that of the native doctors you use in movies.
Nzu and Ulo which is natural and made up of fossilized seashells may also be prepared artificially from clay and mud. This combination may then be mixed with other ingredients including sand, wood ash and sometimes salt.
The resulting product is molded and then heated to produce the final product and sold in round, block or small pellets in the market.
Ulo is found in Nassarawa, Plateau, Ogun and Edo States al in Nigeria. It is also found in other African countries.
In these places, the clay is dug from the earth in mining pits. It is then burnt and prepared for commercial use. It can also be mined manually. Once the process is done the clay is sold to traders in the market or shipped outside the country.
It can be purchased in African shops in the US, Italy and Germany
The practice of eating soil is known as Geophagy – abnormal or deliberate practice of eating soil, clay or chalk.
You should know that Ulo is different from Nzu. Nzu is normally salty, and is molded in a round form, pellets or in powder form.
Ulo on the other hand is flat and grayish in color and tastes like dust
Eating of ulo and nzu is a practice that has become addictive to many. Some started it because of pregnancy craving, some to stop morning sickness or for some curiosity to find out on why their friend find this so appealing, and they’re stuck.
In my High school, Queens school Enugu, one of the things that the hawkers bring in on Thursdays is Nzu. I tasted it once because I wanted to know what the licking was all about, found it well…chalky and never tasted it again.
But why do pregnant women crave soil?
- Most of the pregnant women I asked told me it helps them to prevent morning sickness and nausea
- Others who spit during pregnancy claimed that once it’s inside their mouth that they don’t spit
- Most pregnant women are anemic and several studies have shown that addictive eating of clay is associated with anemia. Soil is rich in iron, so the craving for clay maybe your bodies way of trying to make up for the iron deficiency in your body.
Could There Be Some Hidden Benefits To Eating Ulo and Nzu? Yes
Taking Ulo may help prevent and alleviate the symptoms of Diarrhea, poisoning, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and nausea especially during pregnancy.
Ulo helps in preventing poisoning because it binds to poisonous metals like mercury and stops them from being absorbed in your stomach.
It may supply nutrients.
Most pregnant women are anemic and several studies have shown that addictive eating of clay is associated with anemia. Soil is rich in iron, so the craving for clay maybe your bodies way of trying to make up for the iron deficiency in your body.
It can be used to prevent itching, heat rash in children
Ulo and Nzu may help detoxify the body of harmful toxins, and prevent them from being absorbed by the body. It can also prevent harmful bacteria from growing in the stomach. Dr. David L. Katz, a nutrition expert and founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University, commented on ABC News that Ulo can work as a detox. According to him “It is possible that the binding effect of clay would cause it to absorb toxins,”
Treat stomach disorder
Clay can be used to treat Diarrhea; it has a soothing effect on the stomach, and prevents heartburn because of its alkalizing properties.
But there are also some health risks involved
Risk factors of eating soil
The purity of your Nzu depends on the source, if the environment is contaminated; you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Another thing is how it is handled by the sellers and how hygienic is the environment?
Ulo can lead to worm infestation because of the environment and handling.
According to a research by UK’s food standard agency, Nzu contain high level of lead, which can expose pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to potentially dangerous high level of lead.
It may also contain arsenic, aluminum, and alpha linden which have the potential of causing gastritis, nausea, vomiting, anorexia and stomach upset (1,2)
Nzu absorbs metal and iron which your body needs is also a metal; it has the potential of making the anemia worse.
People who take Ulo are at risk of becoming addicted to it and this is a situation that may take time to change.
Eating clay while pregnant may turn your child to ‘Olodo’, as it’s claimed to affect learning abilities. I don’t really know if this one is to stop you from eating clay by telling you, you’re harming your child. But, that’s a good motivator to stop, who wants to harm their child?
Eating clay sparingly won’t do too much to your health, but eating it all the time could cause harm. Seek advice from your health care provider if you have an uncontrollable urge to eat clay whether you’re pregnant or not.
AND….Your comments and questions keep me writing. Do leave them below and feel free to share the post with anyone you know that is addicted to soil eating.
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1.Agency warns of the dangers of traditional remedy for morning sickness. London (GB): Food Standards Agency;; 2002. [cited 2011 May 1]. [Internet] Available from:http://tna.europarchive.org/20110116113217/http://www.food.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/2002/oct/calabash.
- Dean JR, Deary ME, Gbefa BK, Scott WC. Characterisation and analysis of persistent organic pollutants and major, minor and trace elements in Calabash chalk. Chemosphere. 2004;57(1):21–25. [PubMed]