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Diet and Nutrition

Deficiency-flour consumption

09/10/1999

Question:

What deficiency is a person possibly suffering from who eats 1-2 spoons of flour a day? is it iron ?

Answer:

Thanks for your question. When you say you are eating 1-2 spoonsful of flour per day, I am assuming it is flour alone (not surrounded by sugar, eggs, margarine, and vanilla as in cookie dough).

What you describe is called pica. Pica is the consumption of nonfood substances such as clay, dirt, plaster, cornstarch and other items that are not considered normal foods. Pica is Latin for "magpie", a bird of indiscriminate taste. It is also commonly known as geophagia, and can afflict pregnant women (typically in the tropics, but possibly in the US as well).

The etiology of pica is unknown, though some people theorize that it represents a craving for minerals present in soil (possibly due to iron deficiency, but no one is for sure).

Pica can be dangerous as it may lead to iron deficiency anemia, low blood potassium, intestinal blockage and even death. In pregnant women, it is also unhealthy for the fetus. Fortunately for you, flour is a food, and has some nutritional value. Flour today is fortified with folate in addition to iron and B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin and niacin). So, although your flour consumption may be unusual, it is not harmful to you.

I am unsure why you are eating flour on a daily basis. It may be a mineral deficiency or it may be that you are lacking adequate calories in your diet. If you have been dieting on and off, or do not eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods, you may wish to consult with a Registered Dietitian to better assess your diet. In addition, if you have other symptoms of iron deficiency (palor, weakness, fatigue, decreased concentration and poor attention span), have your doctor do some bloodwork on you to assess your iron status. Good luck to you!

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati