Parents who have watched their young children eating mud while playing in the garden can now relax. A research suggests that eating mud or clay could actually do good to the stomach.

The habit of eating mud or dirt is known as geophagy. The very idea of eating mud might sound unacceptable to a lot of people. But for many, dining on dirt is nothing out of the ordinary and has been reported in almost every country in the world.

More than 480 cultural accounts of the practice by missionaries, plantation on doctors and explorers have been analyzed by researchers at Cornell University in New York.

The study, in The Quarterly Review of Biology, found the most probable explanation for geophagy is that it protects the stomach against toxins, parasites, and pathogens.

People, especially women who are pregnant or of childbearing age crave for dirt because it provides nutrients such as iron, zinc, or calcium, the research found.

Although no medical professionals recommended the practice of eating dirt, some nutritionists now admit that geophagy have some real health benefits.

Dr Sera Young, who led the study, said the first written report of human geophagy comes from Hippocrates more than 2,000 years ago.

The researchers said: ‘We hope this paper arouse more research.’

“More importantly the readers should stop regarding geophagy as a bizarre, non-adaptive gustatory mistake,” Sera said.

“With these data, it is clear that geophagy is a general behavior in humans that occurs during both vulnerable life stages and when facing ecological conditions that require protection” she added.