March 6, 2024/Nutrition

Is It Safe To Eat Snow?

If the flakes are undisturbed, pristine white and come from the top layer, it’s typically safe to indulge in a scoop

two kids eating snow outside

Snowmen, snowballs, snow angels, snow forts — we use the fluffy flakes for a lot of things.

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And you’ve probably spent moments of your childhood catching snowflakes on your tongue. But the idea behind using snow as a culinary ingredient — think snow cones, hot cocoa, ice cream — has heated up lately thanks to a few celebrities showing off their frosty concoctions on social media.

But snow isn’t just pure frozen water. As snow forms, it collects bits of dust or pollen — and as it falls to Earth, it gathers small chemical contaminants.

So, while snow is an element with a lot of fun wintery applications, you may be wondering, Can you eat snow?

“It depends on the situation,” says certified physician assistant, Max Huddleston, PA-C.

Before you start scooping up snow to make dinner or dessert, Huddleston shares some tips on how to enjoy eating snow safely.

When NOT to eat snow

Huddleston says there are certain times and situations when you should AVOID eating snow. These include:

  • If it’s been disturbed. This includes snow that’s been shoveled, plowed or walked on. “Oil or gas from cars can spill on snow,” says Huddleston.
  • If it’s discolored (think yellow or black snow). It may seem like common sense not to eat yellow or black snow, but it bears repeating. “The first thing you think of is urine,” says Huddleston. “But you also don’t know what someone can dump onto snow to cause it to become discolored.” Rule of thumb: Only eat pristine white snow.
  • If it’s the first layer of snow or the first few hours of snowfall. As those first flakes hit the ground they mix with all kinds of things that are already on the ground like salt and fertilizer. And snow helps purify the air as it falls. “The first snowfall in the first few hours contains more pollutants than snow that would fall a couple of hours later,” shares Huddleston.

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Consider where you live

Before you snack on some snow, Huddleston says you should also consider where you live when it comes to the safety of snow.

If you live in a big city like New York or Chicago, the amount of pollution increases thanks to the number of cars, trucks, buses, buildings and factories. But if you live in a more rural area, the air tends to be cleaner.

“The amount of pollution that a city gives off is so much more than a smaller city,” explains Huddleston.

That’s not to say that those living in a big city can’t ever eat snow. You just need to be aware of your surroundings and be extra vigilant about where you get your snow from.

Does eating snow dehydrate you?

You may think the answer is no. As snow is made of frozen water crystals it should be hydrating, right? But not so fast, says Huddleston.

“You utilize energy to melt that snow in a drinkable form. You’re using more energy to melt that snow with the heat from your own body,” he explains. “Any hydration you’re getting from eating or drinking snow isn’t as great as the energy you’re using to melt it. So, over time, if you’re consuming a high quantity of snow, in theory, it can dehydrate you.”

Another thing to consider is if eating snow can give you hypothermia. If you’re playing out in the backyard and sneak a few flakes, you should be fine. But hypothermia can come into play if you’re depending on snow as a source of hydration.

“Think of somebody who’s in survival mode out in the wilderness or doesn’t have any other option, you’re already out in the cold,” says Huddleston. “Consuming large amounts of snow can decrease your overall body temperature.”

Let it snow

So, is it safe to eat snow? In small amounts, snow can be safe to eat and a fun wintertime memory. Just make sure you survey the area and make sure the snow is:

  • Undisturbed.
  • Pristine white.
  • The top layer of snow.

And when in doubt, avoid eating snow from that area. But as for Huddleston, as long as the snow in his backyard meets all the criteria above, he’ll be indulging in the frozen treat.

“When my kid wants to eat snow, I always think back to when I used to eat snow as a kid,” he relates. “I’ll eat snow with them and just enjoy it.”

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