In honor of opening day of gun season for whitetail deer here in Michigan, I thought I would share a story. Some will like this story; others will not. However, as the only female registered dietitian I know that hunts, I thought it was important to share my journey from being afraid to eat meat to someone who now looks forward to the fall more than any other season.
When I met my husband in 2012, I was vegetarian. In fact, my eating was still very disordered. I hadn’t eaten meat in probably 10 years and hadn’t prepared a balanced meal for myself in about the same amount of time. My husband is the first person I dated that was serious about hunting. I grew up in a very rural, small town in Michigan where half the students were absent on November 15th, so I understood hunting and what it meant to people. However, Jim lives for the fall – he gets downright giddy when August/September rolls around, when he goes into the woods to prepare for October 1 (opening day of bow season). He also knows so much about whitetail deer; compliments of his ongoing research since the age of 12 – their habits, the population, their anatomy – it’s stunning. I was in awe with this person that cared so much about these animals but could also kill them. At first, I didn’t understand.
Let’s jump to 2014. I was working full time; with 2 part time jobs on the side, I was in graduate school, and I was working out as much as possible – mostly training to run marathons. Every 2-3 months, I would develop stress fractures in both femurs; some days I could barely walk or get out of bed, and I was mentally exhausted. I was a registered dietitian at this point and was counseling others on how to eat for their physical and mental performance. I decided it was time to put my own advice into practice. I started eating fish, then chicken and turkey, then venison. Immediately, my body felt better – I was finally getting the protein and nutrients that my body needed to recover. The next year, I asked Jim if I could go turkey hunting with him. I immediately fell in love – with being in the woods, the pursuit, watching the sun come up, the time to disconnect, the quiet – the entire experience is amazing. All hunters know what I’m talking about.
This past year I bought a bow. My sister and I have an archery background from childhood and I was learning that I really loved venison, so the pieces started falling into place. I started doing more research about hunting; reading, listening to podcasts, being forced to watch hunting shows. With Jim’s continued excitement and persistence to educate me, and with my learning more and more about our food industry; I decided I had a goal. My goal is to not have to purchase meat from the grocery store. As a dietitian, I’ve learned a lot about the US meat industry and factory farming; and I try very hard not to participate. I have not eaten beef or pork in 15 years, I was trying to only purchase free-range chicken, eggs, and turkey (although who knows how much free range they actually have) and was only buying wild caught fish (although overfishing is a huge concern). I understand that factory farming provides the ability to feed our growing population. I also know that vegetarianism and veganism still contribute to animal death – any disruption of the land, whether it be to farm or to build subdivisions, reduces the amount of land left for animals, resulting in the deaths of many. In addition, any crop farmer will tell you that hundreds, maybe thousands of animals are killed yearly by the routine operation of farm machinery.
There is no straight-forward answer either way. However, because of my continued unease about contributing to factory farming (and I know I am only one person), I decided to take matters into my own hands. I hunted whitetail this fall and was successful. Jim also got a deer, which means we have high quality, protein and nutrient loaded, lean meat for about a full year. I will admit that I do not love every aspect of hunting – I love the preparation that goes into it, the appreciation of nature, and the act of sitting still and quiet as wildlife goes on around you – but I don’t love the act of killing. I suspect it is something I will get more used to but will never actually enjoy. Nonetheless, what I have gained and learned from hunting is remarkable and irreplaceable:
Photo Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-running-during-daytime-33703/
Many athletes I work with ask me about taking probiotic supplements. But are they really necessary? We’ll get into that, but first let me explain what probiotics are.
We are all born with a collection of microbes, or microscopic organisms, which include bacteria, viruses, fungi, protists, archaea, and microscopic animals. These microbes are our first line of defense against invading germs. We have certain species of these bacteria living in our mouth, skin, nose, and gut. Over the last several years, much of the microbe research has been focused on the role that our gut microbiome (collection of these microbes) plays in our overall health – the results are fascinating! Of all the parts of our body, the most important and complex habitat of microbes is in our gut – the live bacteria in our guts are known as probiotics.
Probiotics are friendly gut bacteria that keep our gastrointestinal tract and our gut microflora healthy and happy. Their functions include converting fiber into short chain fatty acids, synthesizing certain vitamins, and supporting a healthy immune system (Clemente et al. 2012). Other research suggests that a healthy microbiota population may decrease the risk of allergies (Round et al. 2009), the behavioral symptoms of autism (Vuong et al. 2017), and the symptoms associated with digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (Spor et al. 2011).
Eating and taking probiotic supplements can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Foods that contain natural probiotics include fermented vegetables, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, fermented soybeans, such as miso and tempeh, fermented tea, called kombucha, and kefir and yogurt with live, active cultures. Probiotics can also be purchased and taken as a dietary supplement.
Now, we are back to our question – should athletes take a probiotic supplement? The answer is, it depends! Heavy exercise, especially endurance type exercise is associated with an increased risk of upper respiratory infections (URI), as well as gastrointestinal (GI) tract symptoms, such as bloating, nausea, and diarrhea (Pugh et al. 2018). Several studies investigating the effect of probiotic supplements on the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes have shown promising results (Pyne et al, 2015). In one study, athletes who were administered a probiotic supplement for one month reported less than half the number of days of respiratory symptoms than the placebo group. Illness severity was also lower for episodes occurring during the supplementation period (Cox et al. 2010). Another study in which 84 active individuals consumed either a probiotic or placebo supplement for 16 weeks showed that subjects in the probiotic group had substantially fewer upper respiratory illnesses with 36% fewer subjects reporting illness compared with the control group (Gleeson et al. 2011).
In a 2015 study, researchers found that subjects (mice) with a greater diversity of intestinal flora lasted longer in swim-to-exhaustion tests, and the mice also produced a greater amount of antioxidant enzymes that decrease the physiological stresses associated with intense physical activity (Hsu et al. 2015). Another study on highly trained men found that supplementation with probiotics for 14 weeks decreased markers for impaired gut barriers, decreased inflammatory markers, and decreased oxidative stress markers (Lamprecht et al. 2012).
During strenuous activity, bad bacteria can leak from the gut into the bloodstream to trigger inflammation and raise core temperatures, which reduces the body’s tolerance to hot and humid environments. Probiotics can improve the health of the gut lining to reduce leakage and control inflammation. In one study, researchers found that probiotics helped runners perform better on a treadmill in 95-degree heat. Participants in this study who took probiotics were able to exercise longer than the subjects who did not take the supplements (Shing et al. 2014).
Based on the comprehensive research on gut health, all athletes should increase their intake of food sources containing probiotics. In addition, these types of athletes should consider adding in a high-quality probiotic supplement:
If you need more information on probiotic supplementation or on which product to buy, do not hesitate to reach out at Allison@altnutrition.net.
Clemente, J. C., Ursell, L. K., Parfrey, L. W., & Knight, R. (2012). The impact of the gut microbiota on human health: an integrative view. Cell, 148(6), 1258-1270.
Cox, A. J., Pyne, D. B., Saunders, P. U., & Fricker, P. A. (2010). Oral administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(4), 222-226.
Gleeson, M., Bishop, N. C., Oliveira, M., & Tauler, P. (2011). Daily probiotic’s (Lactobacillus casei Shirota) reduction of infection incidence in athletes. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 21(1), 55-64.
Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G., Gibson, G. R., Merenstein, D. J., Pot, B., ... & Calder, P. C. (2014). Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 11(8), 506.
Hsu, Y. J., Chiu, C. C., Li, Y. P., Huang, W. C., Te Huang, Y., Huang, C. C., & Chuang, H. L. (2015). Effect of intestinal microbiota on exercise performance in mice. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(2), 552-558.
Lamprecht, M., Bogner, S., Schippinger, G., Steinbauer, K., Fankhauser, F., Hallstroem, S., ... & Greilberger, J. F. (2012). Probiotic supplementation affects markers of intestinal barrier, oxidation, and inflammation in trained men; a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 45.
Pugh, J., Kirk, B., Fearn, R., Morton, J., & Close, G. (2018). Prevalence, Severity and Potential Nutritional Causes of Gastrointestinal Symptoms during a Marathon in Recreational Runners. Nutrients, 10(7), 811.
Pyne, D. B., West, N. P., Cox, A. J., & Cripps, A. W. (2015). Probiotics supplementation for athletes–clinical and physiological effects. European journal of sport science, 15(1), 63-72.
Round, J. L., & Mazmanian, S. K. (2009). The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease. Nature reviews immunology, 9(5), 313.
Shing, C. M., Peake, J. M., Lim, C. L., Briskey, D., Walsh, N. P., Fortes, M. B., ... & Vitetta, L. (2014). Effects of probiotics supplementation on gastrointestinal permeability, inflammation and exercise performance in the heat. European journal of applied physiology, 114(1), 93-103.
Spor, A., Koren, O., & Ley, R. (2011). Unravelling the effects of the environment and host genotype on the gut microbiome. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 9(4), 279.
Vuong, H. E., & Hsiao, E. Y. (2017). Emerging roles for the gut microbiome in autism spectrum disorder. Biological psychiatry, 81(5), 411-423.
Photo Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/bakery-baking-blur-close-up-271082/
You may have seen this ingredient listed on some food labels and wondered what the heck is that!? Even as a registered dietitian, I say this about a lot of ingredients – which is why I tirelessly research what is safe and what isn’t. A perfect example is the fact that Mio, the most popular water enhancer, has propylene glycol in it – propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water and is used in cosmetics and pharmecueticals, as well as some of our food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified it as ‘generally recognized as safe’ in food products; however, I personally avoid it!
Let’s get back to erythritol. The most common foods that contain this ingredient are those that are low-sugar or sugar free, like energy drinks, energy bars and protein bars, ice cream, cakes, cookies, candies, and jams. The reason erythritol is used in these foods is because it is a sugar alcohol, which contain half the calories of regular sugar. Many foods labeled “sugar-free” or “reduced-sugar” contain sugar alcohols, with the most common ones being maltitiol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt, erythritol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolases.
Most sugar alcohols are actually found in some foods in small amounts, including fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods. However, they are also added to foods as a low-calorie sweetener option, because they stimulate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue due to the way they are structured. The reason erythritol, is popular in particular is because it actually contains less calories than other sugar alcohols. Regular table sugar contains 4 calories per gram, while xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram and erythritol contains just 0.24 calories per gram.
Both animal and human studies have shown that erythritol, even at high doses, appears to be safe. The one problem with erythritol and other sugar alcohols are the potential digestive distress issues – if you have not read the reviews on Amazon for the Haribo Sugar-Free Gummy Bears, please do so! The main ingredient in those gummy bears was lycasin, a maltitol syrup. Because of the unique chemical makeup of sugar alcohols, they are not digested in the human body and pass through the digestive system until they reach the colon. For the poor souls who ate a lot of the sugar-free gummy bears, they had a huge rush of undigested maltitol to their colon, causing the diarrheal issues.
Again, erythritol is different! Studies looking at the absorption of erythritol actually show that it is absorbed in the bloodstream and circulates in the blood until it is eventually excreted in the urine. However, some erythritol will travel down the digestive tract to the colon, as it is not all absorbed in the bloodstream. Therefore, eating large amounts of erythritol can still cause digestive distress, like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It is important to keep in mind that everyone’s tolerance level is unique. In addition, if you know that you are sensitive to FODMAPs it is important to avoid all sugar alcohols.
Overall, erythritol seems to be safe and a good option as a sweetener. It contains very little calories, tastes almost as sweet as regular sugar, and will not raise blood sugar levels, as most of it is excreted in the urine. My advice: there is no need to avoid foods that contain erythritol, unless you are sensitive to FODMAPS; however, as with everything, moderation is best!
Arrigoni, E., Brouns, F., & Amado, R. (2005). Human gut microbiota does not ferment erythritol. British journal of nutrition, 94(5), 643-646.
Boesten, D. M., den Hartog, G. J., de Cock, P., Bosscher, D., Bonnema, A., & Bast, A. (2015). Health effects of erythritol. Nutrafoods, 14(1), 3-9.
Eapen, A. K., de Cock, P., Crincoli, C. M., Means, C., Wismer, T., & Pappas, C. (2017). Acute and sub-chronic oral toxicity studies of erythritol in Beagle dogs. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 105, 448-455.
Hiele, M., Ghoos, Y., Rutgeerts, P., & Vantrappen, G. (1993). Metabolism of erythritol in humans: comparison with glucose and lactitol. British Journal of Nutrition, 69(1), 169-176.
Lina, B. A. R., Bos-Kuijpers, M. H. M., Til, H. P., & Bär, A. (1996). Chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity study of erythritol in rats. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 24(2), S264-S279.
Munro, I. C., Bernt, W. O., Borzelleca, J. F., Flamm, G., Lynch, B. S., Kennepohl, E., ... & Modderman, J. (1998). Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 36(12), 1139-1174.
Allison Tropf, MS, RD, CSSD
Allison is a Sports Dietitian in Michigan. She enjoys helping others reach their nutrition and fitness goals through reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
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