What is the Ideal Level of Carbs?

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A few years ago I went to a nutrition program at the Hills headquarters in Topeka, Kansas. At this “educational” (read “promotional”) conference I had the opportunity to speak directly to one of Hills’ lead nutritionists. I phrased the burning question on my mind at the time like this, “I understand that there is no requirement for carbohydrates in the diets of dogs and cats. What do you think is the IDEAL level of carbs in dog and cat foods?”

Of course, me being a common, ignorant, veterinary practitioner and he being a glorified, all-knowing veterinary nutritionist, he had to knock me down a peg or two. He responded, “Well, that depends of what you mean by carbohydrates. You see there are soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, and starch.”

Very well, we all do need to be more precise with our language when talking about nutrition. Carbohydrates are compounds that consist of multiple sugar molecules linked together in more or less long chains. Both fiber and starch are carbohydrates. The difference is that animals cannot readily break down fiber into its constituent sugars while starch is easily converted to sugar.

So, instead of talking about the carbs in pet foods we should be talking about starch. But, not so fast – when we talk about the starch we are not including the sugar that some pet foods contain. Recent research has divide pet food macro-nutrients into protein, fat, and “nitrogen-free extract” which includes starch, fiber, and sugar.

These different names and definitions may sound a bit ridiculous. After all, we all know what we’re talking about when we bash the level of carbs in pet foods. On the other hand, it is important to be accurate as we communicate our points about nutrition.

Meanwhile, back in Topeka, I responded to the nutritionist, “OK, what is the ideal level of starch in pet foods?” He answered, “The ideal level of starch in dog food is 40% – 50% and for cat food it is 30% – 40% on a dry matter basis.”

WOW! This is so far from the levels that dogs and cats have evolved to handle that it is amazing to hear it said out loud by a veterinary nutritionist. When an animal eats a load of starch like this it increases his blood glucose levels which increases his insulin level which increases inflammation and promotes cancer. And yet, this is what conventional veterinary nutrition accepts as ideal.

The IDEAL level of starch is 6-7% for dog food and 2% for cat food! I’ll show you research in to back this statement up in my next blogs.

Have you seen improvements in your pet after switching from high-starch, commercial diets?

2 thoughts on “What is the Ideal Level of Carbs?

  1. Debstinydogs

    Now I’m confused between a starch and a carb.

    I homemake my dog’s food using:

    50% raw grass-finished protein (rotating)
    10% organ meat
    40% fruit & veg (no more than 30% of this is hi-carb veg such as: sweet potato, peas, carrots and no more than 10% fruit) Fruit/veg are all organic.

    Am I feeding too much carbs?

    Reply
    1. Dr. Doug Post author

      Carbs = starch + fiber

      I have no idea the exact carbohydrate content of the diet you have listed. The thing I see missing is a source of calcium but it may be that you are just listing the macro-nutrients. My next couple of posts may help.

      Reply

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