Conventional, veterinary nutrition is based on modern-day research. This sounds well and fine except for the fact that the vast majority of the research is sponsored by pet food companies. Many studies have shown that industry-sponsored research often results in biased findings. Let’s face it; if every pet food company has research indicating that their food is the best, then there must be something wrong with at least some of the research.
The modern approach veterinary nutrition embraces the arrogant assumption that we know enough about nutrition to formulate a balanced diet with ingredients that the particular species has never been exposed to throughout millions of years of evolution. You will commonly hear those in the conventional pet food industry say, “It’s the nutrients, not the ingredients, which are important when formulating pet food.” The problem with this view is that diets formulated with an incomplete understanding of the required nutrients, are themselves incomplete. Mother Nature is smarter than the smartest veterinary nutritionist.
One corollary to the simplistic notion that pet food ingredients are irrelevant is that all calories are equal. In other words, it does not matter whether a dog gets his calories from proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. All that matters is the number of calories he eats. This is a misguided idea for many reasons.
- Most studies indicate that calories from fat and protein are better at satisfying hunger than those from carbs. A pet on a high protein diet is less hungry and will eat less food. Thus, he is more likely to maintain a healthy body weight.
- We also need to consider the epigenetic effects of foods. Certain nutrients turn off or on particular genes. For example, carbs in the diet turn on genes that increase the production and release of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Both of these are known to directly stimulate cancer cell growth and cancer’s ability to invade neighboring tissue.
- A final problem with the idea that all calories are equal is the thermogenic effect of food. This is a measure of the amount of energy it takes to digest a particular food. For instance, protein and carbs are equally calorie dense – they both provide 4 calories per gram. But it takes on average 2-3 times more calories to digest protein than it does the same amount of carbs. So the net gain in calories from protein is less than that from carbs.
The bottom line is that different food ingredients have different effects on the body and pets benefit from diets low in carbs. And yet, when I directly asked a nutritionist from a major pet food company what the ideal level of carbohydrate is for pet food he told me that dog food should consist of 40-50% carbohydrate and cat food should contain 30-40% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis. This is a much higher level of carbohydrate than our carnivorous companions were designed to handle.
Fifty-three percent of dogs and fifty-eight percent of cats are over weight to obese. I am sure that the sedentary lifestyle of pet owners is part of the problem but I am also confident that inappropriate pet food ingredients (too much carbohydrate) is the more important factor.
Have you had trouble getting your pet to lose weight?