There is a lot of overlap between nutritional concepts for people and those for pets. David Perlmutter, MD is a board certified neurologist as well as a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He combined his knowledge in both areas of expertise in his 2013 book, Grain Brain.
Grain Brain is a brilliant, science-based compilation of information linking diet to brain health and overall health. Dr. P. has found that many degenerative, neurological diseases improve or completely resolve when patients adopt a gluten-free diet. From his research and professional experience, Dr. P. concludes that for many people, gluten is a toxin that affects the brain – whether or not the person has obvious GI issues with it.
In his book, Dr. P. presents convincing evidence that carbs in general are harmful to human health. This is one aspect of his work that really applies to dogs and cats too.
Dr. P points out that before the agricultural revolution (10,000 years ago) humans had only a few sources of carbs (fruit for a month each year and honey). This means that mankind ate mostly a ketogenic (low-carb/high-fat) diet for 99.9% of our existence. He writes, “Evolutionarily, our bodies have designed a brilliant way to turn the fuel from food into energy for our cells to use. For almost the entire existence of our species, glucose – the body’s major source of energy for most cells – has been scarce. This pushed us to develop ways to store glucose and convert other things into it.”
The body (both human and pet) can convert fat and/or protein into glucose. And, this process takes more energy (calories) that the conversion of carbs into glucose. So right there, the same number of calories in does not equal the same number of calories available to the body since more calories are burned to process protein and fat.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that escorts glucose from the bloodstream into cells. When carbohydrates are eaten, insulin is released to keep the blood glucose level in the right range. If the cells of the body already have enough fuel, then insulin causes the glucose to be deposited as fat. Insulin also blocks the burning of fat resulting in a double whammy for those who are overweight. It is high-carb pet foods that are making our dogs and cats fat.
In humans, when carbohydrates are eaten, pleasure centers in the brain are stimulated. These are the same centers that are stimulated by narcotic drugs. Going low-carb can be like drug withdraw. It is possible that these same cravings affect our pets.
As difficult as it can be, it is best for pets to eat a diet low in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, most pet foods are loaded with then. Remember, grain-free does not mean carb-free. I recommend a balanced raw diet.