Friday, October 16, 2015

Gluten-Free, Grain-Free and Natural Diets

We all know that good nutrition is important to health.  To help you make informed purchasing decisions, we’ve written a series of articles to help answer the question: “What should I feed my pet?”  In this blog article on pet nutrition, we will continue to try to demystify pet food selection by discussing gluten-free, grain-free, and natural diets.

In order to appeal to consumers, many pet food companies use terms like “natural”, “holistic”, “organic” and “human grade” with varied meanings.  The term "human grade" does not exist in any legal capacity so any company can claim their pet food contains “human grade” ingredients.  Since there are no official rules governing the labeling or organic foods for pets, monitoring and testing whether a pet food truly is organic is a low priority for the USDA.  Likewise, “holistic” is simply a marketing term without any specific definition and, since the term is not regulated, can be used on any pet food label.  AAFCO, the pet food industry’s regulatory body, does regulate “natural” to foods where NONE of the ingredients and components of ingredients are chemically synthesized (vitamins may be added).  This regulation does not apply to the food’s name, however.

With the growing number of people diagnosed with gluten allergies, pet food companies have begun marketing foods as grain or gluten-free.  But do these diets benefit pets?  Properly cooked grains in pet foods are highly digestible and dogs and cats can digest the carbohydrates from grains with an efficiency of greater than 90%.  Grains also contain fiber, which supports gastrointestinal health, as well as essential fatty acids and other nutrients that contribute to a healthy skin and coat.  Although allergies to proteins in grains can occur, less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grains, far less common than allergies to animal protein sources.  Gluten allergies in dogs are very rare and have been reported primarily in Irish Setters.  Just as wheat gluten is added to breads to enhance their texture, a small amount in pet food helps canned formulas, kibbles and treats hold their shape.  Especially with dogs, gluten-free and grain-free diets do not typically provide superior nutrition than diets which do contain grains.

Although pet food packaging terms may not be very helpful information when choosing a pet food, the nutritional analysis does offer consumers some factual information.  Watch for our next blog explaining pet food nutrition labeling.

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