Sunday, November 27, 2011

How "Grain-Free" May Be Splitting Ingredients

When "grain-free" foods first made their presence in the petfood market, the initial products were definitely state-of-the-art when it came to formulations.  The concept of "grain-free" was very appealing to pet owners wanting to feed their dogs and cats better.  Today's market is flooded with consumer choices for "grain-free" products and they no longer are state-of-the-art.  I don't very often get frustrated with petfood companies because revenue is the bottomline regardless of the size of company.  However, when it comes to "grain-free" products, some of the companies have made my blood pressure rise.  

The real key with "grain-free" is actually regarding carbohydrates.  In order to process and manufacture an extruded kibble product, a certain amount of starch is required to hold the kibble together through the high heat and pressure of extrusion.  The success in the "grain-free" formulas is due to the use of potatoes and tapioca to maintain the kibble.  In other words, while these products are "grain-free" they are far from carbohydrate or starch free.  In some cases there is just as much carbohydrate and starch in some of the "grain-free" products as less expensive kibbles that contain grains.  

The vast majority of dogs do not have issues with high quality grains and cooked carbohydrates as found in high quality kibble products.  I don't feel grain-free is necessary in most cases (note that I did say MOST!). There are many high quality grain-including kibbles out there that would far surpass a couple of the "grain-free" products I'm about to discuss.

This weekend I pulled up 4 "grain-free" products online.  There was only about $5.00 difference in cost between all 4 of them and only 2 are worth it.  In addition I included the protein and fat concentration of "whole prey" for comparison.  The whole prey concentrations came from our nutrition laboratory analysis and is an average for pork, rabbit, rats, chickens and mice.

DIET A: chicken meal, tapioca, chicken fat, pumpkinseeds, menhaden fish meal, alfalfa meal
Protein concentration = 42%
Fat concentration = 22%

DIET B: chicken, chicken meal, salmon, turkey meal, herring meal, potatoes
Protein concentration = 38%
Fat concentration = 17%

DIET C: Turkey meal, dried potatoes, potato starch, chicken fat, beet pulp, sunflower oil
Protein concentration = 21%
Fat concentration = 12%

DIET D: turkey meal, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, canola oil, potato protein
Protein concentration = $24%
Fat concentration = 14%

Protein concentration = 50%
Fat concentration = 30%

Diet A and B both are closer in nutrient composition to whole prey; however, I'd like diet B a lot better if it had a little more fat.  Fat becomes very important for performance dogs and if the fat concentration was over 20%, diet B would easily be my pick.  That said, it is still my favorite due to the high quality proteins in the list.  Diet C and D are the ones that caused my blood pressure to rise.  Petfood companies are very smart and in these 2 cases they are absolutely taking advantage of consumers.  These 2 products did not cost that much different than A and B but you will notice they contain approximately 44 and 33% less protein and fat, respectively.  The rest will be predominately carbohydrates and considering they are "grain-free" that would mean starch.  In addition, the companies that are manufacturing diets C and D do something called "ingredient splitting".  They can't simply list "potatoes" on their ingredient lists as diet B did because if they did, potatoes rather than turkey meal would be the first ingredient.  Both of these diets are made up of predominately potatoes.  I call them the "potato salad" diets.  Most of us that eat potatoes know they aren't the most expensive produce items in the supermarket so know that if you are purchasing these products from petfood companies, you are paying a premium price for potatoes. 

When selecting a "grain-free" product, look for several protein sources in the top 5 ingredients (not including pea protein or potato protein...I'm OK with these ingredients but I don't want them in the top 5).  Look for animal protein sources.  Also, look for just a single listing of potatoes or tapioca in the top 7 ingredients.  Don't stop at the ingredient list. Look at the guaranteed analysis and you want to see more than 35% protein and a minimum of 17% fat. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Krill oil or fish oil?

This is one of my favorite questions because for me it forces me to consider the environment and sustainability.  There is a good deal of hype surrounding the use of krill oil as the superior source of omega 3 fatty acids.  In my opinion, I don't feel the science proves that yet.  Of larger concern to me is environmental sustainability.

To clarify, the healthful benefit of "omega 3's" are not from the whole oil but from 3 very specific fatty acids found in foods.  These would be EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docohexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid).  DHA and EPA are the fatty acids of importance found in fish oil and krill oil.  ALA is the omega 3 fatty acid found in flaxseed.  Mammals can metabolize ALA into EPA and DHA which is how many vegetarians can successfully consume enough omega 3 fatty acids. 

Krill are crustaceans (like shrimp) that are a major food staple for many marine animals such as whales, fish, and birds.  Krill oil contains approximately 7 - 20% EPA and DHA.  In addition, krill oil contains an antioxidant carotenoid pigment called astaxanthin that gives it the characteristic reddish color.  The fatty acids of krill oil are assembled as phospholipids.  This is in contrast to marine fish oils that contain approximately 30% EPA and DHA and are assembled as triglycerides and ethyl esters.  While the evidence is very strong to suggest that the phospholipid assembly is more bioavailable, the issue lies in the concentration of EPA and DHA.  In a 2011 study (Schuchardt et. al.) had to supply 14 krill oil capsules per day, compared with 4 fish oil capsules per day to reach similar concentrations of EPA and DHA.  Another 2011 study conducted by Ulven et. al. had to provide 6 krill oil capsules to reach 543 mg of DHA and EPA while it took 3 fish oil capsules to reach 864 mg of DHA and EPA.  At those doses, there were no differences in metabolic effects.  The bottomline is to pay attention to the amount of DHA and EPA listed on the bottle.  In other words if you decided to replace your 2 - 3 fish oil capsules daily with 2 - 3 krill oil capsules per day, you will be getting at least 30% less EPA and DHA. 

The larger concern for me is definitely the issue of sustainability.   That goes for fish and krill.  I do believe we can make a huge difference when it comes to how foods are manufactured whether that be fish and krill harvesting or meat processing.  There are sustainable and proper ways to obtain these precious commodities for ourselves and for our beloved pets.  We need to make sure that we don't overfish our oceans and lose the biodiversity that supports our planet.  While I do believe that aquaculture farms have their own sets of limitations, we need to make careful decisions about what we chose to buy.  Don't just buy products...take a look at how those products are manufactured and make sure they are coming from sustainable sources.

Schuchardt et. al. 2011. Lipids in Health and Disease. 10: 145
Ulven et. al. 2011. Lipids. 46: 37

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

This is truly the question I am asked most frequently and it is confusing.  Probiotics are what most of us are familiar with.  Probiotics also are often referred to as Direct Fed Microbials.  These are live microorganisms (typically lactobacillus strains) that are included in supplements and yogurts.  Products such as Prostora (by Iams) contains live microorganisms so they are considered Probiotics. 

In contrast, Prebiotics are food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus strains.  The major groups of prebiotics we refer to as MOS (mannan-oligosaccharides), FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), COS (chito-oligosaccharides), and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides).  These are all forms of carbohydrates that are not digested by mammalian enzymes in the digestive tract; therefore, they reach the large intestine intact and healty microbes really like them.  I tend to like feeding prebiotics more than probiotics because we know these ingredients make it to the large intestine.  In my previous post I relayed a few of my concerns (particularly antibiotic resistance) in relation to probiotics.  The use of prebiotics does not pose those same risks. 

One of the most common prebiotic ingredients I see in petfoods is Chicory Root. Chicory Root contains a high concentration of the prebiotic called Inulin.  This compound aids the growth of bifidobacteria in the large intestine.  Most people do not need to supplement their pet's diets with prebiotics as they are already included in many of the formulations of high quality petfoods. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What probiotics do I recommend?

My answer to this question may surprise people; however, I do not routinely recommend probiotic use for most normal/healthy dogs and cats (or any species that I work with).   I save probiotics for those times when the gut microbiota becomes unbalanced.  I use them as a tool to help "right" the gut. 
The gut microbiota is a complex assortment of microorganisms that inhabit all mammalian gastrointestinal tracts with a composition that is host specific. This microbiota is involved in a wide array of host physiology including nutrition, gut health, behavior, stress response, inflammatory responses and immunity; therefore, maintaining an optimal balance is imperative to host health.  A balanced microbiota is an amazing phenomenon and the beauty is that these well balanced systems can handle typical insults to the gastrointestinal tract and right themselves back into balance. One of my goals in nutrition is to provide foods that promote that well balanced microbiota, opposed to continually having to provide the live microorganisms through probiotic use.  I also have growing concerns regarding the transfer of antibiotic resistant genes to and from probiotic microorganisms.  There is increasing research indicating that antibiotic resistance is present in species of some probiotic strains including enterococcus faecium, lactobacillus and lactococcus spp.  This may or may not pose a significant risk; however, it is evidence enough for me to keep a mindful eye on the research and where the industry is moving.
That being said, of course dogs being what they are, tend to eat things they shouldn't.  In addition, antibiotic treatments also can pose threats to the microbiota environment.  These insults to the gut may cause that balance to sway and result in diarrhea and digestive function loss.   This is when I want to use probiotics and prebiotics.  In addition, I will often recommend probiotics for older dogs that are naturally losing some digestive function due to age.  I do keep probiotics on hand and I travel with them to trials.  It always seems that our dogs tend to have digestive issues while we are competing at shows or trials.  However, in part this may be due to stress (like it or not).  Currently, I prefer the Prostora product made by Iams because that product contains Bifidobacteria rather than the Lactobacillus species that are most often included in probiotics. 

Hume, M.E. 2011. Poultry Science. 90: 2663-2669
Liu, C., et al. 2010. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem. 74: 336-42
Sekirov, I., et al. 2010. Physiol. Rev. 90: 859-904
Temmerman, R., et al. 2003. Inter. J. Food Micro. 81: 1-10

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Evolve Animal Services, LLC

Nutrition and Environmental Enrichment are key components of overall health and well-being for all animals.  Evolve Animal Services, LLC has been developed to promote animal health through nutrition, enrichment, and training.  By understanding metabolism, science, natural history and normal animal behavior, we can develop plans for optimizing animal health.
Consulting services are available and information on those available services are located on our website.
The goal of this blog is to educate animal owners  on issues related to nutrition, enrichment and training.  It will primarily be focused on nutrition and enriching home environments for pets in a practical way.  When it comes to dogs and cats, both are members of the mammalian order, Carnivora.  In other words, they are carnivores.  Carnivores that we humans choose to live with.  My comparative background provides a unique perspective into understanding the unique needs of dogs and cats nutritionally as they have evolved to co-exist with us.