Yet these same companies promote their inferior products using deceptive packaging and claims their foods have been designed by experts to be complete replacements for a dog’s natural diet.
Welcome to what best-selling author Michael Pollan1 refers to as the Age of Nutritionism.
What Is Nutritionism?
Unlike nutrition, Nutritionism is not a science. It’s an ideology. A religion-like philosophy, complete with believers who blindly follow each other off a cliff of common sense.
Adapted for the pet food industry…
Nutritionism is an ideology that includes the misguided belief that scientists, veterinarians and nutritionists have the ability to engineer a pet food equal to or better than Mother Nature
Followers of Nutritionism believe the source and condition of the ingredients used to make any pet food have nothing to do with the quality of the finished product.
They insist that so long as the numbers and nutrient content of those ingredients meet certain criteria, a kibble can be designed to be a perfect replacement for fresh, real food.
Kibble — As Good As Nature?
But how can a factory-made food pellet be an exact replacement for a dog’s natural diet?
Notice the dramatically higher carbohydrate content of the kibble compared to a dog’s natural ancestral diet.
And the lower protein and fat content, too.
What’s more, pet food carbohydrates are frequently sourced from nutritionally empty cereal grains, menu items a dog’s ancestors would never have naturally consumed.
It looks like the pet food industry may have taken advantage of the dog’s remarkable ability to survive on just about anything.
Why a Protein Source Does Matter
Many nutritionists insist that protein is simply protein. And that it makes no difference from where that protein is sourced.
Yet to a dog, meat-based protein possesses a higher digestibility than plant-based protein.4
And animal protein has a higher biological value, too.
Dogs Eat Food — Not Nutrients
Today, thanks to Nutritionism, instead of discussing food, pet food designers talk about nutrients. But when taken away from their whole food source, nutrients can behave differently.
For example, in humans, researchers have long observed that fresh fruits and vegetables can bestow a notable anti-cancer effect.
Yet when subjects are fed isolated vitamin supplements, scientists have been unable to consistently reproduce the same protective effect conferred by the whole food.
Why is this so? Why does whole food offer better health benefits than their component nutrients?
Do individual nutrients interact with each other in some unknown synergistic way?
Are the more favorable health effects of whole food related to the presence of other minor nutrients. Like enzymes or bioflavonoids?
Or to some other yet undiscovered micro-nutrient?
The Problems with
So Many Commercial Dog Foods
Compared to fresh whole food, kibbles can frequently be…
- Light on meat
- Low in moisture
- High in carbohydrates
- Tinted with artificial coloring
- Devoid of living microorganisms
- Lacking in enzymes and bioflavonoids
- Preserved with controversial chemicals
- Supplemented with synthetic nutrients
- Brimming with agricultural by-products
- Heavy in nutritionally inferior grains and tubers
- Supplemented with animal fat of unknown origin
- Laden with slaughterhouse waste and meat by-products
The Bottom Line — What You Can Do
If you believe — like I — there’s something inherently wrong with using cereal mill rejects, floor sweepings, animal by-products, toxic preservatives and restaurant grease to make dog food, then here are a few things you can do to improve your dog’s meals…
- Practice diet rotation
- Favor meat-rich dog foods
- Consider commercial raw dog food
- Avoid carbohydrate-heavy formulations
- Use canned or fresh meat toppers mixed with kibble
- Prepare balanced raw or fresh cooked homemade diets
- Shun recipes spiked with plant-based meat substitutes
- Choose kibbles that mimic a dog’s natural ancestral diet
And don’t be an unquestioning follower of the cult of Nutritionism. Simply use your logic and common sense to see the arrogance and the shortcomings of this flawed philosophy.
As one of our blogging regulars used to say, it’s food — not rocket science.
- Michael Pollan, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”, The Penguin Press, 2008, New York ↩
- Brown S., Taylor B., “See Spot Live Longer”, 2007 Creekobear Press, Eugene, OR USA, pp 51-61 ↩
- National Research Council, National Academy of Science, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, 2006 Edition, National Academies Press, Washington, DC, p 317 ↩
- K Neirinck et al, “Amino Acid Composition and Digestibility of Four Protein Sources for Dogs”, Veterinary Faculty, State University, Belgium, 1991, Journal of Nutrition, 121:11 Suppl S64-S65 ↩