Considering nearly 10% of the US population has diabetes, it should come as no surprise that diabetes is on the rise in our pet population as well. It has become clear in talking to customers who are battling this disease in their pets that many of them do not understand how the disease works, so, we’re going to try to break it down without getting too long-winded.
First of all, let’s address some common misconceptions about health and weight loss in general:
Foods made with whole wheat flour are healthier than foods made with white flour.
OK, in the sense that it hasn’t been bleached and then enriched, yes, this is true. However, your insulin response recognizes almost no difference between white flour and whole wheat flour. As far as your body is concerned, you’ve eaten flour from the wheat plant. That’s what it knows. The insulin response is the same.
Low fat is healthy and helps us lose weight.
This is simply untrue. Low fat diets are, quite possibly, the primary reason obesity is at record highs in our country. We have Ancel Keys and his “Seven Countries Study” to thank for this bit of destructive dogma. What the study showed was that dietary fat seemed to be clearly linked to heart disease, which was Keys’ hypothesis. Here’s the problem: the study started with 22 countries. The other 15 were thrown out because they didn’t support his hypothesis. It is this study upon which the demonization of fat is based. One more of many other issues with the study was that no distinction was made between types of fats, namely trans fats, which, as we’ve learned in recent years, are a major culprit in all manner of health issues including obesity. For more on Ancel Keys and why his study is akin to junk science, see this article from the Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303678404579533760760481486
Just this year, a removal of the upper limit on fat intake was recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
A calorie is a calorie is a calorie…
Wrong again. The source of the calories is extremely important. When you consume sugar, the pancreas secretes insulin, which prompts cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage. If you aren’t active after eating a high sugar/high carbohydrate meal or snack, the sugar you’ve consumed is stored as fat. Why are carbs a problem? Because the body very quickly converts them into sugar upon ingestion. The more refined the carbohydrate, the more quickly it is converted. The more sugar we consume, the harder the pancreas has to work secreting insulin. In addition, the liver is also overworked as its role in maintaining blood sugar levels is to “take up” glucose from the blood. When a diet low in sugars and refined carbohydrates is consumed, the pancreas has to release less insulin and at a slower pace. Basically, every time sugar is consumed, the pancreas sees it as an attack that must be neutralized as quickly as possible. Foods high in fiber can aid the pancreas in its fight since fiber naturally mitigates many of the negative effects of sugar by slowing sugar’s release into the bloodstream. Therefore, fruits eaten in their whole form, despite their sometimes high sugar content, are still considered a healthy option because of the balance of fiber. Fruit juice, however, is pure sugar. Don’t fool yourselves; fruit juice is not a health food. The average 8oz serving of orange juice contains 24 grams of sugar; 8oz of Red Bull contains 27 grams of sugar. The new recommendation for sugar intake for the average adult is 25-50 grams per day. You just took care of at least half in an 8oz glass, likely at breakfast, which is, by far, the worst time of the day to consume large quantities of sugar because it sets the tone for the pancreas for the whole day.
But getting back to that whole “a calorie is a calorie” thing… Why are we discussing sugar and insulin? Because the more sugar you consume, the more insulin you have present in your bloodstream. The more insulin you have present in the bloodstream, the more calories you will end up storing as fat. That’s why a calorie is not just a calorie. (And no, diet soda is not a healthy alternative. Step away from the soda!)
What does this have to do with diabetes?
Everything! There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 affects only about 5% of those who have diabetes. In this type, your body does not produce insulin and you must give yourself insulin shots in order for your body to metabolize glucose. Type 2 is the far more common kind of diabetes, affecting roughly 95% of those with the disease. It is essentially progressive pancreatic fatigue from a diet high in processed foods, sugars, and sometimes too much alcohol. In Type 2, one of two things occur. Either the pancreas still produces insulin but the body has become inefficient at using it, or it no longer produces enough insulin. As a result, too much glucose remains in the bloodstream so the pancreas produces even more insulin to try to counteract the glucose. Over time, this constant strain causes the pancreas to slowly wear itself out.
So what’s the answer?
It’s complicated and simple, all at the same time. Prevention! There is a reason this disease is on the rise. It is estimated that 9 in 10 cases could have been prevented with a better diet and lifestyle changes.
Eat fewer refined grains (i.e. flour-based foods like pasta, breads, etc), fewer deserts and other sugar-heavy foods and drinks such as cereal and soda, and eat more foods in their whole form. And always read labels!
There is no one right way to eat that fits every animal or person perfectly but if you simply do these few things, you will improve your/your pet’s health.
Beyond that, educate yourself. Google responsibly. There are a lot of nuts out there. Netflix is also a wonderful resource for great documentaries about food and health. Understanding your own health makes you inherently more equipped to handle and understand your pet’s health.
Be your pet’s advocate! Knowledge is power. You do not have to partake in any medical treatment you don’t feel comfortable with just because a doctor told you to. Get a second opinion if you’re really uncomfortable. If you don’t like your vet, find a new one! You should feel comfortable discussing options and concerns with them.
Quantity! Most of the time, our pets are smaller than we are. Even your average lab is roughly half the size of a healthy, adult female. Yet, many people try to feed them in similar quantities to what they, themselves eat. We hear the following all the time, “But it just doesn’t seem like that much food.” Maybe not for a 150 pound person, but for a 50 pound dog, 2 cups of food a day is usually adequate. And your 5 pound chihuahua? Think about how tiny his stomach is inside that little body. Now look at how much food you’re trying to fit in it. For more information on this topic and obesity risks, please see our blog post on this topic: https://petbarn.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/obesity-and-how-much-to-feed/
Think moisture. We offer many options for your pet in this area, whether it’s raw, freeze dried, air dried, dehydrated, or even canned. Listed in order from least to most processed, all of these options offer great benefit to your pet in water content alone. No, wetting kibble is not the same. This is important for many reasons, one of which is that diabetes leaves you and your pet vulnerable to kidney disease. Moisture-rich foods are easier for the body to process. Foods in their raw format are, in nearly all cases, also easier for the body to process.
Get off the grain! With that being said, not all grain-free foods are created equal. Steer clear of foods high in white potato and tapioca. We are very picky about what we carry at Pet Barn. We have gone rounds with some food manufacturers because of our refusal to carry their brand due to their prolific use of these ingredients. We sometimes hear from customers, “Well, I’m not worried about that because my dog/cat doesn’t have that problem.” The secret end of that sentence is, “yet.” We all age. Our goal is to help prevent that “yet” from becoming a reality. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Either way, they have to eat. Why not make it food that will help them to thrive rather than simply survive?