Just as we’re constantly learning more about human nutrition, pet parents are becoming better educated and are striving to provide better nutrition for their furry friends.
And in recent years, we’ve learned that corn, wheat, and soy–all common pet food ingredients– aren’t optimal food sources for dogs and cats.
So, why are they so frequently used in pet foods? These cheap ingredients keep production costs low, and therefore cost less for consumers.
Here’s why we don’t love these ingredients, and some healthier alternatives:
Corn is one of the most commonly used ingredients in pet foods. When reading ingredient labels of pet foods, you will see corn listed in various ways, including:
- Whole Corn: Whole corn is the entire corn kernel, including the bran, before it is ground.
- Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is the moist, protein portion of a corn kernel. It is used to increase the amino acid profile of the food. It DOES NOT have the same qualities of whole corn, corn meal, or corn flour.
- Ground Corn: Ground corn is a meal ground from dried whole corn, but does not include the bran.
- Corn Flour: Corn flour is the highly-processed starch and endosperm of the corn kernel.
But, contrary to popular belief, corn is difficult for your pet to digest and pales in comparison to meats as a healthy source of protein and energy.
Processed corn is also known to quickly raise the blood sugar of dogs, which can lead to diabetes.
Wheat is another ingredient commonly used in pet foods…and believed to be one of the most common causes of pet allergies due to its overuse in foods.
Pet food manufacturers—and human food makers—use white flour so frequently because of its low price point.
You’ll find wheat listed under several names:
- Whole Ground Wheat: Whole ground wheat is a meal ground from the entire wheat kernel, including the bran.
- Ground Wheat: Ground wheat is a meal ground from whole wheat, but does include the bran.
- Wheat Bran: Wheat bran is the outer coating (the fiber) of the wheat kernel and is used to reduce the likelihood of constipation.
- Wheat flour: Wheat flour is the highly-processed starch and endosperm of the wheat kernel.
Don’t mistake “wheat flour” for the nutritious brown whole wheat flour in your human breads. Wheat flour is standard white flour, and has no place in the diet of a healthy pet.
Whole grain wheats may contain some fiber, but not enough to outweigh the frequent complications, such as allergies, itchy skin, ear infections, hair loss, and skin infections.
Many pet food companies like soy because it is a cheap source of protein. Pet food manufacturers use soy in a few forms:
- Soy Bean Meal: Soy bean meal is the by-product result of the soybean oil extraction process that includes the protein portion of the soybean.
- Soy Flour: Soy flour is the highly-processed starch and endosperm of the soybean.
- Soy Protein: Soy protein is isolated protein made from soybean meal after the soybean has been removed from its outer layer and has had the fatty acids removed.
- Soy Oil: If farmed responsibly and processed minimally, soy oil is actually a beneficial ingredient, offering Omega-3 fatty acids to balance Omega-6s in fish oil.
Not only is processed soy a less-than-healthy ingredient in pet foods, but the overuse of pesticides in its farming may cause long-term health problems for your pet when used by unscrupulous manufacturers.
In their pure, unprocessed forms, whole corn, whole grain wheat, and whole soy beans can offer a healthy mix of micro and macro-nutrients to herbivores.
But when ultra-processed as they often are in the pet industry, and when served to carnivorous dogs and cats who have little biological use for them, they serve as nothing more than inexpensive ways for pet food manufacturers to meet minimally required nutrient levels.
Our Favorite Alternatives
Thankfully, a growing number of foods are available without any of the above ingredients. Below are some of our top alternative ingredients.
Protein: Tomlinson’s recommends aiming for foods that list a named animal protein as their first ingredient. For example, Chicken, Beef, Salmon, or Chicken/Beef/Fish meal.
Carb: If you have a high-energy dog that thrives on some inclusion of carbs, we love low-glycemic options like peas, chickpeas, and sweet potatoes.
All of these ingredients are nutrient rich and benefit your dog or cat in a number of ways, including digestive health. They can also be given as a healthy snack.