Ancient, ancestral grains: myth or superfoods?
Ancient or ancestral grains have long been discussed and used in the pet food industry. But what is known about them so far? What can we say about its benefits in dog food? What is their impact on food palatability?
Ancient, ancestral grains
When we talk about ancient grains, we talk about millet, quinoa, spelt, amaranth, and teff, to name just a few. This term refers as they have been found in many geographies and cultures and because they have suffered minimal alterations over a very extended period of time. When used for pet food production, these types of grains go through minor processing stages.
A lack of knowledge can lead us to think these ancient grains are new to the pet industry, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there are scientific studies that prove some of its characteristics and advantages.
- Pezzali and Aldrich (2019) evaluated the digestibility of a cereal-free food containing potato, pea, and tapioca starch versus another containing ancient cereals, such as spelt, millet, and sorghum. They found no differences in digestibility.
- Scientists at the University of Illinois say ancient grains are a prime example of an increasingly popular trend in human and, consequently, pet food. For their study, 10 adult female Beagles ate, for 10 days, 1 of 5 dog food formulas, which included up to 40% rice or 1 of 4 ancient grains: amaranth, white proso millet, quinoa, or grits. By analyzing their droppings and blood data, they discovered that when carbohydrates are used as the main source (up to 40%) in extruded foods for adult dogs, ancestral grains are well accepted, with no detrimental effects on stool quality or macronutrient digestibility. Furthermore, oats and amaranth inclusion were especially beneficial in changing the fermentative end products indicating a butyrogenic effect. Although oats did not have a significant impact on postprandial glycemic or insulinemic responses in healthy dogs in this study, it can be inferred that they may benefit obese, insulin-resistant, or diabetic dogs.
Ancient grains benefits
Each grain offers its own characteristics and advantages. In these cases, since they have not been refined, like white rice or other grains, the nutrients remain, whereas when the grains are refined, they lose vitamins, minerals, fiber, and much of their nutritional value during the milling process.
Ancient grains provide prebiotics and fiber. They are especially used for dogs with food sensitivities or obesity problems. They are easy to digest and can help maintain a healthy weight.
The nutritional quality of food is essential to have healthy pets. Ancient grains are very high in nutrients such as fiber, protein, omega-3, omega-6, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium, and boost the immune system and thyroid function. For example, the proteins and vitamins found in quinoa help promote good muscle health, boost metabolism, and improve brain health. Millet and sorghum, meanwhile, are perfect for gluten-free diets, as they are rich in antioxidants and help fight inflammation in older dogs or those with chronic inflammation problems.
Lightly processed ingredients
Most superfoods for dogs are made from ancient grains. This is due, in part, to the way they are processed.
Reduced absorption rate
Ancient grains are less of a burden on the digestive tract because they are easier to digest and break down, preventing potential blood sugar spikes and digestive problems from slower absorption.
These types of grains are not selectively bred nor have they been modified over time, which is why they are considered more natural and healthy.
From myth to reality with scientific studies
The lack of knowledge about these ingredients arises from comparing ancestors' diets to today's pets. If we look at the diet of a wolf or wild cat, we do not see them eat grains directly, but these are found in what their prey has eaten, and they are what their bodies need as evolved species.
Today, we know that the advantages of ancestral cereals are multiple, from providing a more dense nutrient profile and less processed varieties to presenting the least allergenic potential. All these details position ancient grains as premium and a trend in pet food.
Therefore, we need to listen to our audiences to design formulas that meet their needs and those of their pets while driving the most detailed research to fully understand the power and impact of these ingredients.
Source: All Pet Food Magazine