Debunking Popular Nutrient Guideline Myths

by Savannah Welna | Raw Fed & Nerdy

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CLAIM: The way a dog would eat in the wild is preferred because without human intervention, nature thrives perfectly.

Human involvement is what caused the domestication of dogs. Dogs learned that they benefited from their relationship with humans- and humans were also benefited from dogs.a

If we are going to make the claim that nature untouched is perfect, then we need to be consistent with the premise of the argument. Nature untouched also means no vet care or shelter from the harsh winters. My dog would die quickly.

It is of my opinion that humans have a duty on this Earth to care for it and care for other humans, plants, and animals. I don’t think that my involvement with my pet (human interaction), is a negative force.

CLAIM: Wolves often go 1-2 weeks without a meal and we can conclude from this that they do not get complete nutrition daily, twice a day

Remember the premise of the argument. Human involvement interferes with thriving perfectly. Therefore, why do we choose to feed our dogs more than once a week? Why don’t we withhold food and shelter for days? Any evidence that this is more beneficial than providing regular nutrition?

 

CLAIM: 80/10/10 (PMR) is the average composition of prey- 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 5% liver and 5% other secreting organ- humans can provide even more variety and consistent feeding for more complete diet. Variety and PMR diets allows humans to feed dogs how they would be fed in the wild.

Even if 80/10/10 accurately depicted wild prey, these guidelines provide NO nutritional guidelines to match the ancestral diet. If one wants to feed more like the ancestral diet, they need to look more at macronutrient sources and composition. They would need to look at essential fatty acids and their forms. 80/10/10 can and does fall extremely short of wild prey because it provides no nutritional guidelines and does not provide insight to what makes up these different ingredients- primarily the organ and muscle meat aspect. There are so many cheap PMR diets that are high fat and poorly sourced ingredients that even with variety, precious micronutrients are far too displaced.

CLAIM: AAFCO standards are too low and should be discredited

Let’s say that they are (and I do have my issues with AAFCO), then we need to provide a standard for raw pet food companies that is optimal. PMR is not one- we have seen that PMR even with variety can be very low in some  nutrients (bioavailability accounted for) and quite high in others. One example is high amounts of vitamin A but not enough zinc (even with the NRC safety margin noted). Another example is very high copper, calcium, and phosphorus relative to zinc levels in the diet. While AAFCO is geared towards processed diets and there are very real issues with implementing it to a raw diet, there is still tremendous value in analyzing nutrient levels in food. PMR will not guarantee (even with variety) optimal nutrition. It is important then to establish some sort of guidelines that food makers can use that prevent malnutrition. PMR cannot fit this role.

 

CLAIM: AAFCO does not determine the quality of the food.

This is quite literally what we have been saying about ANY guideline- NRC, PMR, AAFCO..etc. Nutrient guidelines are only part of the picturer- but they are still a piece of the puzzle. You can meet PMR requirements with variety and still have a crappy diet. I have written extensively about what nutritionists take into consideration when formulating: https://feedthydog.com/fediaf-vs-nrc/

On this same note, many claim that RFN members only care about meeting nutrient guidelines This is  frustrating claim as it is entirely false Anybody can plug a food into Pet Diet Designer and get pretty green bars that depict 100%+ nutrient needs met. If this were the goal, why even post diets in RFN? Members post diets looking for feedback on bioavailability, nutrient balance, ingredient selection, and more. Our More Than Monday series shows examples of raw diets meeting NRC requirements that are quite crappy diets.

 

CLAIM: AAFCO fails because of a one size fits all approach. A 10 pound overweight dog with a metabolic disorder will have different needs than a highly active healthy 10 pound dog.

This is actually a problem with PMR diets, too.  It is a problem with ANY commercial food or food that is not formulated specifically for the dog. Reducing food reduces nutrients and often owners feed outside of nutrient guidelines. I have written and visually demonstrated this here: https://feedthydog.com/using-feeding-guidelines-properly/

How often has it occured where an owner, without looking at nutrients, puts together a PMR diet that they can afford- using fatty cuts of meat. Their dog gains weight so people tell the person to just feed less food. However, now they are eating a high fat food low in micronutrients How is this ancestral at all? How is this unique to AAFCO? This can happen with any formulation because that is the nature of commercial foods and PMR diets. Raw diets are not exempt from being properly formulated to provide all essential nutrients with acceptable energy density.

This only puts emphasis on auditing homemade diets and their nutrients to make sure we reap all the benefits of a well-formulated non-commercial diet- regardless of nutrient guidelines. This is also why, despite complaints, admin does not post generic recipes- because there is no one size fits all. Yet many of these people pointing out the failures of generic guidelines post generic diets  and utilize generic one size fits all guidelines. Again, these guidelines do not take into consideration macronutrients, the sourcing ability of the owner, and the financial capabilities of the owner- to name a few.

There still needs to be some standard. Raw diets not held up to any commercial standards at attractive price points can be harmful- especially to growing puppies.

 

CLAIM: Zinc requirements by NRC or AAFCO are too high because they are based on the presence of phytates in the food. PMR diets are immune to zinc issues because of the decreased amounts of phytates. AAFCO also has high phosphorus requirements because of the high amounts of grains.

Partially true- NRC DOES have a safety margin built in- but it is not only based on phytates. Many things affect zinc absorption. Zinc from lean red meats is a better source than high grain diets. However, PMR diets tend to be quite high in both calcium and phosphorus (especially at 10% bone), sometimes high in copper, high in vitamin A, with zinc levels varying wildly. It is extremely important to recognize that general recommendations of PMR diets do not account for the actual nutrients in the diet and does not account for the sourcing of ingredients or the budget of the owner. Zinc should very often be increased to support the level of vitamin A in the diet. It should also  be noted that the high amounts of calcium and phosphorus can affect zinc as well. It is not entirely uncommon for owners to run into issues with zinc deficiency in a raw diet- especially for puppies. Consistently choosing muscle meat too high in fat for low energy dogs or trying to feed within budget can often lead to low zinc. It is important to recognize that guidelines need to be useful for people of all situations.

 

CLAIM: Supplements go against nature. Food should provide ALL nutrients- just like a human diet.

A popular claim made by individuals who likely are not formulating for dogs of different backgrounds. Many things can prevent dogs and humans from getting their nutrients from food- calorie restrictions, food intolerances, and even budgets. This falls into the category of being “mindlessly healthy.” Mindlessly healthy is when a person moves from a  processed diet that is often fortified with vitamins and minerals and eats a fresh food diet. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but what if the person who was consuming their B vitamin fortified bread begins consuming a non-fortified food item in its place that does not match the b vitamin intake? Perhaps other components in the diet do not make up for this. This happens a lot with humans. Fresh whole foods are important but essential nutrients are still important. Last week, I saw somebody in a raw group talking about how they moved themselves to a fresh food diet but developed an iron deficiency because they did not properly audit their own diet. Fortified foods actually prevented things like birth defects. Nutrition science started out by being focused on identifying essential nutrients. Today, we are focused more on the source of the nutrients and factors that affect their absorption (like gut health) and recognize that essential nutrients are just the beginning. Everything that we have learned is important. We know the importance now of whole fresh foods- but we still know that essential nutrients matter. We recognize that supplements are not the same thing as food and that you should always try to get your nutrients from food whenever possible- for many reasons. These reasons include the different forms of essential nutrients as well as compounds in foods (plant and animal origin) that we have not even discovered or established their function. More on all off this

in detail here: https://rawfedandnerdy.com/food-or-supplements

 

CLAIM: AAFCO or dog nutrition labels are too confusing for consumers

I agree with this statement- but that doesn’t discredit all nutrient requirements. I recognize the problem and try to be part of the solution here: https://feedthydog.com/what-food-should-i-feed-my-dog/

Dog food labels also don’t depict quality- and that is a major concern. Digestibility is not discussed on dog foods labels.

 

CLAIM: NRC is outdated and only used GMO ingredients, dead animals, etc.

It is indeed amazing that people in the same breath state that we should use just ancestral guidelines but not use the OLD outdated NRC guidelines- since their last published book was from 2006/ Discrediting NRC because they have not been updated tells me the person likely did not read the book. It is important to look at the entire history of nutrition science. Sometimes we learn things from new studies that provide us insight to studies that were done many years ago.

The different studies for each nutrient does not in fact center on these ingredients. Again, more about why scientific studies are the way that they are (some often purified diets) here: https://feedthydog.com/fediaf-vs-nrc/

 

CLAIM: Conflict of interest- NRC and the Pet Food Industry

Rather than take the time to debate whether there is conflict of interest, let’s just assume that pet food companies funded the studies and NRC Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs for the sake of discussion. Pet food companies actually have an incentive to make their product better. Rather than write off decades of research, we should assess things study by study and determine if there are any flaws. Who else is going to fund companion animal nutrition studies? It certainly hasn’t been the raw food makers. Claiming that NRC is the pet food industry (again see previous link) and not taking any look at the studies is an excuse to not put forth effort when making bold claims about nutrient guidelines.

SUMMARY

Therefore, human interaction can be used as a positive force in the lives of companion animals. Nutrient guidelines have their shortcomings but also strengths, No set of nutrient guidelines can determine the quality of the recipe. Recipe quality depends on both the amount and balance of  essential nutrients, non-essential nutrients, ingredients, and most importantly, the dog- just to name a few things.

Savannah Welna, Cert. ACN

Savannah Welna, Cert. ACN is a canine nutrition professional and owner & Founder of Feed Thy Dog and Raw Fed & Nerdy. She believes that nutrition plays a major role in health and is an advocate for fresh food diets. You can read more about her at https://rawfedandnerdy.com/about