- HOW TO ANALYZE PET FOOD LABELS
- It is argued that criteria such
as the guaranteed analysis, ingredients list, feeding trial, and digestibility studies
objectively determine the merit of pet foods. Lets look at each of these in more
- Typical PET FOOD DRY DIET
- 100% Complete and Balanced
- Ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, soybean
meal, poultry by-product meal, animal fat (preserved with BHA, Propyl Gallate), ground
wheat, fish meal, meat and bone meal, phosphoric acid, calcium carbonate, dried animal
digest, dried skimmed milk, taurine, L-lysine, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, niacin,
vitamin supplements (A, D-3, E, B-12), calcium pantothenate, citric acid, manganese
sulfate, riboflavin supplement, biotin, folic acid, copper sulfate, thiamine mononitrate,
pyridoxine hydrochloride, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin K
activity), calcium iodate.
- Feeding Instructions
- 3 ounces fed daily will supply all the necessary
nutrients for maintenance of an adult cat. Consumption will vary depending on the animal
and its conditions.
- Guaranteed Analysis
- THE INGREDIENT LISTING
- The only regulatory requirement
regarding ingredients, even for complete foods, is that they be listed in
their relative order, in terms of amounts used in the formula. The most prevalent
ingredient should be first on the list and the least at the end of the list. Also, the
ingredients must be named in accordance with the guidelines set forth by AAFCO (The
American Association of Feed Control Officials) as put forth in their yearly official
listing of all recognized ingredients and exactly how they should be named.
- Ingredients not listed by AAFCO
cannot be used. This prevents innovation and forces conformity. AAFCO is also slow
to list or refuses to list (for some arcane reason) ingredients that have obvious
merit, while permitting garbage literally to be used with their full aegis.
(Graphic from AAFCO) Examples of omitted and thus prohibited ingredients
include a variety of herbs, pollen, spirulina and neutraceuticals. (See related
article on AAFCOs attempts to regulate nutrient as drugs, p __)
- Heres an example of how
this regulatory system, supposedly designed to enhance and protect health, can do the
opposite. In the wild, a dog or cat would eat pretty much the entire prey, even
selecting the viscera first. Now, if a manufacturer wants to duplicate this by
feeding a whole chicken, AAFCO has no name for a whole chicken. AFFCO would say the
viscera must be called by-products and the rest would be called chicken
(to represent the meat parts.) The problem is the consumer would be led to believe this is
an inferior product because by-products are considered inferior. In
fact, such whole prey type product would be superior.
- Another example is the
inability to list sea salt. AAFCO only permits the word salt on the label and thus
the trace mineral merits of sea salt, if used by a manufacturer, are hidden from the
consumer. If a manufacturer uses the more expensive form of sea salt they must do so
because of principle, knowing it will help animals even though they receive no credit or
market edge for doing so.
- Clearly, any natural food item
should be cleared automatically for use in pet foods and nomenclature permitted that tells
consumers what is used.
- Does AAFCOs regulation
that ingredients be listed in relative amounts have merit? Processed pet foods are
basically a recipe: so many cups of corn, so many cups of meat, so many cups of rice, and
soon and so forth. (Actually it is not cups, it is tons or pounds or percentages.)
However, listing by relative amounts can be misleading.
- Consider a food formula with
corn listed number one, and then poultry by-product meal listed number two, meat meal
listed third, rice listed fourth, and so forth. It would appear that corn is most
predominant, and the next most prevalent ingredient is poultry by-product meal, the next
meat meal, and next rice. But that is not necessarily so. If there are 200 pounds of
corn, and 200 pounds of poultry by-product meal, 200 pounds of meat meal, and 200 pounds
of rice, the ingredients can be listed in any order. So if a producer wants to present his
product as predominantly meat, he is going to list the poultry and the meat meal first,
whereas if he wants to argue the merits of rice, he could list rice first.
- Heres another example.
Since meat listed first on the label is usually a marketing advantage, some producers may
use fresh meat, which is over 70% water. This moves meat up on the label since a dried
finished product is only about 10% moisture. Another product containing a dried meat
ingredient (less than 10% moisture) may only list it in a third or forth position but
actually contain more meat protein than the product with fresh meat in the number one
position. (This does not speak to the nutritional merits of fresh meat as opposed to
rendered dried meats. See p__.) If the quantity of protein is the objective then rendered
pre-dried meat, regardless of quality, would be used. If quality of protein were the
objective then fresh meat ingredients would be the key. The ingredient list does not
address the issues for the consumer.
- Finally, lets say a label
lists corn first, then chicken breast, fillet mignon, and lobster tails. It would appear
that this is really an exceptional product. Attention would immediately be drawn to the
exceptional expensive ingredients. But the product could be formulated such that 99% of
the ingredients would be corn with only 1% then spread among the other ingredients.
- Thus there can be many games,
artifice and skullduggery played with formulations to attempt a marketing advantage. The
ingredient listing therefore gives no truly objective, reliable and credible information
about the nutritional merit or health-enhancing benefits of pet foods.
- THE FALLACY OF QUANTITATION
- Lets look at the label
analysis, the percentage of protein, fat, ash and so forth. There is that tendency, and
rightly so, for those trained scientifically, to want to be precise, to see numbers.
But, the quantitative tools to measure nutritional merit are a mirage of objectivity.
- It would be very nice to be
able to plug a food into a sophisticated superheterodine laser-activated infrared analyzer
and have a printout of the quantitative value of a food to the fifth decimal point, but we
are far from that technology. We do not even know for sure what questions to ask machines
to answer yet. When we do, the answers are as crude as measuring the length of bacteria
with a yardstick.
- Nutrition is a frustratingly
complex subject for which there are no precise objective guidelines and laws. It is
a science made up of exceptions. As a result, it is necessary that one approach the
subject with a priori assumptions to fill the gaping holes in knowledge.
- Lets look at label
analytical values. This analysis is most important with food animals, where short term
optimal growth and maximum feed conversion are critical. Volumes of nutrients become
important to quantitate since food animals are in effect tissue factories. Although such
analytical values provide important information for industry, it is too generalized to
provide information needed for long-term health.
- To get growth as rapidly as
possible in 7 or 8 weeks in broiler chickens, or to finish hogs or fatten cattle as
rapidly as possible, is an entirely different end point project than with human or pet
foods. Goals in feeding people, as well as companion animals are to create long and
healthy lives. Here, optimizing micronutrients are critical and there may be no measurable
benefit for years or decades. Another consideration is that evidence argues, that rapid
rate of growth (desirable in farm animals) is actually inversely related to long and
healthy life (desirable in pets and people). Thus an animal that is slightly underfed and
grows more slowly, has more of an opportunity to live a longer and more disease free
- Nutritionist and regulators
have not figured these differences out yet and thus attempt to impose food animal logic
upon pet foods. This results in their giving preeminence to analytical volumes for things
like protein and fat and ignoring or proscribing ingredients that can optimize health.
- Heres another problem: if
it is dictated by government to have, for example, 22% protein and 2% fat and 3% ash in a
food, to qualify for the complete diet claim, then producers can put
almost anything in the food that achieves those levels. The more difficult and
sophisticated nutritional challenges of micronutrient quality can be ignored. There may be
adequate growth and AAFCO short-term feeding trials passed, but these feedlot parameters
do not address long healthy optimal life.
- Focusing on label analysis lays
the groundwork for least-cost feeding. If 28% protein is required, then the producer
can find a cheap source of protein (which is really only a source of nitrogen as youll
see in a moment) that will give that percent. There need be no regard to whether the
ingredient contains any of the other micronutrients that are essential to metabolize the
- Percent protein, percent fat,
percent ash, calcium, and phosphorous (the AAFCO label requirements) represent a handful
of the over 50 known essential nutrients. What about all the others? How do they measure?
Any one of these nutrients can be just as important as the five required on the label by
- This crude method of measuring
nutrition in terms of calories, protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus is far outdated and
grossly out of step with current knowledge and research. The argument that an animal is a
machine that metabolizes calories, and all that need be done is get those calories to them
as cheaply as possible, ignores the goal of health.
- Here is how the guaranteed
analysis is calculated. First the food sample is dried, which drives off the moisture.
Subtract the weight of the food after it is dried from the beginning weight to get the
percent moisture. Next the sample is put through an ether extract. Ether dissolves the fat
out of the food. This difference is percent fat. Next, a Kjeldahl analysis determines the
amount of nitrogen. This method assumes most protein contains about 16% nitrogen.
Percent Protein is the percent nitrogen multiplied by 6.25 (the factor that results
from the assumption of 16% nitrogen: divide 100 by 16 to get 6.25. 6.25 times the percent
nitrogen gives percent protein.) Next an acid and alcohol wash removes fiber. The
difference is percent fiber. The last step is to burn what is left over to determine the
percent ash, the mineral content. If all of these are totaled and then subtracted
from 100, which would be the total amount of the food in the beginning, percent
carbohydrate is the result. For example: a food has 20% protein, 12% fat, 10% water, 5%
ash, calcium content of 1.5% and phosphorus at 1.0%. If we add all of those up, that
equals 49.5%. Subtract 49.5% from 100% and that will give you 50.5% carbohydrate in the
- Lets run back through
this. Although it all sounds very scientific, precise and empirical, lets
splash some cold water on our brain. Protein is determined based on the percent
nitrogen. The source of the nitrogen is not addressed. Nitrogen can be contributed
by any petrochemical product, or by feathers, hooves, leather, toy action heroes... you
name it. So percent protein says nothing about the quality of the protein, only the
quantity of nitrogen. This is fine for growing corn or cows, but not for pets attempting
to achieve optimal health.
- The value of protein is
directly related to amino acid content. Organisms require a certain number of essential
amino acids. Some amino acids are considered non-essential.
Increasing evidence shows there are no cut and dry essential and non-essential
amino acids. There are contingency requirements not conveniently fitting their
definitions. Some animals and some people require many of the non-essential
amino acids in the daily diet to achieve maximum health. Some require few of the essential
- For example, the amino acid
glutamine, which is not considered an essential amino acid for the body at large, is
essential in certain target tissues. If the tissues that are responsible for producing
glutamine fail to do so, then glutamine becomes a contingent essential dietary amino acid.
- Such exceptions abound for
every amino acid. All is not really so clear cut or black and white. Such is growing up...
in this case nutritionally.
- Even though we may know the
percent protein, we dont know if the protein has been combined, as a result of
processing, with carbohydrates in a carmelization reaction. The chemical combinations
resulting are totally foreign to natural foods and are carcinogenic. The percent
protein listing on the label does not reveal this. Another example of nutrient
perversion would be that amino acids are subjected in processing to changes in pH,
temperature, or a variety of either physical or chemical interactions; their chemical
state is altered. For example, most amino acids are bioavailable in their L-isomeric form.
An amino acid can exist in a left-handed (L) and right-handed (D) form but contain
the same exact atoms. The ways atoms are oriented in the molecules make them mirror images
of each other. Natural protein, which primarily consists of L-amino acids, when subjected
to processing, converts about 50% of the amino acids to the non-bioavailable D- form.
There is an equilibrium achieved of the amino acid pool is in the D- form and half in the
L- form. So the quality of the amino acids is halved. Again, % protein on the
label does not reveal this nutritional attrition.
- Another deleterious event is
the Maillard reaction. Reducing sugars in some ingredients can combine with the amino acid
lysine and render it unavailable. Lysine is a very important amino acid in any food with
grains since it is a limiting amino acid. When inactivated in processing it can be
nutritionally devastating. Again, this is not revealed on the label.
- Lets move to percent fat.
12% fat on label does not reveal what the fat is. We are learning more and
more about fat quality as lipid science starts to come of age. (LIPID NUTRITION
There are essential fatty acids. Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids form important
hormone-like eicosanoids. Different types of fatty acids can affect cardiovascular
disease, cancer, immune disorders, arthritis, allergic conditions and a wide array of
dermatologic and other health problems.
- The mechanical forces and
chemical reactions that can occur in food processing can result in an isomeric change in
fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds in their carbon chain.
Depending upon where the hydrogens are in relation to that double bond, the fatty acid is
either a cis- (good) form or a trans- (bad) form.
- Heres how processing can
reek horror with nutritional fats. Fatty acids are hydrogenated to make them harder - a
good example is in the production of Oleo. People dont like to squirt liquid oils on
bread, so manufacturers hydrogenate the oil making it hard like butter. However, when that
happens, the oil becomes saturated (the very thing people are trying to avoid when they
switch to margarine) and the cis- form changes to the trans- form. Trans- fatty
acids are toxins and can interfere with a variety of important fatty acid transformation
steps and metabolic processes. For those who are using Oleo margarines believing this will
stave off heart disease, the evidence shows that whether in margarine, snack foods,
cookies, breads, etc., these trans-fatty acids exert the opposite effect.
- Does 12% fat
declaration on the label speak to whether essential fatty acids have been isomerically
changed to the detrimental trans form? Are there omega-3 fatty acids or omega-6 fats?
Omega-6 fats in excess are believed to be deleterious; the Omega-3s more
- Why have Eskimos not had the
problem with cardiovascular disease that Western society has had, even though they may eat
several pounds of blubber a day? One reason is probably the beneficial ratios of fatty
acids in their fish diet. Wild meat, meat from animals which are eating foods in the wild,
we has a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 entirely different than that in domesticated animals
fed commercial rations. Another reason is that they are eating blubber raw. It is
not changed into forms likely toxic. The body is adapted to and capable of metabolizing
that which is natural and biological. When foods are heated and altered, new kinds of
compounds organisms have not adapted to recognize, and metabolize, become toxins.
- When fats are oxidized, the
resulting rancidity changes flavor and aroma. More importantly, oxidization creates wild
chemicals, called free radicals. These are formed when oxygen attacks the double bond
areas in unsaturated fatty acids. Once formed, free radicals create a chain reaction
wrecking nucleic acids, polysaccharides, enzymes, lipid membranes, and so forth. There is
compelling evidence that all pathology is ultimately linked to the generation of free
radicals. Although the body has a wide range of mechanisms to neutralize free radicals,
high doses from food processing may be more than the body is able to overcome. If the fats
are preserved to prevent rancidity and free radical formations with synthetics such as
BHA, BHT, TBHQ, ethoxyquin or propyl gallate, there is potential toxicity. They are even
banned in many countries. These issues are not addressed by % fat on a label.
- Percent ash tells us what is
left after the food has been burned. Although this represents minerals, we dont know
what form they are in and whether they are utilized well. It is often said that we
are what we eat. We are not. We are what we absorb. Many minerals must be
organically complexed in the gut, whether to carbohydrates or proteins, before they can
pass through the gut into the bloodstream and be used in metabolism.
- In natural foods, minerals are
already in a chelated, or bound, state with organic molecules. They are readily absorbed.
But processed foods contain minerals mined out of the earth - totally inorganic,
crystalline products - in the form of ground rock.
- There are a few minerals for
which minimums have been established but there are many, many trace minerals that we know
have an action in metabolic processes, but we have no idea how much is needed.
- Modern monoculture farming
practices, whereby the same crop is grown on the same land year after year, fertilized
only with NPK (nitrogen phosphorous and potassium), depletes the soil of trace minerals.
After a few generations, the crops, and thus our food supply becomes deficient.
- The point is that percent ash
is a very crude figure; basically telling us how much rock is in the product. It says
nothing about the range of important nutritional minerals, or whether those minerals can
even be absorbed.
- KILOCALORIE CALCULATIONS
- Gross energy, is the amount of
energy (Calories kilocalories is the same thing as Calories with a capital C
and is the amount of heat necessary to increase the temperature of one kilogram of water
one degree centigrade) released by the food in a bomb calorimeter. Not all of the gross
Calories are available to an organism because some of the Calories are passed in the
feces, some in the urine and some are lost as volatile gases. Gross energy needs to be
converted to an energy figure that is more meaningful in terms of biological availability.
As we go through these calculations understand there is a line of assumptions used in
establishing these figures. Unless we know the validity of each of the assumptions, the
end result can be no more valid than the weakest link in the chain.
- Gross energy is, as I
mentioned, the total amount of Calories in the food, not taking into account what is lost
through urine, feces and gases.
- Digestible energy is more
meaningful because it allows for what is lost in the feces. Lets go through a label
analysis (20% protein, 12% fat, 10% water, 7% ash) to determine digestible energy.
- If 20% protein (.20) is
multiplied by 4.40, (which is the amount of kilocalories per gram of protein), the result
is .88 kilocalories per gram.
- We can do the same thing with
fat. Multiply 12 % (.12) by the amount of kilocalories per gram in fat, 9.4, to get 1.13
kilocalories per gram.
- By adding up all %s on
the label guaranteed analysis (20% + 12% + 10% + 7%) and subtracting them from 100, this
leaves 50.5% (50.5) as carbohydrate. Multiply that figure by 4.15, the amount of
kilocalories in a gram of carbohydrate to get 2.10 kilocalories per gram contributed by
- Add the figures for protein fat
and carbohydrate: .88, 1.13, and 2.10- and the total is 4.01 kilocalories per gram.
That would be the digestible energy.
- This can be taken another step
further to determine what is theoretically delivered, to the metabolism of the organism.
This is called metabolized energy. To do this the energy lost in the urine and by volatile
gases is subtracted. This decreases the value of each of the factors. For example, fat has
a digestible energy density of 9.4. To calculate metabolizable energy, the 9.4 must be
multiplied by 90% because 10% of the fat energy is lost in the urine and through volatile
gases. That factor is 8.46. To calculate metabolizable energy carbohydrates, would
be 85% of the digestible energy factor of 4.15 kilocalories per gram to give 3.5
approximately as the metabolizable energy in carbohydrates. For protein the metabolizable
energy is 85% of the 4.4 kilocalories per gram previously discussed. 85% times 4.4 equals
- In review, the factors for
digestible energy are fat 9.4, protein 4.4, and carbohydrate 4.15. But to calculate
metabolizable energy, the factors would be 8.46 for fat, protein 3.5 and 3.5 for
carbohydrate. These factors, multiplied them by the percentages on the label, would give
the metabolizable energy kilocalories per gram of food. Metabolizable energy is going to
be a figure less than digestible energy. In this case, a total of 15.6.
- (Incidentally, it is
traditionally argued that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, regardless of the source.
But research has now found that the energy released from a fat calorie is
significantly more than the energy released to the body from a carbohydrate calorie. This
is because carbohydrates and fats are metabolized differently. A calorie from carbohydrate
is not as efficient as a calorie from fat. This and other revelations regarding the
thermic effect of a various food components (the digestion and assimilation of some foods
expend more energy than others leaving less calories for utilization by the body)
disproves the notion that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie and would alter
the effective calories affected above.)
- So now you know how to
calculate calories. But this is merely an academic exercise. Counting calories might
be a problem if we lived a hand to mouth existence. But hardly is that the case. Our
modern abundance of food makes calorie glut, not deficit a problem. But neither is
calorie counting beneficial in weight management. Life style, sedentary living and
kinds of calories (excess carbohydrates primarily) are the cause of obesity.
- Focusing on calories to achieve
health is like only measuring gasoline to make a cross-country trip. Gasoline might
provide the raw energy to get you there, but without a vehicle, oil, roadmap and supplies
youll never make it. Health too is multifaceted.
Calories are raw energy, but vitamins, minerals, accessory
nutrients, fatty acids, proteins, fiber, probiotics, enzymes and the natural food matrix
are necessary to reach the goal of health.
- FEEDING TRIALS
- Lets move to another
criterion used to evaluate pet foods, feeding trials. These can take various forms.
Feeding trials run for 20 weeks or longer depending upon the life stage tested. During the
trial, different parameters are measured, such as hemoglobin, weight gain, and bone
length. But feeding trials do not measure nutritional merit necessary for health and long
life. A feeding trial merely determines nutritional adequacy for a brief period of time.
Determining whether a food will maintain an animal for 20 weeks is not at all like
finding out what the food does to the animal when fed throughout its lifetime, through all
of its life stages, or how it affects offspring. The nutritional status of parents can
even affect the health of offspring. There are also genetic repercussions from nutrition.
It can take two to three generations to revert out of damage done from a generation that
has not been fed properly. A feeding trial does not measure the important health criteria.
- THE ARCHETYPAL PATTERN
- Fortunately, there is a basic
general principle, verified by good solid observation and controlled study, which can
guide us. That is, feeding according to the archetypal pattern, in
accordance with the genetic expectation of the organism provides the best opportunity for
health. Animals, as well as human, in the wild given adequate natural food quantities, do
not suffer from the degenerative diseases of today. Most degenerative diseases are
directly linked to nutritional inadequacy. This is not something easily measured like
protein, fat or calories. Modern nutritional inadequacy in something else... something
that has been lost as a result of processing fads, changed agricultural practices, toxins
introduced into the food supply, or changes that have resulted from simply heating foods.
- Natural foods are
nutrient-dense, not simply high in protein, fat, or carbohydrates, but rather protein, fat
and carbohydrate that have associated with them a wide range and concentrated amounts of
micronutrients in their naturally complexed and synergistic form.
- These critical criteria are not
measured by reductionistic laboratory work, elucidated by label guaranteed analyses or
proven with feeding trials. Regulators have it all wrong and trusting in food being 100%
complete because regulators say so is a big mistake. Health is a whole life issue
and does not come in a package. To achieve it follow the wisdom in the Wysong Optimal