Should you feed grains to your companion or not? It depends on the type, and whether it’s whole or not.
In your quest for a healthy diet for your dog or cat, you’ve probably come up against the grain controversy more than once. Should your animal eat grains or not? Which ones should be avoided, and which are okay?
Whole grains versus refined
The right whole grains have a lot to offer our animals. The key word here is “whole”. Whole grains are comprised of three parts.
1. The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the kernel.
2. The germ is the embryo; if it is fertilized by pollen, it will sprout into a new plant. It’s a valuable source of many B vitamins, protein, minerals and essential fatty acids.
3. The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, providing essential energy to the young plant. It is the largest portion of the kernel, and contains carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Refined grains are missing their bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of the grain’s protein is lost, along with at least 17 important nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, lignans, phytosterols and other plant compounds.
Aren’t carbs “bad”?
Don’t be misled by the blanket statement that carbohydrates are dangerous to dogs and cats. You just need to choose quality over quantity. Complex carbohydrates sustain energy, support organ function and promote overall health by providing vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats and phytochemicals. Poor hair growth and continuous shedding are one of the symptoms of carbohydrate deficiency.
Carbohydrates maintain the health of the thyroid, liver, heart, brain and nerve tissues, and regulate how much starch and fat will be broken down and utilized or stored in the liver in the form of glycogen, which controls the balance of energy. Glycogen reserves regulate protein metabolism and protect cells from malfunction and injury. The heart and thyroid gland need glycogen, and some is stored in the cardiac muscle.
Glossary of healthy grains
• Oats are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They are nutrient dense and provide sustained energy. They contain manganese, selenium, tryptophan, phosphorus, vitamin B1, dietary fiber, magnesium and protein. Oats contain a special type of fiber called beta-glucan, which lowers cholesterol and helps reduce the risk of heart disease, and supports the immune system against bacterial infections, viruses, fungi and parasites. Betaglucans help stabilize blood sugar levels and inhibit the growth of tumors. Oats contain 20 unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, which have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and even anti-itching properties. Adding oat bran to your animal’s daily diet is an easy way to give him valuable fiber, and additional support if anal glands or hairballs are a problem.
• Barley is another of the world’s healthiest foods. It is a cooling whole grain that supports the intestines, stomach, spleen, pancreas and kidneys. It supports healthy thyroid function and immunity, is an excellent source of dietary fiber, and helps lower blood cholesterol. Barley is an excellent source of selenium, which inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells. Selenium works alongside vitamin E to be cardio-protective and lessen the symptoms of arthritis. Tryptophan, copper, manganese and phosphorus also contribute to barley’s excellent nutritional profile. Cooked barley can be added to your animal’s regular meals.
• Rice nurtures the centre of the body, including the spleen and the pancreas, and soothes the stomach (in Traditional Chinese Medicine). It is a pH neutral grain and helps remove toxins from the liver. Whole brown rice is a rich source of manganese, selenium and magnesium. Manganese is a crucial component of the antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD), which provides protection against damage from free radicals. Whole brown rice is about as wholesome as you can get. Whole grain brown rice milk is a novel way of providing your animal with all the goodness of whole grains. The rice used in these products is not milled or polished, so it retains all the vitamins and minerals, contains no added sugar or fat, and is also cholesterol, gluten and dairy free.
• Amaranth, quinoa, teff and buckwheat, while considered “pseudo grains”, are usually included alongside the true cereal grains because their nutritional profile, preparation and uses are so similar. Teff is an African cereal grass that contains more calcium than whole oats and more iron than whole barley. Quinoa is actually an amino acid-packed protein seed. It is considered a complete protein, because it contains all nine essential amino acids, including lysine, vital to tissue growth and repair. Quinoa also contains vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, potassium, riboflavin, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, folic acid and vitamin E. It is a perfect substitute for regular whole grains and is gluten free. Whole grains contain more natural fats than refined grains, so store them in a cool, dry dark place, or in the refrigerator.
“Get your goat” cheese and herb muffins
• 1½ cups whole grain flour of your choice (e.g. gluten-free all-purpose baking flour, a blend of whole grain flours)
•2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon baking soda (gluten-free and aluminum-free)
•1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
•½ teaspoon sea salt
•¼ cup first pressed extra virgin olive oil
•1 cup plain goat yogurt (e.g. Greek or Balkan style)
• ¼ cup stock (e.g. chicken, beef, vegetable; filtered water can also be used)
•1 egg •2 cups goat cheese
•Oregano leaves for garnishing
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly oil mini-muffin tins. Combine all ingredients in a mixer, or combine by hand using a wooden spoon or spatula. Fill each muffin cup to the top. Garnish each with an oregano leaf. Bake for 15 minutes. Muffin tops will be golden in color.
Allow to cool a few minutes, then remove muffins and cool completely on a rack or plate, before storing in an airtight container or Ziploc bag. Muffins must be refrigerated. They also freeze beautifully.
Makes 24 mini-muffins, but you can easily double the recipe.
Lamb and rice stew
• 2 pounds lamb, cut into pieces
• 3 tablespoons first pressed extra virgin olive oil
• 3 cups filtered water or lamb broth
•1 teaspoon sea salt
•1 teaspoon cinnamon
•1 teaspoon carob (optional)
• 6 sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only) or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
•1 cup whole brown rice flakes (or quinoa)
Put olive oil in a medium sized pan. Add the pieces of lamb. Turn stove to high, and sauté the lamb and oil. When bubbles begin to appear, add salt, cinnamon, carob and thyme, turn down the stove to simmer, and continue to sauté the lamb pieces until they are no longer pink. Turn the stove off. Preheat oven to 300°F.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a Pyrex or other oven safe container. Add whole brown rice flakes (or other whole grain of your choice), and 3 cups of liquid. Mix well. Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving. Store in refrigerator. Lamb stew also freezes very well.
•¾ cup whole brown rice flour
• ¼ cup whole oat or barley flour
•¼ cup whole teff
•2 tablespoons carob powder
• ¼ cup local honey or rice bran syrup
• ½ cup goat milk or filtered water
Preheat oven to 350°F and cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine all ingredients and make small balls. Roll them in oatmeal if you like and place them on the cookie sheet. Pat down gently with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, cool and store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.
•½ cup barley groats
•4 cups filtered water
Combine the barley groats and filtered water in a small pot. Bring to a boil. As soon as bubbles appear, turn down the pot to simmer for 25 minutes. Cool the barley water, strain and store. For a sweet nutritious treat that supports the urinary tract, add a little dandelion honey to the barley water before serving to your companion.
Barley water can be kept in the refrigerator for three days.