Dogs should play in wheat fields, not eat them!

Grain-Free Diets? Yes, but there’s a catch.

By Lis on
September 4th, 2015

You may have seen a number of commercials promoting dog foods with “healthy white rice,” brown rice, or even “healthy” whole corn. Here’s the facts: no matter what kind of grain it is, your dog doesn’t need it. There simply isn’t a biological requirement for grains (simple or complex carbohydrate sugars) in their diet.*

Dogs have no biological requirement for grains.Unfortunately, the majority of dog food kibbles are grain-based: corn, wheat, or soy. Pick up almost any dog food bag in a grocery store and those grains will most likely be in the top 5 ingredients. Meanwhile, the majority of grain-free dog kibbles are potato and pea based, also not great! 

These heavy inclusions of grain and carbohydrates only go to promote obesity and diabetes, as well as a ton of other detrimental health effects over time. And yet, grain-free kibbles are not the solution, as they can be equally heavy in carbohydrates.

Grain-Free Dog Foods

While grain-free is definitely the way to go, quality food doesn’t stop there.

Grain-free diets are popular because manufacturers can still produce a cheap potato/pea based product, and manipulate consumers into paying more because they think they’re feeding their dog a superior quality diet. The truth is that most kibble diets are still 40–50% carbohydrates, grain-free or not. They are more plant–based, rather than meat-based, and that doesn’t do any good for your dog.

The real benefits of grain-free dog foods come from the fact that, since the kibble isn’t overwhelmed by cereal grains for quick energy, the diet is generally more balanced toward meat and protein. Generally, but not always.

If you’re feeding a grain-free diet that claims to be “sweet potato and chicken”, there’s still a good chance you’re actually feeding more potato than meat. Refer to our guide on dog food labels to be sure.

A biologically appropriate diet would look like this:

  • high in meat proteins (not to be confused with crude protein)
  • low in carbohydrates
  • a low glycemic index
  • animal fats
  • some balanced vegetables and fruit.

Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is a rated measurement of how quickly a carbohydrate can raise blood sugar levels. Items are rated on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being a quick spike in blood sugar, and 0 being no increase.

High glycemic foods break down quickly and disturb the blood sugar and insulin complex, which can lead to fat deposition and insulin resistance. Low glycemic foods break down slowly, and gradually enter the blood stream without causing it to spike. This gentle absorption of low glycemic foods means they have fewer negative side effects.

Wheat 71
Corn 53
Corn Meal 69
White Rice 89
Brown Rice 50
Oatmeal 55
Instant Oatmeal 83
Quinoa 53
Russet Potato 100
Sweet Potato 70
Chick Peas 38
Green Peas 51
Barley 34
Soy Bean 15

While these are estimates (accurate numbers depend on exactly how the ingredient is prepared before being measured) you can see, these common dog food carbohydrates rate fairly high on the glycemic index.

Dog Food Processing

It’s important to note that the manufacturing processes these ingredients undergo on their way to becoming kibble will increase their glycemic index rating. This makes sense if you consider that processing is breaking down the nutrition of an item to make it a more easily digestible material.

Processed cereal grains have a higher glycemic index than just whole grains. While this may make your “quick oats” oatmeal a little faster to prepare in the mornings, it also raises your blood sugar more so than steel-cut or rolled oats. The same principles of carbohydrate digestion that exist for you also exist for your dog.

Conclusion: Don’t Be Fooled by Clever Marketing

So the next time you see a dog food commercial, advertisement, or well-designed packaging, I hope you’ll consider whether or not the product in question is actually a biologically appropriate diet.

Dogs need to eat meat-based diets as much as possible. Meats and fats are not composed of carbohydrates, so you won’t see them on a glycemic index.

Our mission is to make sure dog owners are educated about what they’re feeding, what they’re paying for, and how much value is actually being provided to their furry best friends. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments— how has switching too grain-free diets affected your pets health?

* N.B. >

Occasionally, veterinarians may recommend feeding your dog plain white rice with chicken broth, or even paired with another easy protein. Advice such as this is usually given in the case of animals who are sick and having difficulty eating regularly. This is a temporary remedy meant just to put calories into your dog, and boost its (most-likely low) blood sugar while it tries to fight off whatever may be ailing it. This is not a healthy long-term diet for your pet.


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