Dietary carbohydrates are important nutrients. Carbohydrates serve the primary purpose of providing energy. While it is true that adult dogs and cats do not have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates, these nutrients are essential in growing animals and pregnant or nursing adults.
Pet foods have evolved from very basic formulas, primarily containing corn and by-product meal with vitamins and minerals, to very complex recipes with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and multiple supplements to enhance overall health. One component of the evolution of pet food formulas is the grains that are used as carbohydrate sources.
Corn and wheat have fallen out of favor with consumers, leading pet food companies to look for replacement grains. Rice, barley, millet and oatmeal are frequently seen as the sole carbohydrate source or part of a blend of multiple grains. Due to worldwide food shortages, rice is becoming a more difficult and expensive pet food ingredient to rely upon.
When grains are cooked properly as part of a pet food formula, the starch portion of the grain becomes nearly 100% digestible in most cases. Whole grains like barley, millet and oatmeal provide higher percentages of slowly digestible starch (SDS) than do grains like white rice or corn. Slowly digestible starch will provide energy over a longer period of time than will rapidly digestible starch (RDS). In addition, these whole grains provide other beneficial nutrients to the diet.
Studies have proven that fructooligosaccharides, or FOS, alter the environment in the digestive tract in favor of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria. Barley has been found in research studies to contain levels of FOS second only to wheat. The use of barley as one component of the formulation will help promote better digestive health by supporting the populations of beneficial bacteria.
Dietary fiber, contributed by whole grains like oatmeal, will help keep pets feeling full longer. Controlling hunger in pets will help prevent overeating or begging behavior, both of which are detrimental to overall good health.
There are many options for formulating pet foods. Diversifying carbohydrates is just one way of providing an optimal blend of nutrients for maximal health and wellness.