Social media has escalated the amount of hype we're exposed to. Not only are we being served a heaping amount of marketing disguised as facts, but the believers eagerly share it with friends, on blogs, and chat groups. The result is an explosion of misinformation that can actually do some harm. I don't think there's malice involved. For the most part it seems to be people who truly believe they understand more than they really do, but it's become ridiculous. Taking a soundbite from a study and presenting it as if that's the entire story is misleading. Presenting something that is a poor study if one can even call it a study in the first place is simply sad. People get excited about these tidbits, and missing a far more important part of the story - the facts!
I am only one voice, but because I experienced hype that harmed my Zoey way back when, I make it a point to sound the alarm when I see hype over and over again. So, this is the first of a few newsletters that will provide facts about the more common stories making the rounds. Today, it's about so-called superfoods.
People who are marketing to you know that you like the term "superfood" because they can do an internet search and find about 10 million results. It's just a matter of extending that term to include foods that dogs can eat, and bingo - a new market is born. But how factual is the superfood claim to begin with? Come to think of it, how does a food graduate to the superfood category?
There isn't a legal definition for superfoods. It's a term that's used to differentiate between foods that are more nutrient dense from those that aren't. If we go by that, beef liver is a superfood because it's so high in copper. Chicken liver is higher in vitamin A though, so it can be a superfood too, but wait! - if you want both vitamin A and antioxidants you may be looking at veggies rather than meats...in other words, the term doesn't mean a whole lot in the real world. That said, there are studies that we can point to if we want to make the standard claims such as:
Blueberries contain antioxidants, especially anthocyanins which are reported to inhibit the growth of cancerous human colon cells, and even kill them.
Açaí berries, kale, broccoli,...you'll easily find studies that support the idea of superfoods, and lend weight to eating them and including them in a dog's diet. I include some of them when I formulate a diet, but my reasoning is different because I work with each dog as a unique being with unique needs. What must be understood is that when someone claims a study, or research to show the benefit of this, or that property of a superfood (almost always a veggie, or fruit), the study will have used very high levels of a nutrient. That means very large amounts of a food would have be consumed. Dogs are not herbivores! It's also done in test tubes, mice, rats (don't be fooled when someone says "animal model" because it's almost always rodents, not dogs)
Foods studied in the lab are usually very different to the way these foods are normally consumed. In most cases the nutrient is studied in isolation whereas the food is fed in combination with other foods in real life. This alone can make an enormous difference in absorption, but also in the lasting effect (some benefits are short lived!)
Lastly, if we buy into the superfood pedigree, we might think the simple carrot and apple are lesser-than. Your dog (and you) would be missing out on two foods that are packed with beta-carotene and the flavonoid quercetin.
"Even the tiniest poodle is lionhearted, ready to do anything to defend home, master, and mistress.” Louis Sabin