21 March 2018

Cereals in food, yes or no?

The introduction of grain free products in the pet food realm marked a milestone.

The debate about whether dogs were omnivores or carnivores became the focus of attention and served as a springboard for this type of food.

A crusade was organized against the use of cereals that, far from having a solid foundation, served to position certain products in the market and thus create a new trend.

The consumer, concerned about their pet’s health and aware of the health issues that had arisen due to the use of poorly designed diets in the past, embraced this new “grain free” philosophy and began to demand processed foods from a different approach. Up to that moment, the abuse of carbohydrates (from cereals) to which their pets had been subjected had frequently resulted in problems such as obesity and diabetes.

Finally, allergies, ever more present, contributed to the social alarm and the bad press for cereals, although they were the least frequent of all allergens (substances causing allergies). The most allergy-related cereal was wheat, along with several meats, fish, dairy products and soy.

In order to shed some light on the dilemma of cereals, we will set forth a series of data:

  • Cereals (rice, oats, wheat, corn, rye …) provide mostly carbohydrates and fiber (but also proteins, unsaturated fats, vitamins like E and some of group B, minerals such as calcium and iron, antioxidants …)
  • Carbohydrates allow us to obtain energy, essential for our body to develop all its functions.

Energy is also obtained from fat and protein. In fact, fat is the nutrient providing more energy.

  • The fiber present in cereals is essential for the proper functioning of our digestive system and for the maintenance and care of intestinal flora

This flora or microbiota is a fundamental part of our body, and both our lifestyle and our diet or the drugs we take alter it, affecting us and our pets.

  • It is well known that whole grains favor the populations of beneficial microorganisms in our intestine and contribute to decrease intestinal inflammation (problems in the microbiota are also being associated with gluten sensitivity, so everything points to the flora intervening in cereal tolerance).
  • In order to prepare croquettes from dry foods, the presence of starch (a carbohydrate) is necessary.

That starch is present in foods with cereals, but also in grain free products (in the form of potato, sweet potato, tapioca, pea, parsnips…) and it is a very useful source of energy that prevents overloading the recipes with fat.

  • Dogs have more genes associated with the digestion of starch than their ancestor the wolf.

These genes determine the action of amylase, an enzyme produced in the pancreas that is responsible for the digestion of starch in the small intestine (in humans, amylase is also found in saliva, but not in dogs. This is thought to be due to the fact that they barely chew their food).

Today, dogs have a level of physical activity and an environment that differs greatly from their ancestors (wild dogs and wolfs).

This means that your energy and protein requirements are not exactly the same. These needs are high in pregnant and breastfeeding females or working dogs (such as sled dogs) but cannot be applied to maintenance dogs without posing a health risk (in the long run, an excess of fat can affect the pancreas or the liver).

  • Including carbohydrates in recipes provides energy and fiber while being satiating, therefore avoiding excessive consumption of protein and fat (which would not be burnt most of the times, due to a lack of adverse conditions such as cold or extended fasting, or a lack of intense physical activity)

The key is not to abuse hydrates to the detriment of other nutrients.

  • When we digest carbohydrates, we get glucose. This glucose, once absorbed, appears in our blood to then go to the tissues, where it will be used as energy. There are ingredients that cause more “uncontrolled” blood glucose levels and this effect may be undesirable in animals with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

These ingredients are considered to have a high glycemic index (for example: corn, pumpkin, parsnips, tapioca… some of them are frequent in grain free products). Others cause a rise in high intermediate glucose (such as white rice, potato, sweet potato) and others in low intermediate glucose (oats, buckwheat, brown rice and rye). Finally, there are ingredients that are considered to have a low glycemic index (such as peas, wild rice and sorghum). This blood sugar response is also influenced by the processing of the ingredient (for example, the type of grinding) and by its cooking (boiling versus baking).

  • The fiber, protein and fat content of the food helps control the glycemic index.

Hence the importance of combining ingredients properly to balance all the nutrients. Therefore, it can be said that there is not a good or bad ingredient per se, but an adequate or inadequate nutritional profile (one must speak in terms of nutrients, not of ingredients).


Bearing all these premises in mind, from Dingonatura we offer you a series of tips regarding the use of recipes with and without cereals:

1) Look for ingredients whose suppliers ensure proper storage (to avoid mites associated with allergies, and mycotoxins, for example).

2) Look for ingredients that have been carefully processed (remember that the grinding of a cereal is crucial for its nutrient profile, as well as the process of dehydration of the potato, for example).

3) Provide foods with high digestibility carbohydrates to avoid undesirable fermentations, gas formation and cases of malabsorption (which causes diarrhea or thick and malodorous stools).

4) The first ingredients in the composition of the recipe must always be of meat and/or fish origin.

4) If you provide recipes with cereals, look for the one that includes whole cereals and that meets the above requirements.

5) If you provide grain free recipes, make sure your dog is not diabetic or overweight. If that is the case, consult a nutrition specialist to assess the best option. If it is not the case, keep in mind the above-mentioned requirements on ingredients and digestibility.

6) If you think your dog has an allergy or intolerance to some cereal, consider:

  • Take your pet to the vet to rule out other causes for allergies (problems with environmental allergens or reactions to flea bites are more frequent), and if it is an ingredient, determine if it is an allergy or an intolerance (multifactorial tables being used, it is a complicated process and the conclusions are never 100% accurate).
  • Analyze the factors that may have affected your pet’s intestinal flora and offer bioavailable prebiotics and probiotics.
  • Look for natural foods that do not use strong preservatives or coloring, are not stored in silos once processed (to avoid mites) and control the presence of GMOs (transgenic) and biogenic amines (which can cause allergic symptoms).
  • Provide foods with high digestibility and rich in bioavailable omega 3.


In Dingonatura we elaborate our recipes (with and without cereals) taking into account the ingredients origin, storage, processing and cooking. We do not store the final product in silos or use preservatives that can overload the organism. Our cereals (rice and corn, depending on the selection) have been chosen very carefully, GMO-free and cooked in such a way they are presented in a state of pre-digestion, which facilitates their digestion and assimilation, reducing allergies and food intolerances to the maximum.

However, if you are interested in grain free products, we elaborate both dry food and wet recipes that may help you, as well as snacks made of potatoes and different meats to make things easier for you.