I love food. I think it’s magical. I love perusing the mountains of fresh produce at the market and knowing that I have the power to take those raw ingredients and create nourishing meals for myself and for my friends and for my family. I love knowing that these meals have the power to make us feel good and look good and smell good (what? Tex is family too). I truly believe Hippocrates was onto something and the key to a long and healthy life begins with nutrition.
Despite my love of whole, natural, fresh and healthful foods, I hate the word superfood.
I really do. To me it reeks of marketing and fads, which are completely at odds with everything I believe and that which is dear to my heart about nutrition. You know what’s a superfood? Broccoli. Eggs. Bananas. Lemons. Avocado. Garlic. I could go on (and on) but I suspect you get my drift. Barely a day goes by that I don’t include some or all of these foods in my diet. Barely a day goes by that I do include goji berries, acai or bee pollen (because it tastes like dust, I tried).
I don’t doubt that these foods live up to their nutritional hype. But I think this hyping up of exotic wonder-foods can be incredibly damaging, not just to your bank balance but also in the sense that it unnecessarily over complicates nutrition. I’d bet my imaginary farm that professional wellness Instagrammers don’t actually eat magazine ready smoothie bowls covered in mosaics of tropical fruit and chia seeds for breakfast every day. But by selling this picture perfect ideal of what constitutes healthy food we risk making people feed inadequate for not living up to these unrealistic expectations of what it means to eat well, thus isolating them from this completely attainable goal.
When I feel inadequate the likelihood that I will eat cheese on toast and a block of chocolate for dinner increases exponentially.
I have absolutely no problem with people eating fancy Clark Kent foods, don’t get me wrong. I have a problem with promoting the idea that they are necessary additions to a healthy diet.
The reason I bring this up in relation to dogs is because I believe the shift toward feeding our dogs better is a natural and logical progression from feeding ourselves better, so we need to be careful not to follow this same path of getting caught up in fads.
I am certainly not against supplementation. I take a multivitamin when I feel like I need to and I sometimes-not-always routinely include foods like spirulina, chia seeds and Brazil nuts in my diet for a nutritional boost. What I don’t agree with, for humans too but particularly for canines, is supplementing for the sake of it and if you’ve read anything I’ve written thus far you probably already know that. But that’s because I don’t want you to waste your time and money, and I don’t want your dog to suffer negative effects of unnecessary or ill-advised supplementation.
In the case of dogs, I consider pretty much anything that’s not meat and bones to be a supplement in the sense that it provides supplementary or additional health benefits on top of the main diet. I don’t deal in supplements in the form of anything that could be considered medication because I am not a vet, I am a nutritionist. I deal in food.
And finally we arrive at the point! There are some wonderful natural food items that can provide supplementary benefits to your dogs’ health without breaking the bank or requiring that you import anything from the Amazon. The following are five of my favourites.
Kefir is kind of like nature’s Yakult. The importance of maintaining a healthy gut through balancing bacteria in the digestive system can’t be understated. Gut health is linked to vitamin production, breaking down of toxins, fighting harmful bacteria and even mental health¹. If your dog is fed a varied natural diet of mainly meat and bones their gut is probably already fairly well balanced, but prevention is better than cure. Adding small amounts of kefir can assist to maintain gut health by providing a huge whack of good bacteria and beneficial yeast, which combat bad bacteria and destructive pathogenic yeast². If your dog has recently been on antibiotics or steroids or they eat a diet high in grains, kefir can assist to get the gut back in balance and reduce digestive stress (although it will not fix the ill-effects of an improper diet without also actually changing the diet itself). Similar-ish to yogurt, kefir is a fermented milk product made from kefir grains and can be purchased fairly inexpensively in most health and whole food stores, or you can make it yourself.
Yes, bone broth. I ranted for 600 words about food fads and then I jumped straight to recommending that you feed your dog bone broth. Bone broth is incredibly simple and inexpensive to make and can add loads of nutrients to your dogs diet that support their health, particularly when it comes to joints and the gut. It can be especially useful if your dog is recovering from an illness as dogs will often naturally fast when they’re unwell, but feeding broth ensures they still receive nutrients necessary for their recovery, without the digestive work. If kefir is nature’s Yakult, bone broth is nature’s chicken soup.
The evidence in support of feeding your dog honey is largely anecdotal (so… not actually evidence at all) but it suggests that honey can potentially assist in the relief and prevention of seasonal allergies. It does this by providing small doses of pollen and essentially building up a tolerance, so that when pollen enters your dog via the nose or skin the body is protected from an over active immune response that may trigger an allergy³. In order for this to work the honey must contain the same strains of pollen that are in the air, so it must be local, organic and raw.
Sea vegetables are one of the best sources of trace minerals available and one of the richest plant sources of minerals, particularly iodine. Unlike most other plant material, sea vegetables are easily digested by dogs so the nutrients present are easily absorbed. Particularly notable benefits of sea vegetables are their ability to assist with thyroid function and prevent build ups of heavy metals4. These must be fed in careful moderation as they are very potent sources of iodine a too much can have the opposite intended effect.
Garlic is the most controversial thing I’m going to mention here, and that controversy is not entirely without merit. The reason for this is that garlic contains thiosulphate, which can cause haemolytic anaemia and damage red blood cells5. In reality a healthy dog would likely need to consume a lot of garlic to experience problems, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. In small therapeutic doses garlic has antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic properties, while also making your dog less desirable to fleas.
These are just a few foods that can be fed to healthy dogs (and cats) for a nutritional boost. I have included many, many more in my products to transition your pet to an entirely fresh diet.
Olsen L (2010) Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs, Revised: The Definitive Guide to Homemade Meals. Dharma Café Books. Berkley, California.
Kovalkovicová N, Sutiaková I, Pistl J and Sutiak V (2009) Some toxic food for pets. Interdiscip Toxicol 2: 169-176.