Pulses for Your Pets - PulseResearch
April 25, 2017
Exploring the benefits of pulse-based pet food
How can you make pet food healthier and cheaper to produce, while also lowering the risk of glucose toxicity or diabetes in pets?
By making it with pulse starch instead of corn starch. That is the hypothesis of Dr. Lynn Weber, who is leading Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) funded research that aims to build scientific evidence showing that pet food made from pulse starch instead of corn starch is healthier for your pets, particularly carnivores.
“The slower digestibility of pulse starches allows more time for the body of any species, but particularly carnivores, to deal with glucose before levels get too high, thereby reducing or erasing glucose toxicity,” she says. “Carnivores have evolved to eat low starches, primarily meat, in their diet.”
Dr. Weber’s research will explore the use of slowly digestible pulse starches from pea, lentil, and faba bean in pet food, with the intention to prove that these starches will produce lower glycemic index levels in carnivores, lower insulin levels, and fewer adverse health effects compared to corn starch, which is more rapidly digested.
“Since corn starch is digested much more rapidly than pulse starches, leading to great spikes in blood glucose after a meal rich in corn starch, it presents a greater risk for glucose toxicity,” Dr. Weber says.
In order to investigate, the research will involve carnivorous species, including cats and rainbow trout, and omnivorous species, including dogs and tilapia, and will compare their ability to digest carbohydrates, their glycemic responses to single feedings, and their health effects in feeding trials. Although the research aims to show health benefits for carnivorous pets, Dr. Weber also thinks results will be positive for omnivores.
“We think that pulse-based foods will be healthier for all species, because even in an omnivore (although they generally control glucose well) lower peaks in glucose after eating pulse starch will still be healthier,” she says.
The research will also look at how the commercial food manufacturing process affects the health benefits of pulse starches. “Because the extrusion process to produce pet food in dry pelleted form involves treating the starch with heat and moisture and then rapidly cooling it, it can affect the structure and digestibility of the starches,” Dr. Weber says. “What we do not know, and are intending to find out, is to what degree the pulse starches lose their beneficial starch structure during cooking and to what degree it can be regained during rapid cooling,” she says. “We suspect that both processes will be better than corn starch.”
Dr. Weber’s research, which aims to be completed in the summer of 2016, will provide the pulse industry with the information it needs to better market pulses in the pet food and aquaculture markets. Given that the pet food market in the United States was worth an estimated $21.26 billion USD last year, this is an investment that will have high long-term value for all stakeholders, with pet food already being a significant and growing market for pulses.
“If pulse starches are shown to be healthier for pets or allow good aquaculture production compared to corn starch, this will be used as marketing support for pulse starch use in pet foods and aquaculture feeds,” Dr. Weber says. “A greater share of this market for Saskatchewan-grown pulses would benefit all of Saskatchewan, not just the growers.”
SPG Investment: $207,000
Co-Funders: Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council, Alliance Grain Traders, and Horizon Pet Foods (collectively $387,000)
Project Lead: Dr. Lynn Weber, Associate Professor, Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan