Spicing Up Life: The Importance Of Variety

This post follows “Thinking and Speaking: Protein“. (Click to open that post in a new tab.)

In Thinking and Speaking: Protein we covered what a protein actually is, and why it matters that you as a raw feeder know what it is. In this section I’d like to talk about meat and animal products, the different nutrients they contain, and why it’s important to feed a varied diet.


In the last post we learned (or were reminded) that protein is a strand of amino acids. Plants and animals have lots of different versions of their own proteins, the configuration of which is dictated by genes. Let’s continue talking about protein for a little bit, then we’ll discuss other nutrients.

Here are some figures that show a few food sources of protein. It doesn’t take too close of a look to see that grains (e.g., rice and wheat) and legumes (e.g., black beans) contain a lot more protein than vegetables, but the animal products give you the most amino acid ‘bang’ for your food ‘buck’. It takes a lot of rice or even beans to get the overall protein content and subsequent amino acids of less meat.

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Let’s now introduce a theoretical example: Let’s suppose we have a 50-pound dog who eats a pound-and-a-half of raw food on average per day. in other words that is 3% of its body-weight daily. This same dog might require 1000 kcal (calories) per day in whatever format of food — raw, kibble, canned, cooked food. The table below (and in part one of this article) details the protein and amino acid requirements for our example dog. (REMEMBER, it’s perfectly fine to let amounts and nutrients balance over time, so a dog does not need to eat exactly the same amount or same items daily to achieve ‘recommended daily allowance’. The RDA is an averaged figure. Example amounts for our example dog are also just very theoretical. If you have a 50 pound dog this might or very well might not apply to your dog.)

Sidetrack: When I was trying to come up with reasonable feeding parameters for the example dog for this post I went on a little tangent and spent the better part of an evening with a calculator and various forms of data trying to determine a pattern in calorie density between kibble and raw, and the requirements of each for weight maintenance and good body condition. What I learned was pretty interesting. See the information presented in Coal’s Calories: A Case Study.

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Sidebar: Unfortunately nutrition is not a simple matter of required nutrients equaling how much one should eat. Something to consider is that knowing how much of a nutrient is present in a food fails to tell us is how it’s actually metabolized in a body, and therefore how much of a nutrient is actually being utilized for purposes of growth or maintenance or energy. This is also called “bioavailability“. (This is why you see the figure “ME” or metabolizable energy” when you’re looking at calorie information for processed foods. For more info on this, you can start here.) I’ll remind the reader that for the purposes of this discussion I’m not going into these kinds of specifics, and offer the tables and info for comparison purposes only.

Meat is the name of the game for a carnivore. Carnivorous animals have bodies that are adapted to getting what they need for energy, growth, and maintenance from eating other animals. As raw feeders we know that. What often gets overlooked — even as people who understand that grains are not as suitable as meat as a base for a diet — is that all meat isn’t exactly the same, either. Not only do meat and other animal products vary from species to species, but they vary quite a bit within the same animal! Look at this chart of protein values for different cuts of meat and how the individual amino acids are distributed.

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Notice how the chicken breast and chicken thigh, and the two cuts of beef have different overall protein contents and different amino acid profiles even though they come from the same animal? This is one very important illustration of why it’s so important to vary the diet, not just in terms of the different animal products you feed (chicken, beef, pork, etc.) but in the cuts and even sources of the meats and animal products you select. The more of an animal you feed (e.g, a whole chicken instead of just leg quarters all the time) the better chance you have of covering your nutritional bases nicely. Rotation and variation reduces or even eliminates the need to be crunching numbers all the time, or — more realistically — to be feeling like you should be crunching numbers all the time and worrying about what you’re providing instead. Remember the figures in these tables are just averages and generalizations. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers. The take-away should be the importance of not focusing too much on one cut of meat or one type of animal in the overall diet.

A common pitfall I see people plunging into is “what’s BETTER“? The answer is that even the meats with the highest numbers aren’t necessarily better. It’s all just different, and feeding a varied diet will ensure that both lower amounts and higher amounts of nutrients will have the chance to be balanced — I actually prefer the word ‘tempered’ — by everything else you feed.

What… You question that he’s an actual professor? Look at that Argyle vest!

So far we’ve just looked at protein and amino acid content of foods. Going back to the previous post, remember when I used the example of someone asking, “How many vitamins are in a protein?” The answer is literally none. Animals and meats do contain vitamins, though, and dogs and cats need certain vitamins to come from their diet. Here’s a table of the levels of vitamins present in the same cuts of meat and animals from the last table. Following that is a table of minerals.

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Now… everyone who has a basic idea of how to deliver a raw diet knows that you have to feed meat, bones, and organs for a diet to be complete. Ever wonder why that is exactly? It’s because the skeletal and cardiac muscles and bones of an animal don’t contain everything a carnivore needs. There are important nutrients in the organs of prey animals, and they have to be part of a raw diet for a carnivore to be healthy. See all the zeros and the tenths of micrograms on the vitamin table for meat products? While some essential nutrients only need to be fed in very small amounts, most of the low numbers there would not be sufficient to keep a carnivore healthy. Now look at this table of organ nutrients. Not only will you see why organ meats are needed, but at the same time you’ll see why you don’t need to feed a whole lot relative to the rest of the diet! Most raw feeders know that you have to feed organs. Now you know why! Variation is not only applicable to meat, but the other components of the diet as well.

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So, remember to add the proverbial “spice of life” to your pets’ diets to ensure good health and save yourself anguish over whether or not you’re providing a ‘complete’ and ‘balanced’ diet. Just remember to keep it in perspective and within the constraints of reality: It is NOT necessary to seek out the most exotic of meats and animal products in the name of ‘variety’. Paying $45/pound for imported wildebeest loin is not going to make or break your dog’s diet. Picking up the weirdest looking fish at the market isn’t going to give you some super-combo of nutrients that doesn’t exist in more accessible meats. In fact, the opposite might very well be true. The recurring trend you may have noticed by now on Pack Lunch is that I implore you to think back to your ‘prey model‘ when you experience feelings of doubt. The numbers and charts are all kind of fun, really. For those folks who like seeing things laid out like this it’s a comfort, but more than the numbers telling us what we should feed, we’re really more “showing our work” and giving ourselves a proof.

After a couple posts worth of numbers, numbers, and more numbers, I’d like to really drive home the fact that every single last figure in all these charts is a generalization and an average. Though they come from reputable and recognized entities, the numbers are entirely dependent on how much information was collected from how many individual animals and parts, over what period of time, in what geographical location, what lab testing methods were used, and on and on and on….. Think about the fact that though chickens and cows may all be about the same size as each other, they’re not exactly. They’re animals. They’re individuals no matter how much care is taken to breed them to certain standards. Bone structure will differ due to breed, season, the food they eat (the information presented in this and the last post applies to food animals as much as those eating them), and all sorts of stuff. If you get a pack of chicken leg quarters are they ever all exactly the same? No. Is a pack of steaks just a pack of steaks and all exactly the same? No. One might be bigger because it’s cut from the middle, another a bit smaller, and there’s always that one that has a vein of gristle or lump of fat. Not uniform. Hot dogs are the same, but hot dogs are the kibble version of people food! Ground up, mixed up, and squirted thru a machine that makes uniform pieces. So ditch the uniformity and toss your need for square holes for square pegs. Whether is a rotation over days or weeks, or something different every day, keep it different, keep it interesting, and keep it healthy.


NOTE:

For calculation of “average” calories in a serving of meat I looked at the calories-per-ounce data from www.nutritiondata.self.com for chicken breast (32 kcal/oz), beef sirloin (40), domestic rabbit (38), wild salmon (41), and venison (44). The average of those is 38.8. I think 40 kcal/ounce is a perfectly reasonable round number to work with for the purpose of our discussion.

 

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