How sweet is it?

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By Tracie Korol

Dr. Robert Lustig, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, reappeared in the news last week on the media tour for his new book, “Fat Chance,” a scientific and passionate diatribe against processed food in general and sugar, in particular.  Dr. Lustig argues that high fructose corn sugar is the major culprit behind the country’s explosive obesity rates. Sugar has poisoned the food supply and is altering people’s biology, compelling them to eat more and move less. Eat more, move less?  Does this sound like anyone at your house? Perhaps, your somewhat lumpy Best Friend snoring away on the couch?

It is estimated about 90 million dogs and cats in the U.S. are not only overweight, but obese, and part of the problem is the sugar pet food manufacturers are now adding to processed kibble and treats. Beet pulp sugar (not to be confused with bed pulp fiber), sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup (a derivative of corn starch), and molasses are the most widely used sweeteners in the pet food industry.

The sugar problem is linked to money — lots of it. With U.S. pet food sales estimated to be $19.85 billion (yes, that’s billion) in 2011, the food bowl is solid platinum. As with humans, sugar is equally attractive to dogs. If a dog gobbles a treat quickly, an owner is more likely to give another — and another. It makes us feel good but it also adds up to more sales — and profits — and calories. In the race for pet treat profits, our pets’ health is being bankrupted.

Corn syrup is also known (and approved) as an effective “humectant and plasticizer,” and is the ingredient that gives the product dampness and flexibility — think, those rubbery, spongy pellets in the individual-serving pouches. These ingredients cause chaos in your pets. All sugars produce the same highs and lows stressing the pancreas and adrenals which, when chronic, results in diabetes. Corn syrup dilutes nutrients in the diet by providing only empty calories devoid of vitamins, minerals, proteins or fats, and can over-stimulate the production of insulin and acidic digestive juices, just like it does with humans.  Not only does it interfere with an animal’s ability to absorb proteins, calcium and other minerals, it also inhibits proper growth of useful intestinal bacteria for assimilation of these nutrients. Sweeteners have also been linked to behavioral problems such as aggression and hyperactivity. And then there’s that tooth decay problem.

Whether it’s corn syrup used as a thickener or dextrose used to evenly distribute moisture, sugar adds calories to a dog’s diet that do nothing but add pounds, according to veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Larsen, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Davis. “Sugar has a role in the physical and taste characteristics of many products, helping to mask bitter flavors imparted by acidifying agents or changing the texture of specific treat types,” she said.  Remember, our dogs are not that discriminating; if it’s sweet, they’re less apt to spit out the artificial piggy synthetic chemical compound kinda-looks-like-bacon thing.

Limiting treats to 10% of a pet’s caloric intake can help, as can swapping commercial pet treats for fresh human foods. “Owners forget that human foods, especially fruits and vegetables, make excellent and healthy treats, which are more cost-effective than commercial pet treats,” said Larsen. Apples, sweet potatoes, berries and carrots, for example, are terrific treats, made even better because your Best Friend will know you’ve put his health first.