Is healthfulness the new truthiness?

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By Tracie Korol

The concept of better health through nutrition is beginning to make inroads in the minds of the American population according to The Hartman Group Inc.’s report, “Ideas in Food 2013-A Cultural Perspective.”  Gluten-free has recently become a mainstream idea and product sell, though most folks who are “going gluten free” can’t tell you why, exactly. They just don’t eat bread.  But that trend has led folks to investigate the benefits of whole grains, nuts and seeds. People are voluntarily eating nut meal, coconut “flour” and raw, sprouted, popped and puffed grains. All good.

Sugar, too, is getting it’s own red flag with high fructose corn syrup bearing the brunt of the scrutiny. Added sugar, according to Hartman, is being linked to systemic inflammation, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and a whole host of other medical ailments.  Other health/nutrition connections in human food trends, according to Hartman’s report, include eating more plant-based foods, supporting locally sourced foods and using foods as medicine (whole grains, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, botanicals). The same report tells how consumers are leaning toward “healthfulness,” whatever that means.

Let’s assume that the analysts using that particular label make a very literal interpretation — “healthfulness” equals full of health. That would be to our benefit. By extension, since pet-owning consumers treat their pets as family members, let’s hope we’re all making the same connection between health and what we feed our Best Friends.

The catch in all this is that the pet food industry is onto this trend and not necessarily in a good way.  Companies are coming out with grain-free dog food and treats, products that boast no added sugars (or dyes or artificial preservatives), and products rich in nutrition additives like omega-3s. In addition, the market for senior dog and weight management products has skyrocketed.  There are new products with new claims for healthfulness coming out every week. The idea of truthiness begins to creep in.  What is real, what are we as consumers to believe and what is the next best thing? Do we really need the next best thing and does our dog need the next best thing?

As the fluidity of human food trends and pet food trends increases, it brings up unique concerns for the pet owner/consumer. You may have noticed, pets are different from people and their nutritional needs are different, too. Some human trends such as gluten-free can be unnecessary or even dangerous when cross-applied.  Trends that actually serve our animals in the pet food and treat category are grain-free, species appropriate, whole, less processed, healthy, safe, and USA sourced.  A trend that does not serve, for instance, is a claim of “natural”. Hemlock is natural but I don’t want my dog eating it.

As a consumer, I am one of those crashing bores who clog up the grocery aisle when reading the labels of whatever I want to purchase. It’s important to me to know what I’m eating. And even more important, I want to know what my dog friends are eating. Even though I haven’t bought a processed kibble in years, for fun, I’ll flip the bags of “new and improved” to if it IS really new and improved.  And guess what? Usually it’s not. Mostly, the manufacturers have changed what’s printed on the bag.

When you feed your Best Friend food that you recognize and you’d eat, then “truthiness” of the seller and “healthfulness” of the manufacturer will become apparent. By doing your homework, learning what ALL the words on the pet food bag mean, and by researching quality products, you’ll skip truthiness and help assure a better quality of life for the Best Friend in your house.