What is the Glycemic Index, and Why It's Important for Your Cat and Dog's Diet
It’s completely understandable if you are wondering what the Glycemic Index is and why learning more about it is important for both you and your pet.Simply stated, the type of food your pet consumes matters! Especially when your goal is to not only provide your beloved fur baby with a nutritious diet that will help maintain their health, but also enhance their quality of life and increase their longevity.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
By definition, “Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking system that measures the rate at which ingested food containing carbohydrates causes the level of glucose in the blood to rise.” More pointedly, the GI measures both the relative rate of how quickly, along with how high, the blood sugar level increases in your dog or cat when specific carbohydrates are consumed.
In reference to the Glycemic Index there are two types of foods: Low GI foods and high GI foods.
Low GI foods are those that contain carbohydrates which are digested at a slower rate- these low GI foods help our pets sustain energy for long periods of time.
High GI foods are those that have carbohydrates which are digested quickly, resulting in an immediate spike of energy, and are typically followed by a rapid crash.
Using the Glycemic Index has become a common tool in evaluating different types of pet foods on the market. According to the index, foods are rated on a scale of 1 to 100, with Low GI foods having a rating of 55 or under, Mid GI foods with a rating of 56-69, and High GI foods with one of 70 or higher. Subsequently, a higher index means that there is a greater risk for an unhealthy spike in blood sugar for your cat/dog.
*If you remember that raw glucose/sugar has a GI of 100 it will help you understand the index a bit better when you refer to it. The Index will be an invaluable tool when it comes to choosing healthier choices for your canine/feline and determining the ‘right’ food for your pet’s individual needs.
Now let’s take a look at some of the common ingredients found in pet foods and their glycemic values.
Low GI Foods
- Barley 25
- Lentils 29
- Apple 38
- Carrots 47
- Yams 37
- Brown rice 55
- Sprouts 25
- Artichoke 15
- Green Beans 15
- Sweet potato 50
- Blueberries 44
- Peas 48
High GI Foods
- Potatoes 76
- White Rice 72
- Tapioca 56
- Papaya 56
Why the Glycemic Index Is Important to Your Dog and Cat
The Glycemic Index is important to your pets because it determines the amount of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) your dog or cat is consuming and how it affects their health.
According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, 52.7% of dogs and 57.9% of cats in the U.S. are clinically overweight or obese. Unfortunately, those percentages mean a substantial number of dogs and cats have weight related issues that can develop into serious health conditions and illnesses.
Not all pet foods that contain carbohydrates are created equal
So why is knowing the amount and type of carbohydrates your pet consumes important?
Many carbohydrates consumed by dogs and cats are rapidly absorbed and converted into glucose—which results in a quick source of energy that becomes stored in the muscles and liver. It is this rapid rise in blood glucose that can trigger the insulin response in the body—more specifically the pancreas. This effect can also put a strain on the pancreas as it struggles to ‘keep up’ to produce enough insulin.
Similar to their human counterparts, when a dog or cat’s blood sugar levels become too high, it often is a precursor to low activity and obesity. Why does it occur? Because although glucose is used as a quick source of energy, when there is an excessive amount of glucose present in the bloodstream, it becomes stored as fat.
This disproportionate amount of glucose in the bloodstream can be detrimental to our pets. Over time it can result in a greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes (cats) and Diabetes Mellitus (dogs), as well as osteoarthritis, hypertension, hyperglycemia, heart disease and cancer- along with a number of other weight related conditions.
How Can You Tell Which Foods Have a Low or High Glycemic Index?
While you won’t be able to actually discern the glycemic load on your own, there are many online resources that provide the index itself with help for understanding how it works and what kind of pet food you should look for.
Check out this Glycemic Index from the University of Sydney here: glycemicindex.com
Although the Glycemic Index is an essential tool in determining what foods are identified as those having a low or high GI, it would also be beneficial to familiarize yourself with the term ‘glycemic load.’
Glycemic Load or GL is a measure of both the quality and quantity of a carbohydrate in a food. It indicates the amount of carbohydrate in a serving of food with how quickly it raises blood glucose levels in your pet.
To calculate the glycemic load of certain foods you’ll need to refer to the Index and know the amount of carbohydrate in a particular food using this formula:
GL=GI x grams of carbohydrates /100
Here is a simple example of determining the glycemic load of white rice:
A portion size of around 2/3 cup of white rice has about 36 grams of available carbohydrates and a glycemic
index of 72. Therefore, your math equation is as follows:
72 x 36 = 2,592 / 100 = 26 glycemic load
If you need help figuring out the glycemic load Omni Calculator provides a Glycemic Load calculator on their website that can be quite useful: www.omnicalculator.com
While the Glycemic index is helpful in making good food choices for your pet, the Glycemic load helps determine how portion sizes of various foods compare with each other in regard to the effect it has on your pet’s blood glucose level.
To learn more about the Glycemic Load visit www.diabetes.co.uk
Whether you purchase your pet food at the store or order online, the best advice is to look at the label. Does it have a short list of ingredients (the shorter the better)? Do you recognize the ingredients? Can you even pronounce them? You’ll also want to know the carbohydrate (sugar/starches) count along with the percentages of fats, proteins, fiber, calories, etc. Another useful tip- many low glycemic options for both wet and dry kibble also tend to be grain-free.
Spring Naturals - Certified Low-Glycemic Dog and Cat Food
Spring Naturals Dinners for pets are the first to be certified low-glycemic, for a heart-healthy, low-carb diet that staves off diabetes and helps your pet maintain a healthy weight. Our limited ingredient dog and cat food are formulated to be the most nutritionally balanced kibble available today.
Because we love our pets.
- No poultry, lamb or fish meat-meals
- No wheat, gluten, corn, soy, rice, potatoes, or by-products
- No starch additives such as tapioca or potato starch
- No artificial preservatives, flavors or colors
- Never any fillers, by-products, or split proteins. EVER.
The Benefits of Providing Your Pet with a Low GI Carb Diet
- Can improve/minimize diabetes symptoms
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Reduces blood cholesterol levels
- Satisfies hunger and keeps your cat/dog feeling fuller for longer
- Aids in prolonging physical endurance
It’s important to note the FDA doesn’t evaluate glycemic claims and there is no current accepted protocol for investigating GI for pet foods. This is primarily because of the complexity in determining an actual GI value for the many pet foods on the market.
The challenge in determining the true GI values of a dog or cat food is the food itself and the manner in which it is cooked. Most pet foods are made with a combination of ingredients with diverse chemical and physical structures and are also prepared by various cooking methods (how refined or processed the food is); which sometimes makes it difficult to truly access the GI values.
In addition to the GI value being affected by the food itself and the way it is prepared, it is important to note that not every pet will have a similar glycemic response to the same food. So, even though GI values applied to pet foods are general guidelines, they may not suit your pet’s specific needs nor are they consistent for the dog/cat population as a whole.
Yet, with overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of a healthy low GI diet, the Glycemic Index is one of the best guides for pet owners looking for healthier, more nutritious food options for their dog/cat- especially when it comes to weight management and other weight-related illnesses.
Bottom line…even though the Glycemic Index has proven to be a useful guideline in making healthier food choices for your pet, you should always consult with your veterinarian to determine a nutritional diet that works best for your dog or cat’s individual needs.