Linda Arndt ~ Canine Nutritional Consultant

Grain Free Diets for Dogs


When designing a grain free pet food, we still have to recognize that some carbohydrates are important for nutritional value and fiber. In some grain free foods, they like to use potato (white) and this becomes a problem for dogs with diabetes, systemic yeast or cancer. That is why grain free foods I recommend are those with garbanzo bean (chick peas) and yellow or green peas, due to their low glycemic index. In other words, they BURN slower and do not make the glucose levels spike in the body like some carbohydrate grains.

The Holistic Grain Free pet foods that I recommend, that contain healthy carbohydrates are the following two foods. These are my preference, but I have also listed some others if you are unable to get either of these foods. These can also be rotated and they do support growth even for giant breeds. They are not out of the calorie range that is too high for growth.

Just don't free choice feed any large/giant breeds and go by Amount To Feed Chart:

Precise Holistic Complete Grain Free Lamb/Turkey  27%protein 17% fat
Calories 409 per cup

Precise Holistic Complete Grain Free Pork - 26% protein 16% fat
Calories 411 per cup

Note: All of the Precise Grain Free foods CAN be fed to a dog with systemic yeast issues, cancer, diabetes and most allergies.
Another option if Precise is not available to you is:

Nutri Source Grain Free - Heartland Select Bison - 25 protein 15% fat - Calories 432 per cup
Nutri Source Grain Free - Heartland Select Seafood - 25 % protein/15% fat - Calories 432 per cup
Nutri Source Grain Free - Heartland Select Chicken - 28% protein 18% fat - Calories 473 per cup
Nutri Source Grain Free - Heartland Select Lamb - 28% protein - 18% fat - Calories 506 per cup

Note: These foods CAN be used for dogs on a systemic yeast program because there is no potato in them. The GF Lamb and the GF Chicken are very calorie dense foods and not for large/giant breed puppy growth. The Lamb and Chicken are "working dog" foods due to their high calorie count. _____________________________________________________________________________
Nutri Source Grain Free Large Breed Adult Chicken - 23% protein 14% fat - Calories 489 per cup
Nutri Source Grain Free Large Breed Lamb Adult - 23% protein - 14% fat- Calories 441 per cup

Note: These two GF foods work well for healthy dogs with no system yeast issues and for Large/Giant Breed Adults. I have not done growth trials on these two foods for giant puppies, but if you want to feed one of them I would suggest the Lamb, because it has a lower calorie count per cup. Once the calories get much over 400 calories per cup you really have to watch your dogs growth carefully.  For dogs that are not currently in a systemic yeast removal program,  the sweet potato in these two foods a valuable beta carotene nutritional component for healthy dogs.

Options in Canada

PureVita Grain Free Adult -Bison - 26% protein 15% fat - Calories 462 per cup
PureVita Grain Free Adult Salmon - 24% protein 16% fat - Calories 454 per cup
PureVita Grain Free Adult Turkey - 24% protein 16% fat - Calories 454 per cup

Note: These foods are good food for healthy dogs but NOT appropriate for dogs on a systemic yeast removal program due to the sweet potato component in the foods.

All the foods I have listed above have spring yellow peas or green peas as a healthy low glycemic carbohydrate.

Here is a good article from WebMD that explains more about spring yellow peas and how they are a healthy carbohydrate. Yellow peas are in all of the foods I have listed above.

Yellow Pea Flour a Healthy, Inexpensive Way to Create Lower Glycemic Index Foods
ByJennifer Warner
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 28, 2009 -- Yellow pea flour may help prevent and manage type 2diabetes by replacing whole wheat flour as an ingredient in creating low glycemic index foods.
A new study suggests that yellow pea flour may be an inexpensive substitute for wheat flour to create healthier, low glycemic index versions of typically high glycemic index foods, such as cookies, breads, and pasta.

The glycemic index (GI) of a food refers to the spike in blood sugar (glucose) levels produced after eating it. High glycemic index foods produce a more rapid spike in blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for people with type 2 diabetes who need to keep their blood sugar levels under control to prevent complications.

Researchers say pulses, including yellow peas, are now being studied as potential functional ingredients in foods because they possess a number of health benefits. They are high in fiber, protein, and antioxidants and are low in fat. Eating whole pulses has also been shown to lower glucose levels after meals.

But they say few studies have looked at the feasibility of producing foods with pulse-derived ingredients that are good to eat as well as good for you.

Low GI Flour Alternative

In the study, published in the Journal of Food Science, researcher Christopher Marinangeli, MSc, RD, of the University of Manitoba and colleagues created banana bread, biscotti, and pasta using whole yellow pea flour. They then compared the glucose responses of 19 healthy men and women who ate the new yellow pea flour and traditional whole wheat flour versions of the foods.

The results showed that whole yellow pea flour banana bread and biscotti produced lower glycemic responses compared to white bread, and whole yellow pea flour biscotti produced a more favorable glycemic index response than whole wheat flour biscotti.
The whole yellow pea flour pasta, however, did not show any difference in glycemic index response compared to traditional whole wheat pasta. Researchers say this may be because of the pasta’s exposure to water during cooking, which may affect absorption of the carbohydrates from the pasta.

The participants rated the appearance, smell, taste, texture, and overall appeal of the foods on a scale of one (dislike very much) to five (like very much). All of the whole yellow pea flour foods scored above a 3 on all categories except “texture” for the biscotti, which had an average rating of 2.6 in that category, and “smell” for the whole yellow pea flour pasta, which scored an average of 2.9.

Researchers conclude that the results support the use of whole yellow pea flour as an alternative ingredient in producing "tasty, low glycemic foods that help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.”

Other Things to Ponder About Grain Free Diets

I get many emails asking my opinion of the new grain-free diets on the market. These are fairly new foods and actually a spin-off of the BARF- biologically appropriate raw foods movement --except they are not a raw diet. Now just because it is grain free diet does not means it has all the enzymes intact, as a raw diet does because grain free diets are still processed.

All commercial pet foods are missing dietary enzymes; kibble, homemade or even raw diet that has been stored before eaten, and NO one seems to get this concept. Therefore regardless of what way you want to feed your pet, you still need to add dietary enzymes to your pet's feeding program. Please take time to read my CORE 4 Philosophy of Wellness Article.

Also because it is a grain free diet does not mean there are no carbohydrates in the grain free food. Instead they substitute potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, tapioca, peas or chickpeas as other carb sources. For me, white potato is a poor ingredient to use and sure not appropriate for dog suffering from systemic yeast issues ,so pick a grain free that does not have potato in it like the Precise Grain Free pet foods.

My preference for grain free diets whether it is for a systemic yeast problem or no problems at all are the new Precise Grain Free foods, canned and dry. They do support growth as well, just make sure not to free feed large/giant breeds and go by my Amount to Feed Chart.

Precise Holistic Complete Grain Free Lamb/Turkey  27%protein 17% fat
Precise Holistic Complete Grain Free Pork - 26% protein 16% fat

I feel white potato based carbohydrates are worse for allergies, systemic yeast infections, diabetic and cancer diets - than quality whole ground grains used in the proper proportion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a carbohydrate component of high quality grains such as; oats, brown rice, quinoa or amaranth grains. USED IN PROPER PORPORTION and not as a protein source, but as a carbohydrate source.

The latest research in Europe shows us that true performance dogs have no stamina on Grain Free formulas, they tend to run hot, fast, then plumet. What t works best for these preformance dogs is a meat based diet from multiple protein sources (from meats), high fat and then as a low carbohydrate source - ideally a blend of oats/brown rice OR oats/corn (high quality/low gluten corn) in order to sustain high energy performance levels. It has been shown that with a quality intact ground grain, low carb component, that the aniaml is better able to balance the insulin and glucose levels, expecially when the dog is working. There has been NO real research done by any company on grain free foods at this point.

Now the good thing about the grain free diets is that they are generally made by very good holistic companies like Precise Pet Foods, or Nutri-Source, PureVita, or Golden Eagle (overseas).
You also have Petcurean, Wysong, available and for dehydrated grain frees look at Honest Kitchen and Answers+ and Addiction. I have eliminated Orijen and Evo from my list of grain free due to excessive protein and calcium levels..and because Evo is now owned by Proctor and Gamble, makers of Iams and Eukanuba. This company does not fit my criteria for foods I recommend on my list of better foods. I have removed Taste of the Wild because it is a Diamond product and likewise does not fit my criteria for my puppy buyer.

Remember, you still have to add your dietary enzymes to Grain Free diets like all other diets because they are processed, but that is easy to accomplish by using one of my CORE 4 Supplement Kits. (See Core 4).

So Are Grains Good or Bad?

There is some notion out there in cyberspace that grains are bad, when in fact grains are only bad when they are fractioned, of poor quality and used as the basis for commercial foods. In other words grain is listed first on the label.

In super premium and holistic lines, grains are used as carbohydrate components, not as protein and not as filler, and that is good thing. Plus the quality of grains use in holistic and super premium lines is grade#1 Human Grade or Organic. This means low gluten components in the grains.

Grains are bad when they are:

1) fractionated (not ground whole)
2) when they are not human grade or organic
3) when they are the basis for commercial dog foods (grain listed first instead of meat protein based).

The biggest grain bashing myth was started by a west coast dog food company years ago, (maker of a Lamb/Rice Diet) stating that corn causes allergies. The fact is Human Grade #1 corn is one of the best natural sources of coat and skin conditioners like Omega 6, and it is low in gluten and lacking gliadins - which cause gluten intolerance. It has an overall digestibility is 90% and carbohydrate digestibility is 99%.

Here is more information on the Corn Myth as it relates to allergies. Let's face it NO one wants a grain based dog food any more, those days are long gone when corn was the first thing listed on the lable and it went in yellow and came out yellow and we suffered many losses due to bloat from fermented poor quality grains in dog foods.


In 2005 one of the most respected holistic dog food companies decided to pull the corn from their foods only because they had pressure from consumers to do so. This decision to remove the corn was not based in any kind of research, but just because they bowed to public pressure. They removed the corn and now had a "grain-less" holistic food which is what the public clamored for in a pet food.

After test feeding the diet over a long period of time they witnessed several changes in the dogs energy levels, coat and body weight. All were negative effects. The dogs had significant weight loss, it took much more food to maintain the dogs weight, coats became brittle and the dog's energy levels plummeted, real working dogs were lacking in endurance. After seeing this results over many months of feed trial research, they decided to put the Grade 1# whole corn back into their holistic diet - as a carbohydrate source, and after thousands of bags were sold not one allergy was reported.

I have found in dealing with dogs that are diabetic or have cancer, that when we totally remove the grain from the diet, their energy level plummets. So using a very high quality, high protein/fat diet with some component of whole grain is actual a good thing. Remember if it is ground whole, the fiber is intact - if there is natural fiber present, the grain does not convert to sugar in a flash, it burns slow and steady and sustains energy levels and appetites.

Dr. Harvey addresses this issue in his article: Grain to Provide Storage Glycogen

As Dr. Harvey states "Every athlete knows that taking in pasta or grain loading prior to an athletic event, provides the necessary storage glycogen for the athlete to have sufficient glucose for muscle performance for the duration activity. This glucose is necessary for all muscle function."

He goes on to talk about the value of whole grains, precooked and/or freeze dried grains in a diet. The key is the diet should NOT be grain based, but instead should be based in protein from quality meat sources.

Now it is true that dogs get their energy levels from fat, not grains , like in humans. And a blend of fats in a food is very important due to differing levels at which they are burned. This is critical for performance dogs in particular. Some component of whole grains are vital in a food in order to have proper insulin and glucose function especially when they are preforming/working.

Dr. Harvey says "Some dogs do well on a completely grain-free diet, and for them I made Veg-to-Bowl , a grain-free mix of wonderful dehydrated and freeze-dried veggies. This mixture blended with meat and oils makes a wonderful grain-free meal. "
He then expresses the same opinion that I have in that "some dogs do better with grains, in fact, in my experience; many, many dogs improve dramatically when using our Canine Health (which has a whole grain component) with raw or cooked meat".

Dr. Harvey's company is not the only company to have found this out in feed trials. PHD - Perfect Healthy Diet (Vivand) has also put whole grain back into the dry food because the dogs in feed trials did not maintain stamina when working and lost weight quickly, having difficulty in maintaining their ideal weight.

GRADE QUALITY, using a MIXTURE OF, and the AMOUNT and KIND of grain is the key!! - remember whole intact grains have all the fiber (in tact) so it is not a fast sugar burn as is refined carbohydrates.

Dr. Harvey goes on to point out, "Nature made all muscle and brain function (99%) using glucose and oxygen. Carbohydrates, such as grains, are stored in the liver as glycogen, this is then released as glucose in the blood as the body requires it".

He goes on to say "I see that dogs do incredibly well and thrive on 6-10% grain in their diet. Dogs are able to utilize the glucose from grains, as athletes do when they are performing"

Dr. Harvey has developed 3 organic pre-mixes Canine Health, Feline Health and Veg-to-Bowl, (no grain) to offer the easiest, safest and most convenient way to feed a complete raw diet. Just add water, meat and oil to either of our pre-mixes and you have a complete raw meal for your dog or cat. He also has available Power Patties - Freeze Dried Tripe. For more information on this diet go to:

Dr. Lisa Neuman has a very good article on feeding raw/fruit/veggie - grain less diets. You need to read about this research if you are going to choose going straight grain-free diets.

Lastly, here is some information about grains as they relate to the diabetic dog. This is taken from the Blackwatch Feed Program for Diabetes.


The issue of grain consumption in pet foods has more to do with the QUALITY and QUANTITY used in a food. For example, the use of corn in a food has gotten much bad press for being an allergen, when in fact it is the "feed grade" corn that is the problem and comparing it to human grade #1 corn; it is nutritionally as different as night and day. (The Corn Myth).

I am certainly not promoting any grain or corn based food as being the best choice in a diet, but a holistic dog food (not cat) with a human grade, whole grain #1 corn component in it, provides energy levels unmatched by any other grain or protein source and needed for real performance animals. Not all grains are bad, and likewise a grain free diet is NOT necessarily the best way to feed a pet either.

Grain-based dog foods (grain is listed first on the bag) are difficult for the dog to digest and some say that dogs do not make the amylase enzyme needed to break down carbohydrates, but that is not true. What is true, is - because dogs do not get a raw component to their diets or do not get dietary enzyme supplementation, they are unable to make adequate amounts of all digestive enzymes for proper digestion!! Hence the need to supplement the diet with digestive AND dietary enzymes (see CORE 4)

If there is no raw component in your pet's diet, dietary enzymes supplementation and digestive enzyme supplementation must be provided by the owner. This is critical to preserving the pancreas and preventing diabetis later in life. Dogs and cats have trouble making enough digestive enzymes - all 4 types of digestive enzymes, when they do not have the adequate nutrients supplied in the daily diet, in some form of a "raw, unprocessed, living component be it meat/fruit/veggies or sprouted supplementation".

When there is no raw present, there are no dietary enzymes present and therefore total enzymatic activity that breaks down the food depends wholly on the pancreas to make these enzymes. That is a tremendous burden on the pancreas when it is "born" with a limited number to begin with. Think of the pancreas as a checking account with a set amount of money in it. When it is spent, it is spent - and when it is spent, that is when you develop diabetes.

In the Diabetic Support Kit #22 , I have combined supplements that have been shown in the most recent research to be beneficial in establishing less spiking in glucose levels and more consistency in the dog's diabetic condition. There have been some pets that have had reversing of the disease after a time on the program, and on a quality holistic meat based food, but it is important to make sure a diabetic pet remains on the contents of the kit for life.

The most success I have seen is in cats, where grain-free raw diets are the most successful when it comes to reversing disease.

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