NutriSource Blogs

Grain or grain-free? How do these formulas play in to rotational feeding?

December 01, 2021

If you’re confused about whether dogs should get wholesome grains in their bowl, you’re not alone. Is grain-free healthier or is it a trend? The short answer is both types of formulas offer benefits. For optimal health, trade off between grain-free and grain-inclusive as part of your pet’s rotational feeding plan.

Rotational feeding gives your dog nutrients that build a healthy body and a healthy gut. So when you’re selecting bags and cans of food, including a mix of grain-inclusive and grain-free is the best way to go.

Thinking about starting your dog on a rotational diet? Our guide will get you started

In the following, we’ll explain the popularity of the grain-free formulas along with some misconceptions, and why it’s good to work grain-inclusive foods into your dog’s rotation.

Why are grain-free diets so popular?

How did grain free become so popular? Let’s start with the basic supermarket brands. These less-expensive formulas use corn, wheat and soy — cheap and widely available grains. But pet parents began seeing these ingredients as problematic, as the root cause of their pet’s food allergies. These were also seen as contributing to pet obesity, because they’re high glycemic compared to other whole grains.

Grain-free diets were seen as the solution to allergies, irritation and weight gain associated with formulas that used these cheap (low cost rather than cheap) grains. Pet parents didn’t necessarily need to eliminate all grains, just the cheap ones. Grain-free diets do offer higher quality ingredients, which made these formulas appealing to pet parents.

Like most things related to nutrition, the grain vs. no-grain argument has many complexities. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re considering grain-free diets.

Grains are good for dogs

Research suggests that dogs have evolved to tolerate grains. For example, domesticated dogs can possess anywhere from 4 to 30 copies of the amylase gene, which gives them a better ability to digest and absorb starches, according to research. Wolves, on the other hand, have two copies of this gene, and don’t absorb grains as well as dogs.

This gene difference suggests that grains played an important role in the domestication of wild dogs and wolves, because they relied on the foods that humans shared and provided.

Grains provide important nutrients to our pets, including omega fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Dogs can get these nutrients when their food includes things like barley and brown rice.

For further reading, check out: Heirloom grains: Are they nutritional powerhouses for dogs?

Grain free has healthy carbs

A moderate amount of carbohydrates are an important macronutrient for dogs, providing their bodies and systems the fuel they need. To keep the macros in balance, grain-free diets include pea protein, lentils and other legumes.

Grain-free doesn’t equal hypoallergenic

Another misunderstanding about grain-free diets is the belief that it will clear up a pet’s allergy symptoms. Many pet parents believe that bypassing foods featuring wheat, barley and rye will clear up itchy skin and messes in the backyard.

What causes food allergies in canines is most often protein, not the grains themselves. Grains do have at least some protein. So if a dog is allergic to a grain, chances are it’s the protein in the grain that’s causing it (though animal proteins are by far a much more common cause of allergies in pets).

Nonetheless, if you’re trying to pinpoint the ingredient that’s making your dog miserable, a limited ingredient diet is your best bet. That way, you can conduct test feedings to rule out problem proteins.

Rotational feeding is best

Bottom line, there’s no need to come down on team grain or team no-grain when it comes to perfecting your dog’s nutritional profile. Focus on serving a variety of meats, grains and starches for long-term health and happiness.

How to rotate grain-free and grain-inclusive formulas

There’s no one perfect food that meets all your dog’s needs. Variety is key to optimized health, which is why we recommend that you choose entrees from both grain-inclusive and grain-free lines of NutriSource.

NutriSource takes the guesswork out of rotational feeding for your pet, because they allow easy transitions from the first feeding.

Good4Life features probiotics and prebiotics, which immediately start working to eliminate bad bacteria from the gut and build a healthy microbiome.

Experience the easy transition to NutriSource, and then start rotating for optimal long term health.

The following is an example of how you might incorporate grain-free with grain-inclusive foods for your pet.

First bag: NutriSource Beef & Rice

  • Animal protein: Beef and lamb
  • Carbs: Barley and brown rice

Second bag: NutriSource Grain Free Seafood Select

  • Animal protein: Salmon and menhaden fish
  • Carbs: Peas

Third bag: NutriSource Woodlands Select

  • Animal protein: Wild boar, turkey and menhaden fish
  • Grains and carbs: Garbanzo beans and lentils

Within these three formula rotations, you can introduce six different proteins and five sources of carbohydrates.

Each of these ingredients offer a different slate of amino acids, vitamins and minerals to build a healthy body.

Reach for the brand that focuses on gut health

The secret to rotational feeding is choosing the brand that supports gut health. At family-owned NutriSource, we formulate all our foods with our innovative Good 4 Life® system. The probiotics and prebiotics aid in mineral absorption and support immunity by the production of natural antibiotics and antifungals in the gut, reducing fecal moisture and eliminating gas. Find NutriSource at your local, independent pet retailer.