My friend, Shannon, is a nutritionist, and she is one of the most non-judgemental people I know. I always think that when I speak to someone who is so dedicated to putting healthy things into her body that she's made a career of it, I'll be sized up every which way, but that's not the case. She offers great advice that is reasonable. It's not feasible for everyone to cook every meal at home from only fresh, organic and sustainably raised ingredients. Sure, some of us roll that way, but we didn't get there overnight (btw…I try to roll that way but fall short quite often).
She says “let's talk about where you are now, and then we'll make some small, gradual improvements. When you're ready to take more on, I'll help you.” She does this for people who eat at McDonald's fourteen times a week, for vegans who grow and raise all of their own food, and for everyone in between. And her baby steps are for real. That person who eats at McDonald's fourteen times? She'll advise them to switch two or three of those meals to In-n-out, a better choice. Then they work up from that.
Shannon inspires me to make better choices within reason. I don't have to kill myself over it or feel deprived–or like I'm depriving my family. I try to apply her “method” to most aspects of my life, including how I feed my pets. Over time, I've made gradual improvements to my pets' diets, and each day I learn something new. It seems the subject of what we ingest for our health is infinite.
We read the labels on the food we purchase for ourselves and our human family members, so if you're not doing it already, it's important to do the same for the food you choose to purchase for your pet. If I take Shannon's baby steps to heart and apply them to the pet realm, the first step in creating a healthier diet for your pet (and one of the easiest ones to take) is to make sure that the food you are feeding your furry family member is free of artificial colors. As a rule of thumb, if you are purchasing a mega-brand and/or grocery store food for your pet, it likely contains artificial colors. Even some boutique brands have something to hide. As you wouldn't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a pet food by how healthy the package looks.
So while you go grab that bag of kibble to reference, I'll outline which colors are commonly found in pet food and why we want to avoid them.
Yellow 5: Also known as tartrazine or E102, this dye requires a warning label in Europe. It is commonly found in processed foods we humans consume as well as pet food. It is thought to cause neurochemical and behavior effects, including hyperactivity, aggression, and insomnia. It is also linked to asthma, allergies, thyroid tumors, lymphomas, ADHD and chromosomal damage.
Red 40: Perhaps the most well-known artificial food dye because of its prevalence and bad reputation, it is tainted with cancer-causing contaminants. You've probably heard a lot about it because it's linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children.
Blue 2: Often contains cancer-causing contaminants and may contribute to abnormal cell development, especially in the brain. It is most closely linked to brain tumors. May also cause allergic reactions.
Yellow 6: Has been reported to cause allergies and is linked to hyperactivity in children. some studies have shown that it has caused adrenal gland and kidney tumors in animals. It is also linked to skin issues, asthma, and chromosomal damage.
None of this is good.
Do our pets care about the color of their food? That's pretty doubtful. So why in the world are these artificial colors added to our pets' food?
Yes, for us. If we see green kibble in the shape of a pea, we think “real veggies.” And if we see a red kibble in the shape of a steak, there must be real beef in there. The opposite is true. Orange is not cheese, either. Our pets do not choose the food we purchase for them. It's all about us, and it's a mental game. Many companies prey upon the common misconception that “color” means “real” and “fresh,” when it means exactly the opposite.
There are a million (or so) ways we can help our pets through diet, but an easy first step toward a healthier way is to make sure we are eliminating artificial color from their diets. For every food that has artificial colors, there is a better one that doesn't. Instead of shopping at the grocery store or mega pet store for pet food, try a small, locally owned shop. The employees are likely to be more educated and can help you find the right food to meet your pet's needs.
We rotate our dog, N.A.S.H.A.'s food (another great way to keep your pet healthier). Some we purchase from our local small pet supply store, and some I order online through Petbrosia, a company that customizes and delivers dog and cat food based on the breed, age, gender, and activity level of your pet. We love it, so it might be worth checking out if you're looking to make a switch.
Feeding ourselves can be quite overwhelming, so worrying about the diet we feed our pets is just another stressor, but it doesn't have to be, and we don't need to beat ourselves up over it. Take reasonable steps to improve the situation. Ask yourself, as Shannon would “where are you now?” There's always room for improvement.