There is no question but that the most natural, micronutrient replete, and healthy diet for any creature is that which they would find unaltered in nature. For humans it would be raw prey along with raw fruits, nuts, and some veggies, honey, and dairy. For pet carnivores that would be raw prey. If you and your pet can return to the wild and accomplish this, good for you. For the rest of us, we have problems to solve.
First off, we must face the reality that billions of people and animals cannot eat raw wild foods when there is not enough raw wild nature to go around.
What we are left with is standing agriculture. Farming has successfully delivered quantities of food to humanity that are largely responsible for modern civilization. (Hunting and foraging leaves little time for building skyscrapers, rocket ships, and computers.) However, in order to make the starch-containing agricultural products (grains, legumes, pulses, tubers) digestible and nontoxic, they must be cooked. In order for any product to be safely held in packages for months prior to being consumed, producers must subject it to a kill step to eliminate pathogens. This is most commonly high heat.
The problem with this cooking kill step is that significant quantities of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and other nutrients are altered or destroyed. Toxins are also inevitably produced.
So there you have the dilemma. First, our true natural diet is by and large impossible. Then, what we have left is farm raised produce, meats, and processed foods. Since most people will not consume or feed raw meats or organs, or even produce on a regular basis, nutrient-diminished processed foods become a mainstay.
In order to make processed foods as healthy as possible, the challenge is to minimize the negative effects of processing, fortify the foods with the nutrients that are diminished, and supplement ingredients that protect against the toxins produced. Such foods are still not what would ideally be best, but they are the best compromise. At least that is the intelligent and responsible way to go about it.
Unfortunately, although people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to eat natural foods, the understanding of the effects of processing on foods has not kept pace. For example, putting all sorts of beguiling natural goodies into a pot, cooking it, then oven drying it at hundreds of degrees, then repeating the process over and over before consuming it does not equal a"natural" diet. It is a new, sythetic, who-knows-what concoction.
But that is exactly what is done with the no-vitamin/mineral pet and human processed foods that have made their way into the market. Companies make processed (human altered = synthetic) foods, then proclaim that they are more natural because they do not contain synthetic micronutrients—the very elements that are the saving grace to their compromised synthetic processed foods. In other words, such products play to the public's desire for pure and natural, but give something else entirely.
With a focus on pet foods, let's explore the new no-vitamin/mineral marketing concept.
Facts and logic
Without a shred of empirical scientific proof that properly dosed vitamin and mineral fortification causes anything other than health, the no-vitamin/mineral companies allege that all products other than theirs cause such things as:
"cervical spondylosis which is a degenerative joint disease affecting the cervical vertebrae, intervertebral disks and surrounding ligaments and connective tissue. This disease can also put pressure on the nerve root resulting in pain or a prickling sensation radiating down the arms...can also cause proliferative gingivitis, incisor exfoliation, thin mandibles, bone changes, and depleted cartilage matrix...resulted in calcinosis (an abnormal deposit of calcium salts in body tissue)...resulted in degeneration of posterior columns of the spine...resulted in stiff joints, bone loss, bone porosity, and deposition of calcium in tendons and organs." (from a no-vitamin mineral company's website)
Two problems are apparent. For one, the very same personnel from the company promoting this toxicity of vitamin and mineral fortification, work with another pet food company to promote the benefits and safety of products with vitamin-mineral fortification. Secondly, on its face the claim is absurd. Millions upon millions of pets have been fed commercial foods with added vitamins and minerals for a century. There are about 160 million dog, cat, bird, and horse pets in the US eating vitamin and mineral fortified foods. At an average of two meals each day, that would equal about 112 billion doses per year. Yet the toxic results cited above are absent, even in animals being fed generic foods at a fraction of the cost of the no-vitamin/mineral products. Moreover, billions of bowls of vitamin and mineral fortified cereal have been fed to children around the world with no such results. And billions of doses of supplemental vitamins and minerals have been taken by humans and animals with no such results. (see: Vitamin Basics DSM)
Unfortunately, the public—and even pet food ranking websites—only look at company marketing, ingredient lists, and analyses. They totally ignore the "dose makes the poison" axiom and the most important limiting factor in health and nutrition, namely processing. It's not what is put into a food that's important; it's what ends up actually being present in the food bowl.
The no-vitamin/mineral products effectively deny the last 100 years of research, the conclusion of tens of thousands of scientists, doctors, and nutritionists, and the dramatic impact fortifying and supplemental vitamins and minerals have had on the health of humans and animals consuming processed foods. (An Internet search for vitamin and mineral benefits yields over one-hundred million references.)
Consider that for the past century there have been countless cases of fortification solving health problems and saving lives. But there has not been ONE case where absence of fortification of processed foods has solved anything.
As a manufacturer, Wysong can also cite 35 years of proven beneficial results with products fed to tens of thousands of animals through multiple generations, with some living into their late twenties.
And think about it—if making a food better and safe were a mere matter of omitting vitamins and minerals, every pet food company would do it and save themselves the bother and costs.
Yes, one can find studies of how this or that vitamin or mineral has caused disease in lab animals fed at doses sufficient to choke a horse. But so too can any substance be thus proven to be toxic. Even oxygen and water can be toxic. Read: Toxin Paranoia,"Don't Be Fooled," and The Truth About Pet Foods.
But citing such extreme laboratory examples as a reason not to consume vitamins and minerals is like saying people should not exercise because exercise has been shown to cause heart attacks, pulled muscles, joint arthritis, and concussions from falls.
Now Wysong most certainly agrees that foods should be as close to their natural, genetically anticipated form as possible. This has been Wysong's theme for the past 35 years and is in large part responsible for the natural food movement in the pet food industry. However, processing of foods, even natural ones, diminishes their inherent value and that is why fortification is important.
Denying the value of fortification of processed foods is retrogression to the dark ages of nutrition before science understood micronutrients or the vitiating impact that food processing has on them. (see: The Real Problem In Pet Feeding)
Elementary nutrition classes teach how processed foods caused plagues such as beri beri (thiamin deficiency), scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), pellagra (niacin deficiency), etc., and how these diseases have taken the lives of millions over the centuries. The recent case of taurine deficiency in cats fed AAFCO approved and tested diets resulted in the maiming and killing of hundreds of thousands of cats until synthetic taurine (from China) was added to diets. On the other hand, NOT ONE documented disease or death has resulted due to feeding pet foods fortified with proper doses of vitamins and minerals.
No-vitamin/mineral products do not contain ingredients any more special than those found in fortified foods. And even if they were more "special," they would not negate the need for fortification due to processing damage.
One must keep in mind that many vitamin and mineral deficiencies do not manifest as immediate and overt nutritional disease but arise later in life in an idiopathic, pleomorphic chronic degenerative disease version (obesity, dental, heart, kidney, pancreas disease, autoimmunities, diabetes, cancer, skin and coat problems, immune suppression, decreased life span, etc.). Vitamins and minerals are the cheapest health insurance people and animals can take to help avert these devastating diseases.
The natural food of carnivores is prey found and captured in the wild and eaten raw. No processed commercial food, including no-vitamin/mineral ones, are the same as that. Processing involves heat, milling, pressure, drying, exposure to oxygen, and the mixing of ingredient biochemicals forming new and unnatural complexes such as cholesterol oxides, acrylamides, free radicals, and racemized vitamins and amino acids. Nobody knows for sure exactly what is in the complexed finished food product or fully how micronutrients are impacted—other than the fact that they are diminished. The obvious solution is vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, amino acid, and other fortification. (see: The Real Problem In Pet Feeding)
As Dr. Aldrich wrote (PFI, March 2012):
"All vitamins appear to be affected to some degree at every step of the process from production through shelf-storage (see Figure 3 under More Images). The loss in fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) is the most significant in extruded products, with rates of more than 50% lost before the kibble goes into the bag (Coelho, 2003). In wet foods, the water-soluble B-vitamin thiamine can be almost completely lost due to its reactivity with heat, moisture, sulfites, elevated pH and the thiaminase enzymes found in fish and organ meats. This is not a comprehensive list, and many effects of thermal processing have yet to be described."
Fortification is not done to cover over sloppy production and formulation, but because a hundred years of science proves its value. The evidence is so overwhelming in favor of fortification that to not do so is nutritional malpractice.
Some No-Vitamin and Mineral Product Claims
1. No-vitamin/mineral companies arrogate to themselves scientific and technical leadership. However, these companies are not begun and run by scientists, nutritionists, or doctors. Surely with such a breakthrough innovation, they would be able to cite scientific articles they have written, research performed, and long term results that have proven vitamin-mineral fortification causes disease and death in pets. There are none. Review: Nutrition Is A Serious Health Matter & Comparing Pet Foods Based Upon What Matters. Nor do no-vitamin mineral products fit the proper health-first criteria. (see: How to Choose a Pet Food Company)
2. Mineral proteinates used to fortify are demonized. However, mineral proteinates are highly bioavailable forms of natural minerals and natural proteins. No proof is provided (because there is none) that proteinates used at recommended levels are dangerous to pets. On the contrary, the scientific literature amply demonstrates chelated mineral proteinate benefits. In fact, all minerals in the body are chelated with proteins and other biochemicals in order to be functional. Moreover, when the no-vitamin/mineral foods are heat processed, some of the the minerals in the ingredients are "synthetically" complexed to the proteins in the ingredients (proteinated). In other words, the no-synthetic vitamin/mineral foods will have synthetic mineral proteinates in them whether the brands want them or not.
3. No-vitamin/mineral brands double-down further with more nos, such as no wheat, corn, potato, tapioca, etc. But this merely appeals to consumers who have been misled into believing yet another myth -- that such ingredients are toxic. (see: Myths and Controversies.) In order to make a dried kibble, a starch source is used. For example, one such company uses millet. Millet is a starch just like the "no" ingredients above are. It is most certainly not a natural ingredient for carnivores (it is toxic if fed raw) nor a superior starch source. (see: Healthier Grains.) Moreover, the dry extruded no-vitamin/mineral foods contain quadruple-cooked (synthetic) meat meal, plus a starch and are thus essentially like every generic food on the market.
4. In lieu of vitamin mineral fortification, spray dried blood plasma is put forward as providing all the vitamins and minerals a pet needs. Not only is that not true, but in addition it should be mentioned again that heat processed pet foods are taken to temperatures of hundreds of degrees and subjected to hundreds of pounds of pressure. When they are dried they are cooked again. These conditions leach, alter, complex, and destroy vitamins, enzymes, minerals and other important nutrients. That is why vitamin and mineral fortifiers are added to pet foods. Plasma, even if it were a panacea, heat-degraded, does not make up for this.
5. As opposed to being truly natural, no-vitamin mineral products contain various meat meals and spray dried products. Such ingredients are cooked, then dried, then shipped by renderers to the brand's toll manufacturer (no-vitamin/mineral kibble companies do not produce their own foods), then cooked again when extruded, then cooked again to be dried. A product that is cooked four times is not natural, it is man-made, synthetic.
6. Some ingredients in these products, such as salmon meal and cod liver oil, are extremely vulnerable to heat, light, and air due to the highly unsaturated fats they contain. They easily convert to dangerous free radicals, toxins that lie at the root of virtually every modern degenerative disease. The low demand for and slow turnover of the no-vitamin mineral products makes them particularly susceptible to such toxin conversions.
7. Sufficient taruine in no-vitamin/mineral foods is problematic without fortification. One company states that dusted-on chicken liver achieves "0.16% taurine." In order to get enough taurine from liver to meet the minimal requirement of 0.1% for dry diets, and allow for some loss, about 23% of the formula would need to be liver. To get the 0.16%, about 36% of the formula would need to be liver. Dried Liver is about 2000mg taurine/lb liver. To achieve the minimal taurine level of 0.1%, over 227 lbs. of liver per 1000 lbs. of product would need to be added. To achieve the 0.16%, 363 lbs. of dried liver per 1000 lbs. of product would need to be added. But liver is listed way down on the ingredient list, way below what 36% of the formula would be. At 36% it would be the number one ingredient or very close to it. Moreover, it would be impossible to "dust" this amount of liver on the outside of a kibble. It must also be considered that as much as 100% of taurine can be lost in processing, especially under wet conditions such as in canned foods, and dry diets that are wet extruded. (A. R. Spitze, et. Al.: "Taurine concentrations in animal feed ingredients; cooking influences taurine content," J. Anim. Physiol. a. Anim. Nutr. 87 (2003), 251-262)
This is a serious issue that consumers must be attentive to. It is not theory that thousands of cats died of taurine deficiency until a Chinese manufactured taurine supplement was added to commercial foods. No heat processed food without supplemental taurine should be trusted for continuous feeding.
8. No-vitamin/mineral companies claim that hydrolyzed proteins in other foods form MSG, a potential poison. Hydrolysis is simply the breakdown of long protein chains, similar to what enzymes and acid in the digestive tract do. It is necessary in order for the body to properly metabolize proteins. Some of the no-vitamin/mineral companies add protease enzymes to their foods. But protease hydrolyzes proteins and thus, according to their logic, their own foods would be laced with MSG.
9. The use of probiotics in extruded pet foods is a patent-protected process for which no-vitamin/mineral products are not properly licensed. Those promoting, selling, and using patent-violating foods are in jeopardy of legal action.
11. No-vitamin/mineral companies attempt to assure consumers that their products are complete and balanced because they have passed AAFCO testing. But this only requires that a food be fed to caged animals for a short time and show no overt nutritional disease. Such tests are not difficult to pass and provide no information regarding a food's impact on the epidemic of chronic degenerative diseases that plague modern pets. Keep in mind that the thousands of cats that were killed and maimed due to taurine deficiency were eating foods that passed AAFCO.
Unfortunately, anyone, regardless of credentials, can go to any number of toll manufacturers and offer a "new and improved" pet food to the public. Thus there are pet foods begun by movie stars, venture capitalists, home cooks...and about anyone else with any notion whatsoever about pet feeding. Since everyone cooks and prepares meals at home, everyone thinks they have expertise and a handle on nutrition. People may have an intuitive sense that nutrition is important to health, but have uneducated and illogical notions about how to apply this intuitive knowledge. Out of this naiveté comes every sort of urban nutritional legend—and pet food brands creating and capitalizing on them.
Every sort of marketing gimmick has been and is being used to try to be different in a very competitive marketplace. There are foods shaped a certain way for each particular breed (as if food shape has anything to do with nutrition or health),"human grade" foods (even though no carnivore in the wild eats "human grade" foods), breed-specific foods(even though all carnivores are genetically programmed for essentially the same food), no-grain diets (that use potato, tapioca, etc. instead, meaning they have just as much starch as the grain varieties), and now no-vitamin/ mineral diets. These meritless marketing schemes, no matter how well intentioned, are not health advances.
No-vitamin mineral proponents can point to beguiling, official, and technical-looking nutrient profiles (always calculated before processing), and get raving testimonials and photos from users (youthful pet bodies are very forgiving and can seem to respond positively to virtually any commercial food—for a time). Even though not one no-vitamin mineral brand can point to any controlled scientific study that proves their products create any better long-term life for a pet than for those on standard generic foods, poorly informed consumers take up the causes. People desperate to do the best they can for their pets too easily fall for notions of villains and silver bullet solutions.
Proper diet rotation and micronutrient fortification are the only nutritional safeguards against insidious degenerative diseases that crop up in adult and later years. It's a little more involved than just feeding one cure-all brand at every meal. But the entire history of healthy feeding along with hundreds of thousands of scientific medical research studies prove the wisdom of this approach. On the other hand, there is absolutely no proof that heat processed foods without fortification prevent such diseases. But there is plenty of proof that processed foods without fortification do cause disease.
If one chooses to occasionally feed no-vitamin mineral products, or any other commercial food for that matter, no harm will likely result if proper diet rotation, variety, and supplementation occur. (see: Optimal Health Program™) However, for the reasons cited above, feeding these synthetically processed, non-fortified, quadruple-cooked foods at every meal would be inadvisable.