Different varieties of grains lying in a pile on a black surface.

Ancient Grains: Ingredients That Work Hard Like Your Dog

Welcome back to “Going Pro,” our recurring column that’s dedicated to the nutrition and performance of working and sporting dogs.

You put a lot of thought and care into selecting an appropriate food for your high-performing canine athlete. And not any ol’ dog food will do. You want your dog eating food that provides the right amount of energy from ingredients that work as hard as he or she does. After all, you know how important the right fuel is to your canine athlete’s performance, whether your dog sniffs out contraband, retrieves birds, races around agility courses or searches for lost or missing people.

The energy for all of that work comes from food, as we discussed in a previous post, and is obtained from the fats, carbohydrates and proteins present in food. One of the newer trends in dog food mirrors what has been occurring in human nutrition. It’s the use of ancient grains in place of corn, wheat, potatoes, peas or other carbohydrate-rich ingredients.

What’s noteworthy about ancient grains? Read on to learn how these ingredients contribute to your dog’s nutrition.

What are ancient grains?

As popular as ancient grains are among human foodies, no official definition actually exists. The definition referenced most frequently is the one provided by the Oldways Whole Grains Council, which defines ancient grains as “grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years.” The category includes chia seed, quinoa, sorghum, millet, barley, amaranth and several “heirloom” varieties of wheat.

Why use ancient grains in dog food?

The nutrient profiles of these superfoods make certain ancient grains attractive to pet food manufacturers looking to formulate nutrient-dense foods, such as Diamond Pro89 Beef, Pork & Ancient Grains Formula for Adult Dogs and Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete Adult Dog Chicken & Rice Formula. Ancient grains are well-known for these characteristics when compared to grains such as corn and wheat:

  • Relatively high protein content that’s rich in indispensable (essential) amino acids
  • Naturally high in fiber, including both soluble and insoluble fibers
  • Rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids
  • Naturally high concentrations of antioxidants like alpha- and gamma-tocopherol
  • Diverse content of vitamins and minerals, including several B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and iron

Of course, ancient grains are also loaded with carbohydrates. All three macronutrients — fat, carbohydrates and protein — are used by your dog’s body to make the energy required for optimal performance.

A lot to like about the select ancient grains in Diamond dog foods

The animal nutritionists who formulated Diamond Pro89 and Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete gave serious consideration to the ancient grain ingredients used in these dog foods. Chia seed and quinoa are used in both formulas, while Diamond Pro89 also features millet and grain sorghum.

Long before it was made famous by kitschy plant decorations sold through infomercials, chia was valued as a food by the peoples of Central America and Mexico. Chia seed contains 19 to 26 percent protein with noteworthy levels of the indispensable amino acids arginine, leucine, phenylalanine, valine and lysine.

Chia seed’s fatty acid profile includes high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, mainly the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which rivals flaxseed. The carbohydrate content of chia seed consists of modest levels of starches (26 to 41 percent) and substantial amounts of dietary fiber (47 to 60 percent), most of which is insoluble fiber.

Chia seed contributes many minerals to the diet, with phosphorus, calcium, potassium and magnesium found in greatest amounts. Vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and niacin (another B vitamin) are present in chia along with several tocopherols, compounds that collectively constitute vitamin E and have high antioxidant activity.

Carbohydrates are the major macronutrient present in quinoa, followed by protein and fat. Starch is the main carbohydrate component, accounting for 52 to 69 percent of the grain’s carbohydrates. Total dietary fiber ranges from 7 to 9.7 percent.

The protein content of quinoa varies between 13.8 and 16.5 percent (dry matter basis), although an average of 15 percent is often used. In general, the indispensable amino acid content of protein from quinoa is considered higher than what’s found in common cereal grains.

Quinoa has a higher oil content than corn and some other grains, but its fatty acid profile is similar to corn and soybeans. Quinoa is an excellent source of important fatty acids, including linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids.

Although research on the vitamin content of quinoa is limited, the seed is known to contain high amounts of vitamin B6 and folic acid. It’s also an important dietary source of the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. Quinoa is considered an excellent source of vitamin E.

The nutrient profile of grain sorghum is comparable to corn, with starch making up the largest portion of the macronutrients at about 75 percent. At or above 9 percent, the protein content of sorghum is slightly higher than corn. Although sorghum’s fat content is slightly lower than corn’s, the essential fatty acid linoleic acid accounts for more than half of the total fatty acids. The dietary fiber content of grain sorghum is primarily insoluble fiber, which plays an important role in stimulating intestinal motility and transit time.

Commonly associated with wild bird food, millet is one of the more nutrient-dense grains. The protein content of pearl millet, the most common millet produced commercially, ranges from 9 to 13 percent, although some sources report pearl millet’s average protein content at 14.5 percent. Millet protein is rich in the indispensable amino acid methionine and provides more lysine than corn.

Millet also contains more fat (4 to 7 percent) than most of the other cereal grains, which increases its energy contribution to the diet. Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, accounts for about 40 percent of the total fatty acids in millet. To offset the higher fat level, millet’s starch content is slightly lower than other seeds. Total dietary fiber, at about 17 percent, is high and consists of equal amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber.

What this means for your working or sporting dog

When choosing a dog food for your sporting or working dog, you’ll want to consider his or her energy needs. Dogs who participate in endurance activities will require more energy given the longer distances that they travel. These athletic dogs benefit from higher proportions of fat in their diet such as those found in performance and high-energy diets. Ancient grains in the ingredient mix can help deliver increased energy from fat, carbohydrates and proteins.


RELATED POST: Nutrients and Ingredients: Not Necessarily the Same

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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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