Fooding for Life

Food Synergy

Next time someone says “but there is no science to back your natural, species appropriate raw food diet approach”, just refer them to all of the scientific effort behind food synergy – it’s been there all along ….

Photo by James Barker on Unsplash

a Key to Dietary Vitality

The commercial pet food industry has historically been formulating pet feed based on nutrient content, on the assumption that companion animals have specific requirements for nutrients and not ingredients, or as we prefer to explain, feed versus food. However, as our understanding of nutrients, bioavailability and overall vitality expand, there is an increased focus by our pet parents, and pet food manufacturers, on ingredients, especially whole ingredients, or as we like to call it – raw wholesome cuisine.

Or the science driving biologically, species appropriate food diets?

Consequently, a growing trend in the pet food industry, commercial or supreme as delivered through Raw Food for Pets and our business partners, is to contain more whole ingredients, such as meat, instead of meat meals, whole grains, instead of refined grains for McKibble or McCan, and fruit and vegetable inclusions as supported through our manufacturers. The theory behind the beneficial health effects of whole ingredients is described by, and through, the concept of food synergy. Food synergy is based on the suggestion that the action of the food matrix (biologically, species appropriate), in other words, the composite of naturally occurring food components, on biological systems such as ours and our fur kids, is greater than or different from the corresponding actions of the individual food components.

The concept is not new. Nourishing our mortal frame has been on our minds since we acquired the ability to think. What we ate was driven by instinct, trial, and error and raw survival needs. Culture, tribal customs and eventually an agriculture based civilization lead to the imposition of specific eating regimes upon the individual. Maybe our generation have just conveniently forgotten about it. Some of the oldest human cultures and many still surviving indigenous peoples have developed knowledge of foods and plants over the last few millennia and successfully integrated the notion of “Food as Medicine” through modalities like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

This has always been a fundamental principle supported by our integrated veterinarians through the concept of integrative nutrition – dietary therapy using whole foods is the foundation to healing. It stems from the idea that we do not have complete knowledge of food composition and some health effects may result from unidentified or underappreciated components, or building blocks. In this way, whole ingredients may provide health benefits that the individual fractionated (or synthetic for that matter) ingredients or single nutrients cannot provide. Just have a chat with Dr. Anuska Viljoen from Simply Pets & Simply Natural on this topic, and be ready for a massive knowledge download!

Although the term food synergy may not be well known by our pet parents, guardians and slaves, the concept of whole ingredients providing health benefits has likely contributed to the interest in more natural, biologically species appropriate pet foods by pet parents and hence the increased market demand for whole ingredients in pet foods in general.

David Jacobs, PhD, a researcher from the University of Minnesota, loosely defined the concept of food synergy “as the idea that food influences our health in complex and highly interactive ways”. The concept, first published through the American Society of Nutrition in 2009, as “Food Synergy: An Operational Concept for Understanding Nutrition​1​ by David R. Jacobs, Myron D. Gross and Linda C. Tapsell , stated that the current “research and practice in nutrition relate to food and its constituents, often as supplements. In food, however, the biological constituents are coordinated. We propose that “thinking food first”’ results in more effective nutrition research and policy. The concept of food synergy provides the necessary theoretical underpinning. The evidence for health benefit appears stronger when put together in a synergistic dietary pattern than for individual foods or food constituents. A review of dietary supplementation suggests that although supplements may be beneficial in states of insufficiency, the safe middle ground for consumption likely is food. Also, food provides a buffer during absorption. Constituents delivered by foods taken directly from their biological environment may have different effects from those formulated through technologic processing, but either way health benefits are likely to be determined by the total diet. The concept of food synergy is based on the proposition that the interrelations between constituents [ingredients, elements or components] in foods are significant. This significance is dependent on the balance between constituents within the food, how well the constituents survive digestion, and the extent to which they appear biologically active at the cellular level. Many examples are provided of superior effects of whole foods over their isolated constituents. The food synergy concept supports the idea of dietary variety and of selecting nutrient-rich foods. The more we understand about our own biology [and those of our fur kids] and that of plants and animals, the better we will be able to discern the combinations of foods, rather than supplements, which best promote health.”

The Produce for Better Health Foundation explains it as “nutrients working together to create greater health effects”.

We just refer to this as “biologically, species appropriate raw and real food”.

Either way, food synergy is a very good thing. It brings us back to the basics: for good health, it’s important to eat a variety of whole foods, for us and our fur kids. There is still much we don’t know about how the components in food work together. Case in point: In the past 10 years, scientists have identified hundreds of biologically active plant-food components called phytochemicals (also called phytonutrients). A decade ago, we didn’t even know about phytochemicals like lycopene (the one that has made tomatoes famous) or anthocyanins and pterostilbene (which have propelled blueberries into the news). So, we only recently really “discovered”, or rather, “rediscovered”, the health benefit in humans of phytonutrients; – from fruits and vegetables, a classic example of evidence-based food synergy. Epidemiological (the study and analysis of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations) studies in humans indicate associations between fruit and vegetable intake with lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women ​2​ .

Please note: Epidemiological studies can never prove causation; that is, it cannot prove that a specific risk factor actually causes the disease, observation, theory or variables being studied. Epidemiological evidence can only show that a variable is associated (correlated) with a higher incidence relationship between two variables, solely on the basis of an observed association or correlation between them. There is a tendency to misinterpret the lack of evidence for causation as evidence for lack of a causal relation. However, as with any logical fallacy, identifying that the reasoning behind an argument is flawed does not necessarily imply that the resulting conclusion is false (see: Correlation does not imply causation (Wikipedia)).

In a huuman population study, consumption of foods rich in phytonutrients as measured by phytonutrient index has been shown to decrease weight gain and adiposity (the Latin term for severe or morbid overweight) ​3​ and risk for metabolic syndrome ​4​ . Rodent and in vitro models have shown positive effects of food synergy from fruits on anti-proliferative and anti-carcinogenic activities. Drug-induced mammary tumor incidence in rats was reduced more by using the whole apple than only the flesh without the skin ​5​ – makes you wonder about the concept of “an apple a day …”. Similarly, whole pomegranates had greater in vitro anti-proliferative effects than did some of their individual constituents ​6​ .

Food is many times more complex than drugs, but is being investigated and researched as if it were simpler and less important by the scientific and medical community. We just need to observe the fractured way kibble and other pet feed is being formulated and manufactured today. It has been stated that a functional food goes beyond basic nutrition, but this statement ignores the complexity in all food: basic nutrition is what keeps the multi-faceted organism (us huumans, our fur kids and our food) working well. Many countries across the worlds’ food regulations are typically focused on food safety, which is appropriate, but there is little emphasis on healthfulness of food, as highlighted by David Jacobs and Linda C. Tapsell ​7​ . For example, in the United States, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, signed into law in 1994, allows untested substances, which could be drugs, on the market with very little regulation or oversight, despite clinical trials suggesting null or even adverse outcomes. You really just have to catch up on some of the awareness campaigns by Susan Thixton from The Truth About Pet Food and our favourite Pet Nutrition Blogger, Rodney Habib and Dr Karen Becker Rodney Habib videos on Facebook to gain some insight and to appreciate the fallacies we are trying to highlight.

There is considerable evidence (for those skeptics out there) to support the notion or existence of food synergy, given the amount of individual or isolated studies published to date. Such food synergy is not surprising given the complexity of both dietary patterns and individual foods. Nevertheless, this “institutional knowledge” being “discovered” or “rediscovered” points toward consumption of diverse WHOLE foods as important in maintaining health for huumans, and biologically, species appropriate real and RAW FOOD for our fur kids.

So next time someone says “but there is no science to back your natural, species appropriate raw food diet approach”, just refer them to all of the scientific effort behind food synergy – it’s been there all along ….

Articles and Videos

The Quality of Pet Food Ingredients (Part 1 of 2)

The Quality of Pet Food Ingredients (Part 2 of 2)

References and Research

  1. 1.
    Jacobs DR Jr, Gross MD, Tapsell LC. Food synergy: an operational concept for understanding nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. March 2009:1543S-1548S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736b
  2. 2.
    Liu S, Manson J, Lee I, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: the Women’s Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(4):922-928. doi:10.1093/ajcn/72.4.922
  3. 3.
    Mirmiran P, Bahadoran Z, Golzarand M, Shiva N, Azizi F. Association between dietary phytochemical index and 3-year changes in weight, waist circumference and body adiposity index in adults: Tehran Lipid and Glucose study. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2012:108. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-108
  4. 4.
    Mirmiran P, Bahadoran Z, Golzarand M, Shiva N, Azizi F. Association between dietary phytochemical index and 3-year changes in weight, waist circumference and body adiposity index in adults: Tehran Lipid and Glucose study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012;9(1):108. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-108
  5. 5.
    Liu RH, Liu J, Chen B. Apples Prevent Mammary Tumors in Rats. J Agric Food Chem. March 2005:2341-2343. doi:10.1021/jf058010c
  6. 6.
    Seeram N, Adams L, Henning S, et al. In vitro antiproliferative, apoptotic and antioxidant activities of punicalagin, ellagic acid and a total pomegranate tannin extract are enhanced in combination with other polyphenols as found in pomegranate juice. J Nutr Biochem. 2005;16(6):360-367. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2005.01.006
  7. 7.
    Jacobs DR, Tapsell LC. Food, Not Nutrients, Is the Fundamental Unit in Nutrition. Nutrition Reviews. June 2008:439-450. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2007.tb00269.x

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