By Dr. Becker
According to industry experts, pea fiber is increasingly used in place of beet pulp and wheat, corn and soy fibers in pet foods – apparently to answer consumer demand for dog and cat food formulas with fewer cheap fillers.
Let's take a closer look at this latest peculiar entry in the pet food ingredient follies.
Pea Fiber 101
There are two types of pea fiber available on the market -- one is derived from a dry process; the other from a wet process.
In the dry process, the seed coats and hulls are separated from the seed as part of the normal operation of cleaning the peas.
In the wet process, the pea starch is separated from fiber.
The seeds are ground, and then water is added to decant the fibers.
The pea fiber resulting from the dry process has a higher concentration of dietary fiber (over 85 percent) and is rich in xylose sugar.
The pea fiber produced from the wet process contains about 65 percent dietary fiber and is rich in three other sugars.
Both types of pea fiber contain more than 75 percent insoluble fiber and from 5 to 25 percent soluble fiber.
When pea fiber is compared to other, comparable fibers, it performs about the same, except that it doesn't seem to produce as much gas as other vegetable fibers.
Pea fiber is very low in fat and high in crude fiber (35 to 40 percent). This makes it a perfect ingredient to lower the calorie content of those 'low fat' and 'weight management' pet foods I NEVER recommend for overweight dogs and cats.
Pea fiber doesn't have much protein -- and what little it does have is vegetable protein, not the animal protein your pet's body requires -- but it's high in lysine and also contains tryptophan.
Use of Pea Fiber in Pet Food
The pea fiber that goes into pet food is a light colored, nearly odorless powder. It has a bland taste that doesn't affect the palatability of the food it is added to.
It can be used with both wet and dry ingredients. It is used to bind water and fat, and also as a thickener in wet foods.
Pea fiber and pea hulls aren't recognized by AAFCO, however, it seems the FDA has acknowledged them as a fiber source as part of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act.
Apparently there are actually a few published studies on pea fiber in the diets of companion animals. However, no studies to date have involved cats, nor have any provided data on the effects of pea fiber on stool consistency.
According to PetfoodIndustry.com, in pet foods, pea fiber "…is used as a nutritionally functional fiber due in part to the laxation effects imparted from the water-holding capacity (about13 mL water per g pea fiber) of the insoluble fiber and secondly for the fermentability of its soluble fiber."
Functional fibers are non-digestible carbohydrates that have been isolated from foods. They aren't the same as the dietary fiber found naturally in foods like vegetables, grains and legumes – not that your dog or cat needs much of that type of fiber, either.
On food labels functional fibers appear as maltodextrin, polydextrose and cellulose. Cellulose is derived from different types of fiber, including pea fiber. Human food manufacturers use "functional fibers" in their packaged products to increase the fiber content of the food, making it appear to be more nutritious than it actually is.
To take this a step further, pet food manufacturers add various types of fibers, grains and other carbohydrates to their formulas to give the appearance – to human consumers – that the foods are nutritious for companion animals. This completely ignores the fact that balanced nutrition for canines and felines is not what is commonly considered balanced nutrition for humans.
My Take on Pea Fiber in Pet Food
It's a filler and high in insoluble fiber. Neither 'fillers' nor high fiber ingredients are part of a balanced, species-appropriate diet for dogs and cats.
You won't find pea fiber in high quality commercially available pet foods, nor will you find it in healthy recipes for homemade pet meals.
Where you'll find it are in very affordable, highly processed, low-quality pet foods.
If you're wondering about the quality of pet food you're feeding your own dog or cat, take a look at 13 Pet Foods Ranked from Great to Disastrous.