Fruits and Veggies – my Top Ten Picks

Further to my blog entry about pros and cons of feeding plant foods to dogs – several of you wrote and asked what are my very favorite veggies and fruits for dogs. Well, as always the bottomline has to be, that your dog enjoys and does well with whatever you use, has no unwanted digestive response, such as gas or loose stool. Barring any such issues  – and acknowledging how many more can be used and offer a range of benefits – here’s my Top Ten.  I like to keep things simple and accessible  – no “Superfoods” for me, but just awareness of the pros and cons of everyday foods, and building a diet around seasonal, local (mostly anyway) and affordable foods.
Try them one at a time, in moderation, and see.

Kale: This powerhouse plant has been shown in human research, to lower risk for at least five types of cancer; it is high in 45 flavonoids, including quercetin, meaning it is a great ally in lowering inflammation and providing antioxidant support. As a Brassica family vegetable it does contain glucosinolates, but the amount you feed a dog for phytonutrient benefits should not pose a problem at all (glucosinolates can suppress thyroid function if fed in large quantities). Use with care if your dog has hypothyroidism, but don’t miss out on the myriad health benefits! Kale does have a considerable level of oxalates, as discussed in the blog entry – so you will want to skip this one if your dog has a history of calcium-oxalate stones.
One cup (65 grams) of steamed kale provides just 18 calories.

Blueberries: Dogs love blueberries! And blueberries offer so many health supportive compounds, it’s a good thing they do. Phytonutrients in blueberries start with anthocyanins, the antioxidant associated with blue and purple colour pigment in plants; antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, which are linked to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other age-related conditions. Blueberries provide a litany of healthful compounds, including the wellknown resveratrol (found in grape skins) and quercetin,  a natural antihistamine. Did you know they can also help prevent the recurrence of urinary tract infections, much like cranberries do? Blueberries can be added in many ways, I often recommend folks mash some up with canned green tripe and use as food topper for kibble, or if feeding home made, mixed right into the main meal. Try for organic wherever you can, and if you can’t, rinse several times, to minimize unwanted chemicals potentially clinging to the skin.

Sweet potato: This is a vegetable I often use in homemade recipes to provide energy (it’s very dense, at 200 – 225 calories per cup) but it offers much more than calories. The common orange-fleshed variety is an extraordinary source of beta-carotene – and yes, dogs can convert it to VitaminA, especially when fed with some fat, and don’t all our dogs’ meals contain fat? If serving alone, consider adding a teaspoon or two of unsalted butter, coconut or fish oil. You can add herbs such as ginger, cinnamon or turmeric, mashed with the oils, if your dog appreciates the flavour (and if these herbs are appropriate for your unique individual!) The newer purple fleshed sweet potatoes also offer the anthocyanins we discussed above, flavonoids with far-reaching health benefits. Because of the high calorie count, consider using sweet potato for part of the carbohydrate portion of a home made recipe, or simply add a little less if using as kibble topper. Note that you can and should! Use sweet potato in place of the popular canned pumpkin for loose stool. It works similarly (fiber!) and won’t contain the BPA and other nasties of canned foods.
Steaming or boiling are the preferred ways to prepare.  You can dehydrate slices for a healthy chewie treat, too. Note that yams are also great to use, but they have a different nutrient profile form sweet potatoes – starting with much less energy per cup. A good choice for the dog who needs to reduce, perhaps!

Broccoli: Another cruciferous (Brassica family) vegetable, so we want to feed this one steamed or boiled, and in moderation – possibly avoid altogether with thyroid disease. Loaded with health benefits – here is a quote from the World’s Healthiest Foods website:
The unique combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pro-detoxification components in broccoli make it a unique food in terms of cancer prevention. Connections between cancer development and oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and inadequate detoxification are so well-documented in the research that any food improving all three of these metabolic problems would be highly likely to lower our risk of cancer. In the case of broccoli, the research is strongest in showing decreased risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer. We expect that risk of other cancer types will also eventually be shown to undergo reduction from regular consumption of broccoli.”

Look at feeding 2- 3 times a week.

Shiitake mushrooms: Like many other “medicinal” mushrooms, extracts of Shiitake and concentrated preparations have been used for thousands of years to support immune function and ward of illness. As a herbalist, I would think of Shiitake as an “amphoteric” – a term that simply means a given plant can address imbalance in either direction. A quote from George Mateljan sums this up nicely;

On the one hand, numerous studies have shown the ability of whole shiitake mushrooms to help prevent excessive immune system activity. On the other hand, an equal number of studies have shown the ability of shiitake mushrooms to help stimulate immune system responses under certain circumstances. In other words, from a dietary perspective, shiitake mushrooms appear able to enhance immune function in both directions, giving it a boost when needed, and cutting back on its activity when needed.”
Many supermarkets now carry shiitakes, so consider adding a few, finely diced raw or lightly sautéed in butter, to your dog’s diet on a regular basis. Shiitakes are high in purines, so they aren’t a good choice for dogs with purine metabolism disorder, such as some Dalmatians. Otherwise, the benefits of adding them regularly are vast.

This is shitake mushroom over a cutting board.
Celery: An amazing food that contains a wide variety of health-supportive compounds including quercetin, beta-sitosterol and a range of phenolic acids….but perhaps most interesting to me, as someone who works with canine cancer all the time, are the two flavonoids luteolin and apigenin. Relatively rare in plants (other sources include the herbs thyme and parsley, which are impossible to feed in high enough amounts, and for apigenin, the herb chamomile) celery is the vegetable best tolerated by dogs which is a good source of both. Grate it into food or lightly steam. An important cancer-fighter and inflammation controller. Sadly, due to ubiquitous pesticides in food and water, celery is one vegetable you really do need to buy organic. It’s among the most contaminated, so be diligent in seeking safe sources.
Watermelon: If this seems like an unlikely choice for dogs, think again. Watermelon is very high in lycopene, a phytochemical (carotenoid) with powerful benefits for cardiovascular health as well as cancer prevention. Tomatoes are considered among the richest sources, but we want to be careful with nightshade veggies on a regular basis – see my blog entry here – so watermelon is a fun and healthful alternative. Consider mashing some up into food over the summer, or freezing and then using the cubes in a Kong. Make sure you find a good local and preferably organic source, and even then, wash the rind well before using – for yourself or for your canine companions. Be sure to cut away all sees before feeding, although humans can eat them – they’re a good source of zinc – they’re not recommended for your dog.

Apples – yes, apples! Despite the fact they are on the “Dirty Dozen” list – organic apples are a great treat for dogs, whether mashed into a kong, stewed gently into applesauce (maybe with a little cinnamon) added to a daily meal or fed as-is, for dogs who like them, apples – like green beans, which didn’t make the list but I use a lot of – have the benefit of offering fiber and phytochemicals without the problems associated with glucosinolates in brassicas, solanine in nightshades, purines in asparagus or oxalates as with many leafy greens. They make my Top Ten in part because they don’t have drawbacks – and they provide pectin, a type of polysaccharide that helps remove heavy metals and other toxins from the system. An apple a day may be a lot for a canine, but every other day, a small organic apple (you want to feed the peel) offers health benefits without any potential drawbacks.
Carrots: Everyone knows that carrots are excellent source of beta-carotene, the water soluble form of Vitamin A (and yes, dogs can utilize this form, unlike cats, who are true carnivores and need pre-formed A from animal sources). Vitamin A is important for healthy eyes and skin, not to mention reproduction. And like apples, carrots don’t pose any significant “anti-nutrient” issues – pretty much any dog can have them. What’s you might not know about carrots, is their polyacetylene content (maybe a new term for many) offers extra cardiovascular support, so we can think of adding carrots regularly to a dog who has any kind of heart disease (and preventively!) With carrots now widely available in various colour, remember to associate pigment with specific phytochemicals – purple carrots are rich in anthocyanins, the yellow variety is loaded with lutein, another of the carotenoids that supports eye health – along with other anti-inflammatory compounds. Steam, boil, mash or grate – use carrots (or any of these veggies) in the soup recipe below.

Rutabagas: the humble rutabaga, often confused with turnips, is a brassica family vegetable we too often overlook when preparing meals for dogs. Rutabagas provide the same anti-cancer support as other members, such as broccoli and cauliflower, as well as a goodly amount of potassium and fiber. Cooked and mashed into sweet potatoes or alone! Rutabagas are a great veggie to add periodically for your dog, especially warming in cold weather, and rich in antioxidants as well.

Note that blueberries, celery, apples and kale are all on the “Dirty Dozen” list – most contaminated with pesticides. I highly recommend you choose organic for these, foods, and be sure to wash everything you use thoroughly. I also use green beans, asparagus, zucchini, cranberries, cauliflower, mango,spinach, beets,  butternut and other winter squashes, parsnips, chard, and organic pears regularly! Be sure to cook or pulp them all up well, to help break down cellulose and liberate nutrients.  If your dog isn’t crazy about veggies and fruit, and you’d like to try and get some of their benefits into him or her, you can cook, puree, mix with yogurt or kefir – and freeze into a King, or simply ladle over regular meals. Experiment with preparation and amounts! As always, if your dog shows signs of gastric distress, such as gas or loose stool, try cutting the amount back – if it continues, that’s not a food to use.

Enjoy!  Keep it simple!
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