Good day readers – I’m just dropping in quickly today to offer you a little information, something I had promised for a while, but seems extra important now we are launching the Home Cooking Tutorial in March.  It’s a little series on some foods we home feeders use all the time,  as part of our super healthy recipes – foods that add some essential nutrient, but also play a starring role in terms of providing phytochemicals – often referred to as ‘antioxidants” (but they are so much more, as you’ll see in the tutorial, if you join us). These foods are sometimes lauded as having Super Powers (blueberries, pumpkin, kale) other times vilified as “causing yeast” or “too sugary” (sweet potato, carrots) and sometimes, a potential to aggravate inflammation or contribute to bladder stones, is a very real concern (white potatoes, spinach).

And yet, all of these foods can be used in highly beneficial ways in specific recipes. There’s no way to cover all the material on using foods in any of these blog entries (but there is the tutorial for that!) but my goal with this series is to give readers some pointers, and have a link for group members asking questions we seem to type the same answers over and over … sweet potatoes don’t cause cancer, nor are they yams…blackberries and raspberries are different from blueberries….kale and spinach have different nutrient profiles…yes, solanine in white potato can aggravate inflammation…etc etc.

So let’s start off with a look at  an important group, one that offers some great benefits, and also has a few issues to consider when you choose. Remember that no one food has to be used all the time, all of the ones we look at today could be used in different recipes, as you become a formulating  whiz, working with the very simple tools in our tutorial.

Our group today, Orange Veggies,  will focus on these five:

Sweet Potatoes
Winter Squash (acorn, Hubbard, butternut)

Let’s take a look, starting with our understanding that we add vegetables for a few specific reasons. These are

1) To add calories in a recipe where we have abundant protein and fat, or where the dog does best with moderate levels of one or the other and only carbs can then supply energy(calories).

2) To augment vitamin and mineral content, with the understanding that micronutrients from plants will not be as fully bioavailable as they are from animal foods

3) To add beneficial compounds known, scientifically, to reduce inflammation, support various body systems, help prevent the development of degenerative disease

4) To bolster the fiber content which is linked to bowel health, including reduced risk of some cancers

Detractors will insist things like “carbs cause yeast” – we covered that here: Yeasty dog? It may not be the carbs  
or that “dogs can’t digest carbs” ( run a search in carbohydrate as i have four articles at least on this one)
I’ve talked about the benefits of some veggie in the diet here:Vegetables for dogs – to feed, or not to feed?

There are so many myths focused on  plant foods (carbohydrates) for  dogs, I have done some work to offset some of it. In my own practise, I have dogs who are eating extremely low intake (often cancer, under 10% )- and others on very high intake, related to liver shunt, for example or pancreatitis, or both in one dog…meaning calories cannot come from normal levels of fat and protein and hence must come from carbs. All the starchy veg we’re discussing here can contribute to the recipe of either a dog who needs higher carb intake for metabolic or therapeutic reasons, or simply add fiber, potassium, vitamin C, beta-carotene and various phytochemicals to the diet of a healthy individual. So bear in mind we’re looking at pros and cons, to help you decide which to work with, and for those of you in the tutorial learning to formulate your own recipes,  this info may help expedite your process.Let’s start with sweet potatoes and yams, and clear up both the confusion about which is which, and take a peek at the differences between them.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams

First – the confusion. Sweet potatoes are totally different, but often referred to as yams in the supermarket, just as rutabagas are called turnips. In truth, sweet potatoes are from the  Convolvulaceae (Morning glory) family and yams, from the Dioscoreaceae family. They do both offer some similar benefits, but there are differences we need to take note of as well. So let’s look at them individually first and then, in contrast.

Sweet potatoes(Ipomoea batatas are very energy dense, meaning they pack a lot of calories into each cup, and thus, you may not need to use a lot of them in a recipe where you want to boost calories with carbs.  200 grams of baked, mashed sweet potato without peel,gives you 180 caloriesas well as almost 7 grams of fiber, 54 mgs of magnesium, 950 mgs potassium, 40 mgs Vitamin C, and 23 mgs of beta carotene, the water soluble form of Vitamin A. The pluses here are – energy density,fiber, but also a good source of beta carotene, in a recipe where organ meats may not be suitable or cod liver oil is not tolerated. (Remember that beta carotene is not as efficiently utilized by the dog as preformed Vitamin A, but the dog will definitely get some!) The drawbacks of sweet potato are NOT that “it causes yeast” (it may or may not be a factor, just like any food) but that it is fairly high in oxalate content, so not a great choice for a breed prone to developing these stones,, and not suitable at all once stones have appeared.  It also has a fair bit of sugar – 13 grams per  200 gram cup – so not wise for dogs with diabetes. Bear in mind that if a recipe is calling for around 20% carb, and of that 20%, one cup is sweetpotato and the other a lower GI source, you are still going to have a very low glycemic load overall, it is quantity that counts here.

In short, sweet potato can be useful in

– recipes where we need to bolster the total calories from carb, especially if they are lower calorie recipes and need potassium raised
– recipes that need additional Vitamin A from non animal sources
– recipes that need some fiber to help address stool issues

and won’t be useful if the dog has diabetes, calcium oxalate bladder stones,or needs to keep the total dietary sugar content very  low –  or the food quantity is so high that potassium is overly high to begin with. Obviously, sensitivity to sweet potato rules it out as well.

My preferred method of preparing sweet potatoes is to bake them in the skin and then just scoop out the flesh; I peeled and boiled for many years, but as my wrists got older my need for expedience got stronger, and now I bake. I am often asked if the peel is ok to use; I don’t like to, but many do feed it without any issue.If you do use the peel, and some nutrients and phytochemicals are concentrated there, just make sure it is organic – and if your dog doesn’t like it (I’ve seen a bit of that) try it peeled.

Prep Methods:

1) To Bake: scrub sweet potatoes well, place in oven pre-heated to 400 degrees, in a shallow uncovered pan. Prick with a fork in several places, bake uncovered for about 45 minutes, until soft all the way through when pierced with a knife. Allow to cool and then mash well, or remove skin and mash flesh only. Always use a food scale to measure accurately.

2) To Boil – you can peel the sweet potatoes first, or simply place whole into the water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about an hour (depending on size.)  Dicing them up before boiling makes it faster, but you lose more nutrient overall.




Yams are also a higher calorie vegetable at 232 calories per cup (200 grams) and a little higher fiber than sweet potatoes, 7.8 grams, a little less Vitamin C (24 mgs) and a fair bit less sugar ( total is 0.98, in contrast to the 13 grams in the same amount of sweet potato). But, the hard thing to work with here is the potassium – a whopping 1340 mgs per cup – and even with  the understanding not all of that is bioavailable, it’s still very high, especially in a higher calorie recipe where you may be struggling to keep total potassium in line. And as for beta carotene, yams are a wash out compared to sweet potato, with a scant 0. 136 mgs  (remember, sweet potatoes have 23 mgs).

Yams are a good choice in recipes where….

-we need to bolster the total calories from carb, especially if they are lower calorie recipes and need potassium raised
– calories are low, and we want to bolster total potassium
– we are seeking some extra fiber, perhaps to help firm up stool
– we need to keep total sugar content to an absolute minimum

….and they will be hard to work into a recipe already high in potassium, most important where we are seeking to stick to the RA, or where we’re looking to add some beta carotene.
You can prepare yams in the same ways as sweet potatoes but I really don’t recommend using the skin.

As this is getting very long, I’ll post the material on carrots, squash and pumpkin in Part Two, tomorrow.