I am waiting on hold for my vet and hear a loop message, over and over: “Is your cat or dog obese? Ask us about the signs of diabetes.”
This makes me crazy. Unlike cats, dogs don’t get diabetes because they’re fat.
The Obesity-Canine Diabetes Myth
Almost all* canine diabetes is akin to Type 1 — sometimes called “juvenile”– diabetes in humans, the type that is hereditary and can’t be prevented or reversed through diet.
Being obese is not healthy for any animal. Eating high fat foods can put pressure on the pancreas of dogs that are predisposed towards pancreatitis, which in turn can cause diabetes. But this being a guilt-free zone, I want to make it clear that, if your dog gets diabetes, it’s not your fault. It’s the roll of the genetic dice.
Short rant over.
The diabetic diet
If canine diabetes can’t be reversed, there are some things that can help the insulin that needs to be administered to do its job. While there’s no consensus among veterinary experts about precisely what a doggy diabetic should eat, most agree that the addition of fiber to the diet helps keep blood sugar levels on an even keel.
When Frankie was first diagnosed, my vet suggested a diabetes prescription diet, but it had way too many chemicals in it for me. One of the other vets in the practice suggested that, if I wouldn’t go along with the prescription diet, at least I should add fiber to Frankie’s food.
She suggested Metamucil, a popular psyllium fiber supplement for humans.
I respectfully demurred here too.
Instead, I chose a kibble with a high fiber content, Wellness Core, and on the recommendation of another vet supplemented it with a fresh protein source — usually low-fat beef or chicken.
Not too long ago, Frankie was having digestive problems, so I stopped giving him kibble and switched him over to Stella and Chewy’s dehydrated raw food patties. But — aside from the fact that they are expensive and Frankie seems to be turning against them — their maximum fiber content is only 4%.
I recalled another fiber source that I could use as a supplement, this one natural, if a bit unusual: Tepary beans.
Some bean background
Once upon a time, before white flour and sugar were introduced into their diets, the native peoples of the Southwest did not get diabetes. Now the disease is rampant on many reservations, and especially on that of the Tohono O’odham people, which spreads across southern Arizona and northern Mexico west of Tucson.
It has been estimated that some 70% of Tohono O’odham people get diabetes.
The good news: Many of the Tohono O’odham are turning to traditional native foods to prevent or reverse diabetes, and one of the foods that has turned out to be the most effective is the tepary bean.
The Terrific Tepary
The tepary bean has been described as “probably the healthiest bean on the planet“:
Tepary beans have more protein content (23–30%) than common beans such as pinto, kidney, and navy. They have higher fiber and a lower glycemic index (41-44) as well as higher levels of oil, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and potassium. They are lower in polyunsaturated fat and in the anti-enzymatic compounds which make common beans hard to digest (Hamama and Bhardwaj 2002, Virginia State University) [translation: tepary beans don’t make you fart like other beans do]. A high fiber food, they digest slowly, providing sustained energy and making them a great energy food for athletes, dieters and diabetics.
Another bonus: the bean is native to the Sonoran Desert and amazingly drought tolerant, so it’s easy to grow anywhere.
Getting and using teparies
It’s easy for me to get tepary beans. I’m five minutes from the retail outlet for Native Seeds/SEARCH — a wonderful organization devoted to preserving endangered native crops of the American Southwest and Northwest Mexico — which sells bags of the beans. But anyone can order them online from the organization.
How do I use them? Basically, I grind them up so that they’re more easily digestible and sprinkle two teaspoons over Frankie’s food. They taste nutty and he seems to like them — or, at least, they don’t interfere with his enjoyment of his mainstay meals.
Hey, Frankie is a desert dog — at least I think he wasn’t imported from Chicago. Though he didn’t get diabetes from eating sugar and white flour, there’s no reason he can’t benefit from the foods of his region.
*In some breeds, unspayed females may be predisposed towards getting diabetes during diestrus (the phase right after heat) or during pregnancy, and it may be reversed when the dog is neutered; see Diabetes in Elkhounds is Associated with Diestrus and Pregnancy