What role does the glycemic index play in a cat’s nutritional health?
When you have a diabetic cat, it’s important to keep the weight at a healthy level, since controlling weight and increasing exercise are important factors for stabilizing blood sugar and insulin, and for ensuring the long-term health of your cat.
A diet low in carbohydrates and high in fiber is recommended for controlling feline diabetes, because foods low in the glycemic index (GI) are absorbed more slowly, causing the animal to feel full longer, and they cause the blood sugar levels to rise more slowly.Corn and wheat—both heavily used often in pet food–are high glycemic items. Humans know just how bad high GI foods are, causing obesity, cardiac problems, diabetes, inflammation, etc. Most testing has been on humans, but it was often assumed it would have the same effect on pets.
Recently, research from Harvard Medical School has pointed to evidence in an animal model that high-glycemic carbs can lead to obesity and high cardiovascular risk. The animals fed a high-glycemic diet developed twice the body fat compared to low-glycemic animals over an 18-week period. They also developed elevated blood glucose levels, high triglycerides and reduced insulin sensitivity.
Your veterinarian will give you guidelines but, generally:
• Avoid carbohydrates. Canned foods with “sauce” or “gravy” tend to be high in carbs and can cause your cat’s blood sugar to skyrocket.
• Skip the rice. Rice is considered a healthy food, but it is high on the glycemic index. Brown rice is often used as a staple in pet foods. Best to speak with your veterinarian about this.
• Read food labels carefully. Chicken, turkey or fish should be listed first on canned cat food labels. If the first ingredient is “meat by-products,” choose another brand. Also watch for cane sugar, which is an ingredient in some commercial canned and pouch foods, and is not suitable for a diabetic cat.
NOTE: Sometimes a prescription food is recommended, but it can be expensive and occasionally unpalatable to animals. As with anything, discuss options with your veterinarian.