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There is a lot of buzz online, in the dog world, and even in the veterinary profession about the effectiveness of the "green bean diet." The logic of the diet actually has some sound science behind it. Unfortunately, when used with regular dog food it may result in nutritional inadequacies.

The Diet

In its simplest form, owners supplement 10 percent of the volume of their pets’ regular canned or dry meal with canned green beans. The green bean content of the meal is increased in 10 percent increments every 2-3 days until all meals consist of 50 percent regular food and 50 percent green beans. This final mixture is fed until the pet’s target weight is reached. The pet is then slowly weaned from the beans and back to all regular food.

The Science

Studies in humans, cats and dogs have all substantiated positive weight loss results when adding fiber to calorie restricted programs. Canned green beans provide extra fiber, are generally a hit with dogs, and only contain about 50 calories per can. Human subjects report a greater sense of satiation or “fullness” with the fiber addition and tend to eat less if given free access to food. The same response in cat and dog subjects suggests that fiber has the same satiation effect.

During the course of a normal meal, the stomach and intestines fill, causing distension or stretching of the walls of these organs. Distention causes a release of stomach and intestinal hormones into the blood, which travel to the satiation center of the brain, triggering the “stop eating signal.” Adding fiber increases meal volume without adding significant calories and hastens the satiation effect. The feeling of fullness decreases food consumption and reduces calorie intake. Weight loss experiments have confirmed the effectiveness of this strategy.

The Problems

A 50 percent reduction in calories could be too severe. Putting an animal on such a program without veterinary supervision or preliminary lab work could result in serious medical problems for any age group and especially those with undiagnosed medical conditions (liver problems, kidney problems, heart problems, diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc.).

Regular food is inappropriate for weight loss patients. Although weight loss patients are fed the calories appropriate for their ideal target weight, they still need amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals for their present weight.

Dieters also need extra protein to reduce the amount of muscle that is lost during dieting. Pet foods are formulated to deliver essential nutrients based on standard calorie consumption. If calories are restricted than so are essential nutrients. That is why dieting animals need special formulations, commercial or homemade, that are heavily fortified with extra protein, essential amino acids, and essential fats, vitamins and minerals in order to compensate for the reduced calorie intake. Adding green beans to a regular food diet could result in significant nutrient deficiencies, especially if the dieting was prolonged. This malnutrition is exacerbated by the fact that high dietary fiber interferes with the digestion and absorption of some essential fats, calcium, zinc and iron.

As we have discussed in previous blogs, body metabolism changes as the body loses weight. The calorie intake that induced the first ten pounds of body weight may be too much to achieve the next ten pound loss because the body has adapted and can maintain weight on fewer calories. A 50 percent reduction in calories may still be too much food for a severely overfed animal to achieve ideal weight; a supervised multi-stage weight loss program would be more successful.

These metabolic adaptations can also cause weight regain when dieters are weaned from green beans and resume eating normal food. The adaptations that occur during dieting are so dramatic that studies in dogs that were induced to obesity and then successfully dieted could be induced into obesity again with fewer calories and in less time. Maintaining higher fiber content in post-weight loss diets has been shown to be effective for humans, cats, and dogs in managing weight after dieting.

My Take

I use green beans as part of my weight loss program. I find my weight loss patients like them and the beans reduce begging behavior between meals. I have also found that owner compliance to the program is better if they can use green beans as treats. Few have complained about the increased gas production and flatulence. However due to the problems cited above, green beans are not substitutes for comprehensive weight loss programs. Think of weight management as a chronic condition that requires constant monitoring like heart or kidney disease. Find a veterinarian that shares your concern to work closely with.

Sadly, I will admit this will not be an easy task, but be persistent. Weight loss is too serious to go it alone with only the help of Dr. Google.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: IMG_4240 by Shelly Couvrette / via Flickr

Comments  7

Leave Comment
  • Dr. Google
    04/12/2012 06:43am

    "Weight loss is too serious to go it alone with only the help of Dr. Google."

    Love the last sentence and it's so true of so many things. Just because it's on the web doesn't make it true (or heathy).

    Thanks for the tips, Dr. Tudor.

  • 04/12/2012 10:54pm

    You are welcome. I appreciate your readership germane comments.
    Dr T

  • Canine Supplements?
    04/12/2012 07:00pm

    Something I have not seen mentioned at all is the use of canine nutritional supplements to help the dieting dog get the necessary vitamins/minerals.

    What if I reduced my dog's kibble (which I have), count his caloric intake (which I do), include green beans in his diet (which I do), and provide him with a veterinary forumula of supplementation?

    Wouldn't this work, too?

  • 3Dogs1Cat
    04/12/2012 09:42pm

    There is nothing wrong with a "Combo" approach as long as it is verified that the total meal or meals meet all of the daily nutritional requirements of the 11 essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and extra protein to reduce muscle loss. This requires evaluating the meal or meals through a computer program for adequacy. Such programs are not readily available to the public, so it is difficult. The veterinary formulas already contain the fiber necessary to reduce calorie density so beans are unnecessary with these formulations. They are also fortified with all necessary nutrients, so adding regular kibble adds unnecessary calorie for no real good purpose. Despite claims you may hear or see in your search for a supplement, there is no one-size-fits-all supplement for weight loss so that owners can diet an animal on regular dog food.
    Dr. T

  • 04/13/2012 02:16pm

    Ah! Thanks for the additional clarifying info!

  • Watch the salt
    04/17/2012 02:04am

    Good article! We recommend replacing part (not 50% though) of an overweight dog's ration with either green beans or PLAIN canned pumpkin, and both methods work pretty well. If canned green beans - as opposed to frozen or fresh - are used, it's important to either use the "no salt added" variety, or rinse the beans well. Otherwise the dog will be getting a huge dose of sodium every day!
    And frozen green beans are a great treat for most dogs, they seem to enjoy the crunch :-)

  • 04/01/2013 12:10pm

    Green beans are high protein vegetarian foods.
    I take green beans at least three times a week to get rich protein for the fat burning and muscles recovery.

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