Grain = grass seed. Do dogs need seeds of grasses?
Would you rather feed them beans and peas? That's really the kibble choice.
Domestic dogs' digestive systems are very well adapted to rice and oats because they've been eating it along side us as long as we've had human agriculture. I really don't think there's any evidence to support worrying about domestic dogs' biologic ability to digest common grains like rice, oats, and barely, absent a food allergy. And those grains are probably better than the kibble alternative. As I posted above though, the Round-Up issue is still there with most grains (the U.S. oat crop is contaminated), and U.S.-grown rice adds in some arsenic concern. Given GSD digestive and immune problems, I'm starting to wonder if we really ought to be focusing a lot more on that kind of agricultural contamination affecting their gut health...but good luck finding organic kibble!
If you opt for no grains though, you have to focus on what you're getting instead -- and that's where the problem arises. Here's why you can't have an all-meat kibble:
Grain = carbs. ALL kibble has to have a set percent of carbs for the extrusion machine to work -- you' cannot make kibble without a big bunch of carbs. Kibble starts out as dough that gets pressed through the machine, and the dough is held together by the carbs and binders. Rice, barley and oats hold it together very well and are highly digestible to dogs. OTOH, grain-free kibbles typically use legumes, tapioca, and tubers (white or sweet potatoes) -- which may not be as digestible to dogs. Worse, the heavy addition of legumes boosts the protein numbers on the bag without any more added meat! So you pay more for "high protein" grain-free but may actually get an less-digestible food potentially with *less* meat than the grain-in food (because the protein is coming from chickpeas, lentils, etc.). It's a massive marketing hoax that's swallowed up to 70% of the dog food market.
I like Fromm as a company but take a look at the ingredient list for Fromm Gold's grain-in and grain-free formulas: the protein is the same. The grain-free has a lot of legumes but the grain-in does not. So that means more of the grain-free bag's protein has to be from those legumes. The grain-in food lacks the legumes and thus has to be getting its protein from the meat. The grain-in from Fromm is cheaper...so why wouldn't you choose it if you're going to feed that company's food? If you look at the amount of legumes in Acana and Origin, it's a lot -- and has been increasing over the years -- but if the protein numbers have stayed the same, it stands to reason that they might be saving cost by reducing meat content as they add more beans.
The legumes are the big suspects in the DCM stuff right now, though nobody seems clear on the mechanism or whether there's another set of nutrients involved too, plus a breed gene that gets triggered, plus variations in gut flora plus...who knows. There's old research (many years old) about fiber interfering with taurine that is being looked at again, but it may even be something new going on in some dogs with a different set of metabolic processes. Nobody seems to know the mechanism or why only a small number of non-Goldens are affected, why some dogs with DCM have normal taurine and others don't, etc. So it could yet turn out to be something totally different.
The hard question for those who feed grain-free though is this: what benefit do you see in feeding your dog so many legumes?
I agree with the advice to feed a grain-in food if you're going to feed kibble -- vets probably should have been giving that advice though even without the DCM scare IMHO. If nothing else, buying grain-in kibble at least avoids wasting money on marketing ingredient trickery. If something ever comes of the DCM research, it may end up being safer to avoid the legume-based kibbles and opt for grain-in, with added taurine for now (though we don't yet really know). Finding kibble without legumes though is becoming harder and harder! And finding both organic AND legume-free...I don't know if it exists.