Fruits for the Insulin Resistant Horse
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.
Day in and day out, your horse eats the same thing. Boring… yes. Unbalanced… definitely. You’d like to add some fresh fruits to his diet but he’s already on the chubby side and you’re afraid of giving him too much sugar. Many, if not most, overweight horses are insulin resistant and it’s true, you do need to limit the sugar (and starch) content of their diet. But there still can be room for some tasty fresh fruit. The key is to evaluate how much sugar your horse is getting in his entire diet.
Sugar content of common fruits
Horses love bananas (one of their favorite flavours), watermelon, berries, grapes, and, of course, apples. Carrots, though not a fruit, also contain sugar. The chart below gives you an idea of how much sugar is in each of these foods:
*Values obtained from http://nutritiondata.self.com.
Don’t forget the peel!
One really great way to offer your horse something tasty and nutritious is to feed the peel instead of the whole fruit. Apple peels, banana peels, orange peels, watermelon (and other melon) rinds – all of these have less than 1 gram of sugar per cup.
Let’s put this in perspective with the rest of the diet
In an effort to reduce the sugar (and starch) content of your horse’s diet, you should strive to feed less than 12 percent non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). NSC includes not just sugar, but also starch and fructans. If you’ve had your hay or pasture analyzed, look at the ethanol soluble carbohydrate (ESC) value – that’s the simple sugar content. ESC values are typically about half the total NSC. Below are ESC and NSC percentages for a few forages and fibrous feeds:
**Values obtained from the University of Georgia: http://aesl.ces.uga.edu/Forms/NSCCircular.pdf
As an example, let’s assume your grass hay has 11 percent NSC, and 6 percent ESC. Excellent! That’s a good hay to offer your horse free-choice. If your horse consumes 25 pounds per day of this hay, he/she will consume 1.5 pounds of sugar (25 X .06). Convert that to grams (multiply by 454), and you have 681 grams of sugar. If your horse also eats six strawberries per day, you’ll be providing an additional 6 grams of sugar. This brings the total sugar intake to 687 grams per day, or 6.05 percent of the diet. Not much of a difference.
But, if you are feeding hay with a high NSC percentage, plus additional feeds, making the entire diet high already high in sugar and starch, adding fruit will only make things that much worse.
The goal: Reducing sugar in the entire diet gives you room to provide a small amount of fresh fruit. This will not only be pleasing to your horse, but will offer additional nutrients that do not exist in the current diet.
Dr. Juliet Getty is an internationally respected equine nutritionist available for private consultations and speaking engagements. At www.gettyequinenutrition.com, sign up for her informative—and free—monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought, read articles, join her nutrition forum, enroll in upcoming teleseminars and purchase previously recorded events. Contact Dr. Getty directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.