One of the most important factors for horse owners when considering a feed or supplement is the combined sugar and starch level, which is often desired to be below 5% or 7%. This is a key consideration to reduce insulin spikes and the associated behavioural issues, energy excesses and risk of laminitis.
However, the focus on these numbers has caused many of us to overlook the different kinds of starch and when starch can be beneficial.
Starch can be divided into two categories:
Non-resistant starch is the baddy of the two i.e. the one we want to keep away from horses.
Non-resistant starches are carbohydrates. They break down in the small intestine and convert into glucose molecules provided heating, fizzy energy and causing a rise in blood insulin levels. Therefore, non-resistant starches are the starches we are trying to avoid.
Resistant starches, however, are quite different. As the name suggests, they’re difficult for horses to digest.
Resistant Starch passes through the small intestine into the large colon. There, it breaks down into short chain fatty acids through fermentation. Fermentation is the primary task of the equine gastrointestinal tract and continuous, ongoing fermentation is what keeps it healthy and well.
The hind gut of the horse should be fermenting at all times, which is why when left to their own devices, horses will graze for 20 out of every 24-hour period. Fermentation is important for maintaining a healthy microbiome (the colonies of bacteria in the gut that support good health and immunity), thermoregulation, energy release and the absorption of nutrients.
Short chain fatty acids, which resistant starches are broken down into, are a cool energy source which is used up immediately rather than being stored as fat. They provide slow energy release which means you don’t see increases in excitability and reactivity in the horse. And of course, there is no insulin spike associated with this increased energy.
It is highly efficient and especially useful for performance horses. Endurance (and eventing in particular) requires your horse to use high levels of energy over a sustained period. Short chain fatty acids are ideal for these horses. It allows a steady energy release without a sugar spike and then a sugar crash. Feeding resistant starches to these horses will keep them performing well and consistently.
Resistant starch is also excellent for older horses. As older horses find it harder to consume high volumes of roughage, the fermentation process slows and can cause a range of metabolic and gut issues. It is important to ensure they are still getting enough fibre to allow the fermentation process to occur and keep them healthy. Resistant starches behave like fibre in the hind gut and trigger the same response of fermentation. This helps keep older horses metabolically sound and thriving.
There are many sources of resistant starch but one of the best is un-ripened green bananas. Once bananas ripen and go yellow, the starch converts into resistant starch and they become a candy -like treat that cause intense insulin spikes.
However, un-ripened bananas are a treasure trove of resistant starch, vitamins and minerals. Green Bananas present a perfect way to support hind gut function, boost performance and stamina in performance horses and keep veteran horses healthy.
As you can see, not all starch is created equal. It’s important to understand the differences and to ensure that we don’t demonise all starches.
Resistant starch has a range of health benefits that make it an ideal support for horse’s health and performance and if used correctly, resistant staph can really give your horse the edge.
Comments will be approved before showing up.