Fat is Fat, Right? Check Your Omegas!
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.
Fat is an excellent source of calories – more than twice the calories offered by carbohydrates or protein, making it a great way to help your horse meet his energy needs while in training, working, or performing. Unlike sugary and starchy feeds like oats, sweet feeds, or grain-based products, fat doesn’t create insulin highs and lows, it doesn’t produce negative behavior, it doesn’t increase laminitis risk, and it doesn’t destroy the microbial population in the hind gut. But are all fat sources created equally? Read on…
Omegas – 3, 6, 9
First, what does “omega” mean anyway? It’s basically a numbering classification based on how fats are chemically configured. This has an influence on how the fat is metabolized, consequently affecting cells and tissues differently. The fat that you add to your horse’s diet (such as soybean oil, corn oil, flaxseed oil, etc.) provides a combination of these three omega types. The key is to know which types are in the highest concentration. Here’s why…
There are two fatty substances, one omega 3 and one omega 6, that are considered “essential,” meaning the horse’s body cannot produce them. Therefore, they must be in the diet. Chemically, they are considered “polyunsaturated.” Omega 6s, while important, should not exceed omega 3s, because too many omega 6s increase inflammation. If your horse suffered an injury, has aging joints, exercises regularly, or has an ulceration in his digestive tract, his inflammation level is already elevated. Feeding too much omega 6s will exacerbate this situation and result in more pain.
Omega 3s, on the other hand, do the reverse… they decrease inflammation. They do a lot of other beneficial things too, such as:
· balancing the immune system
· protecting joints and ligaments
· decreasing nervousness
· improving heart and blood vessel health
· reducing skin allergies
· diminishing airway inflammation
· supporting normal gastrointestinal function
· maintaining hair and hoof health
· improving sperm motility and speed
Omegas 9s are chemically “monounsaturated.” Though there is not much research on their effect in horses, human-based studies reveal that they have a protective effect on the heart, brain, and blood vessels.
Know your fat sources
Balancing omegas is easy to do once you know the proportion of each type of fat in common sources. For example, fresh, healthy pasture contains approximately 4 times more omega 3s than omega 6s, making it a perfect food. Commercially fortified feeds, however, often add “vegetable oil” which is usually soybean oil or corn oil. The omega 6 content of each of these two oils is more than 50%, making them poor choices when trying to reduce inflammation. To balance these oils, you can add sources that are very high in omega 3s, such as flaxseed meal, flaxseed oil, or Chia seeds. Fish oils are also predominantly omega 3s, but their use should be limited since horses are not fish eaters.
Balance your oils
To feed flaxseed meal or Chia seeds, it is best to limit the amount fed to no more than 1/2 cup per 400 lbs of body weight (120 ml per 180 kg of body weight). The dosage for flaxseed oil should be 1.5 tablespoons per 400 lbs of body weight (22.5 ml per 180 kg body weight).
When feeding oils that are high in omega 6s, such as soybean, corn, and wheat germ oils, they should not exceed the amount of omega 3 sources. Even though soybean oil has about 7% omega 3s, the vast majority of its content is from omega 6s. And, if your horse requires more fat than these can offer, you can safely add rice bran oil (high in omega 9s). Finally, it’s best to avoid coconut oil and animal fat. These contain too much saturated fat and horses are just not designed to handle these feed sources.
Not all equines are the same
Depending on the health status, exercise level, and condition of your horse, supplementation of fat may be beneficial. But other equines such as ponies, minis, donkeys, and mules cannot tolerate the high levels horses can. They require some fat, but generally 1/3 to 1/2 the amount given to horses.
Remember, fat needs to be in your horse’s diet, but not all fats are the same. Though they all provide the same number of calories, each fat source has its own individual omega profile, impacting your horse’s overall health.
The above article offers some of the basics fats in your horse’s diet. For more details, please refer to Feed Your Horse Like A Horse:
· Chapter 3 – Fundamentals of Fats. Entire chapter.
· Chapter 9 – Fundamentals of Concentrates and By-Products. Pages 131-132.
· Chapter 12 – Weight Management. Pages 184-187.
· Chapter 13 – Metabolic and Endocrine Disorders. Page 204.
· Chapter 18 – Breeding, Pregnancy, and Lactation. Pages 330-333.
· Chapter 19 – Growth and Growing Old. Pages 354-358.
· Chapter 20 – Athletes. Pages 378-381.
April 2011 Forage for Thought
If your horse does not get fresh, healthy pasture for at least 8 hours each day, you’ll want to consider adding flaxseed meal to your horse’s diet. The simplest way to do this is to add:
· Nutra Flax (Horsetech): http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/nutraflax.htm This product contains only flaxseed meal (with a slight amount of calcium to correct for the naturally inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio found in flaxseeds). It is stabilized against rancidity for 6 months when stored in a cool, dry place.
If your horse is predominantly on hay and is not supplemented with vitamins and minerals from other sources, or you are feeding a commercially fortified feed, just not as much as recommended, consider adding a flaxseed meal based supplement:
· Glanzen Complete or Glanzen Lite Complete (custom product made by Horsetech to fill in nutritional gaps found in hay). http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/glanzencomplete.htm or http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/glanzenlitecomplete.htm
· Both Glanzen Complete and Glanzen Lite Complete can be made without selenium. This is beneficial if your horse is already receiving selenium from another source or your hay/pasture contains sufficient amounts of this mineral.
If your horse does have access to fresh pasture, and therefore receives the vitamins that are not found in hay, you can use the original versions (not the Complete versions) of Glanzen and Glanzen Lite:
Finally, for a flaxseed meal based supplement that also offers joint protection, consider Reitsport (Horsetech). It comes in the original version, as well as with added hyaluronic acid, or a lite version. For hay only diets, consider the Complete versions. They can all be found at: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/reitsportproductpage.htm
For permission to reprint this article, in part or in its entirety, arrange for a private consultation or schedule Dr. Getty as a speaker, please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .