Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Does Your Horse Really Need A Low-Starch Diet?

Equinews.com - Full Article

By Dr. Kathleen Crandell · May 4, 2011

Horses derive dietary energy from a multitude of sources. A combination of fiber, starch, and fat is generally the best way to fuel performance, whether it is in the breeding shed, on the trail, or in the show ring. Over the last several years, the market has become flooded with low-starch feeds, and horse owners are responding by purchasing more and more.

Yet, low-starch feeds are not appropriate for every horse. Certain groups of horses require starch for optimal performance—growing youngsters and many equine athletes, for example. What lies behind the current low-starch craze?

What is starch?

Starch is a long, complex chain of sugar molecules. Within the plant, it represents the energy storehouse and is found in particularly high levels in grains. Starches are considered nonstructural carbohydrates because they are found within the cell wall. Fiber, on the other hand, is considered a structural carbohydrate because it lends support to the plant.

During digestion starch is broken down by enzymes into minute sugar molecules so that it can be readily absorbed. At this point, starch and sugar in the diet are handled similarly. Sugar in the diet can come from the cell contents in grass, molasses from feeds, and certain treats. These sugar molecules cross into the bloodstream and end up as glucose, which gets distributed to cells for use as energy throughout the body. The hormone that helps clear glucose from the blood and into the cells is insulin. This distribution method of getting glucose to the cells for energy, glycogen-building, or adipose storage is part of the energy-generation system of the working horse. The harder the horse is working, the more important the system is...

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