Newsletter November 2016
Dear Horse lover,
In this mailing I respond to a reader's query about using coconut oil in feeding horses. As is often the case, answers about nutrition tend to be dependent on multiple factors and individual situations – there is frequently no simple right or wrong answer. With so many factors to take into consideration, I have decided to address the biggest difference between coconut oil and other oils: the amount of saturated fat.
In this response I explain a little about coconut oil and other oils frequently used in horse feeds and human foods. It becomes clear why coconut oil has become a hype in human nutrition and eventually you can decide whether coconut oil, another oil, or no oil would be suitable for your horse. I have aimed to provide interesting information without getting too technical, but if you like to skip ahead you can have a look at the conclusion at the end. Have fun!
I am taking on new clients again for consultations. When they fill up I will close them again, so book your appointments in now. You can look at the types of consultations and arrange your booking here.
The terms and conditions have also been updated and you can read them here. Please be aware that reading this newsletter is subject to these terms and conditions.
Have a wonderful time,
"What about feeding coconut oil to my horse?"
By: Alexandra Wesker – Natural Feeding for Horses
Fats are commonly divided in two subcategories: solid fats and oils. Solid fats are those solid at room temperature, oils are liquid. As solid fats and oils both are a type of fat, the word ‘fat’ can indicate either, particularly is more scientific texts. In the rest of this newsletter feature I will speak about fats referring to both solid fats and oils.
Solid fats are those solid at room temperature, oils are liquid
Fats in horse feed
Fats provide a lot of energy, more than any other nutrient; fats provide about 9kcal per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein provide about 4kcal per gram. Fats are an important component of horse feeds, particularly the ones marketing themselves as ‘high energy, low carb’, or ‘slow energy’. After all, feeds with a high fat content will provide a lot of energy, but can be very low in sugar and starchy grains which are often blamed for ‘fizzy’ behaviour in horses.
Fats in horse feeds can be of either animal or plant origin. This might sounds strange as it is often assumed that horse feeds will by definition be entirely plant-based. If you want to avoid feeding animal fat to your horse, then do check with the feed manufacturer. Horse feed companies that steer clear of animal fats usually say so in their website or have the vegetarian logo on their packaging.
So why do manufacturers even consider using animal fats in horse feeds? One reason is the fact that animal fats are less sensitive to becoming ‘rancid’ than plant oils. Fats are unstable and can ‘oxidise’; a process where the material reacts with oxygen, which changes the material. An example of oxidisation is iron becoming rusty. In the case if fat, oxidisation makes it ‘rancid’.
Saturated and unsaturated
Fats are made up from fatty acids. The types of fatty acids determine the characteristics of the fat. It is the type of fatty acids that for example determine whether a fat is a solid fat or an oil, but they also determine how sensitive a fat is to oxidisation and therefore becoming rancid. Generally, the more ‘saturated’ a fat, the more stable it is. In contrast, the more ‘unsaturated’ a fat, the more sensitive it is to oxidisation and therefore less stable.
Saturated fats have been described as ‘bad’ fat for decades for their association with cardiovascular diseases. This coincided with the huge consumption of sources of saturated fat: meat, fast food, crisps, ready-meals, chocolate, those types of foods. This kicked off the trend where using unsaturated fats and olive oil became ‘the thing to do’ with the Mediterranean diet as the new health hype. Without getting too side-tracked by diet hypes in human nutrition, it is suffice to say coconut oil is currently popular and whether it is a good thing for horses is a fair question to ask.
When we compare the general fatty acid composition of some fats in the next table, we see some interesting differences.
|Rapeseed (canola)||Sunflower seed||Linseed (flaxseed)||Olive||Soybean||Palm||Coconut (copra)|
|Saturated fatty acids||7%||10%||9%||14%||14%||49%||91%|
|Unsaturated fatty acids||91%||84%||89%||86%||80%||48%||9%|
|Rough indication of how many of the fatty acids in each product are saturated and unsaturated.|
As we compare the general composition of these oils and fats, we can see that the vast majority of fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated. At the other end, fatty acids in rapeseed are mainly unsaturated. The unsaturated fatty acids typically far outnumber the saturated fatty acids when it comes to vegetable fats, but palm and particularly coconut fat show a distinctly different profile.
The amount of saturated fat is the main reason for coconut fat to be a health hype at the moment. The fat is very stable, which means it oxidises less well when exposed to heat, air or oxygen. Coconut fat is therefore used a lot for cooking at high temperatures and is quite unique in its composition in the group of plant-fats.
Consuming oxidised fats is unlikely to make you ill in the short run, but it can lead to cell damage in the body, along with the development of cancers and other diseases. Reason enough to for me to use saturated fat in cooking at high temperatures. Butter is an option, or coconut oil can be chosen if you prefer a product of vegetable origin, although the price is significantly higher. Palm oil is another option and used in many products including breads and cakes, but I tend to go avoid it unless it comes from a sustainable source – it is often not ethically sourced.
So what to feed my horse?The main reason for supplementing horse diets with oil is if more dietary energy needs to be provided. This can be the case for horses that are being exercised regularly, or over winter when some horses can lose body condition. Oil supplementation also helps horses in shedding their coats when transitioning from their summer to winter coat or vice versa.
A major criterium for selecting the oil for your horse is the choice between saturated and unsaturated fats. You can consider feeding unsaturated fats if you feed it on a regular basis and therefore have a high turnover and if you can store it in a dark and cool environment. Such fats include sunflower, rapeseed (canola) and soybean. If you don’t feed oil on a regular basis meaning the bottle will be open for a long time, and/or you store the bottle in a place where it is prone to oxidation (light and warm), then go for an unsaturated fat such as coconut (copra).
If you want to supplement your horse’s diet with oil, introduce it gradually by one table spoon per day until you reach the quantity you want to supplement. Do not feed more than 100 ml to horses or more than 50ml to small ponies of any oil without consulting your vet or nutritionist.