By Clair Thunes
Q:Is it okay to feed my horse peppermints and sugar cubes? I’m concerned about the amount of sugar they contain. If it is okay, how many is too many?
A:Simple sugars, such as the sucrose found in peppermints and sugar cubes, are absorbed by the horse’s small intestine as glucose and fructose. Glucose causes release of insulin to facilitate the entry of glucose in to cells. Fructose (not to be confused with fructans) is metabolized differently. Only metabolized in the liver, fructose is more lipogenic than glucose, meaning that it’s more likely to lead to production of fat.
Most concern about sugar and starch intake has stemmed from our increasing knowledge about insulin resistance (IR), laminitis, polysaccharide storage myopathies (PSSM), and equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). Horses with IR release more insulin than is normal in order to remove glucose from their blood stream. As a result, while circulating glucose tends to be normal, circulating insulin is elevated. High circulating insulin creates an increased risk for developing laminitis. Horses with PSSM store glycogen (the storage form of glucose) abnormally in their muscle tissue, and diets high in starch and sugar cause increased production of volatile fatty acids in the gastric stomach causing a more acidic environment and a greater likelihood of a horse developing EGUS
I think it’s important to put the questions of sugar in treats in perspective of a horse’s typical daily non-structural carbohydrate consumption. If we assume a 1,200-pound horse eating 2% of body weight as dry matter from hay a day, and that the hay contains 10% moisture and 10 % nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) on a dry-matter basis (a value often used as the recommended upper NSC level for horses with metabolic issues, such as IR and PSSM), this horse is consuming 1,090 grams of NSC (starch and simple sugars) per day.
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