Almond Joy: Choosing Almonds for Horses
While the health benefits of almonds for humans are well documented, almonds for horses are not yet as thoroughly researched. Still, what’s good for the rider is often good for the equine, and there are almond varieties and preparations that can provide optimum benefit for horses.
Background and Benefits:
Almonds are an ancient food that are thought to have originated in western Asia and North Africa. Egyptians added almonds to the bread that was served only to the Pharaohs. The Romans used almonds to shower a bride and groom as a blessing of fertility. Spanish missionaries brought the seeds to California.
When the missions closed, almonds found their way back to California via the eastern United States in the 19th century. In 1840, almond trees were brought from Europe to the east coast and planted in New England; however the climate in New England was not particularly beneficial to almond cultivation and the seeds were then sent on to California which is now one of the world’s largest producers of almonds.
As a whole food, almonds are a nutritional powerhouse: providing excellent sources of vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, calcium, B-2 and the bioflavonoids. The vitamin E provided by almonds includes both vitamin E families: the tocopherols and the tocotrienols. While the most common vitamin E supplied in fortified commercial feeds and in many equine and human supplements is d-alpha-tocopherol, the tocopherol family itself includes alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols. In many whole foods like almonds, one of the superior benefits of the vitamin E is the body being provided all the tocopherols, not simply one.
Manganese and copper are two essential cofactors of a key oxidative enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD). Superoxide dismutase disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria of cells, thus reducing oxidative stress and assisting with energy production.
The skin of the almonds provide the phenol antioxidants known as bioflavonoids. So far 20 potent antioxidant flavonoids have been identified in almond skins including the catechins (found in green tea) and naringenin (found in grapefruit). In a study at the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University, senior scientist and director, Jeffery Blumberg, Ph.D, noted a synergy between the flavonoids and vitamin E which reduced oxidation. (Chen CY, Milbury PE, Lapsley K, Blumberg JB. Flavonoids from almond skins are bioavailable and act synergistically with vitamins C and E to enhance hamster and human LDL resistance oxidation. J Nutr. 2005 Jun; 135(6): 1366-73. PMID: 15930439).
Almonds are a good source of protein, providing 7.62 grams per 1/4 cup — better than an egg which provides 5.54 grams.
Interestingly, almonds are ranked low on the Glycemic Index. A study by researchers DJ Jenkins, and CW Kendall from the University of Toronto, published in the Journal of Nutrition (2005) showed that eating two servings of almonds reduced the glycemic and insulin responses of the body when fed a meal high in carbohydrates. While this study is specific to humans (there is no data available yet to see if almonds for horses reduce glycemic and insulin responses of high carbohydrate meals), the low ranking of almonds on the Glycemic Index makes them a safe choice for metabolic horses. Since almonds also provide magnesium, this is an added benefit to a metabolic horse.
Choosing Almonds for Horses: Whole almonds are best given to horses when ground or food processed so that the almonds are easier to chew. I often give sliced almonds by hand. You can also use almond flour. There are basically three types of almond flour: blanched with the skins removed, or blanched with the skins removed with added Sulfur Dioxide (not a good choice) or natural almond flour or meal. I prefer the natural almond flour because the skins haven’t been removed, and the skins contain the bioflavonoids. The best source I have found for the natural almond flour or meal is: Honey Village Grain.
As a treat, sliced almonds are easy to feed by hand and horses love them. If using almonds for nutritional support as part of the diet, 1/4 cup almond flour or meal once or twice a day. If you are going to use whole almonds and grind them, 1/2 cup whole almonds will yield 1/4 cup ground almonds.
And don’t hesitate to take a handful of almonds yourself: the nutrition in almonds is very beneficial to riders!