Is Wheat for Horses Really a Good Idea?
In 2012, a group of Dutch researchers from Utrecht University identified gluten-sensitivity as a potential cause of equine inflammatory small bowel disease (ISBD). Since that study was published, I have looked deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of one particular gluten food: wheat. Wheat for horses is everywhere; it is found in virtually all of the commercial feeds in various forms such as wheat middlings or spelt or wheat germ. And of course the wheat bran used for making mashes.
The wheat of today
The amber waves of grain from the song “America the Beautiful” is not the wheat of today. The wheat grown today is the product of 40 years of genetic research aimed at increasing yield per acre. Modern day wheat stands 18-24 inches tall but it also contains a unique protein: gliadin that can cross the blood brain barrier and bind to morphine receptors. The National Institutes of Health have labeled these polypeptides exorphins (exogenous morphine-like compounds). Exorphins bind and stimulate morphine receptors in the brain, making them just as addictive as narcotic drugs. This may in part explain why wheat products increase appetites in humans, and why wheat is so difficult to eliminate from the diet.
There is a complex carbohydrate unique to modern day wheat called amylopectin A. Some researchers have named it a super-carbohydrate because it has the ability to increase blood sugar faster than other carbohydrates. It is highly digestible, thus able to raise blood sugar faster than a candy bar. Amylopectin A in wheat is like an express train for glucose.
A slice of whole wheat bread is almost twice as high on the Glycemic Index of insulin-spiking foods as an entire Snickers bar.
A top athlete goes wheat-free
In his book, Serve to Win, the number one ranked men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic, changed his diet to include the elimination of wheat. As he describes it: “Between gluten and blood sugar spikes, wheat is the mixed-doubles team from hell.”
A cardiologist’s point of view
Cardiologist Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, describes wheat consumption as “from arthritis to acid reflux to schizophrenia these can be either caused or made worse by wheat. It’s about being set free from the peculiar appetite-stimulating effects of the opiate-like compounds unique to wheat…we reject all foods made with high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat: the worst crop ever created in a laboratory.”
Wheat in horse feed and dog food
The most common form of wheat in horse feed is wheat middlings. In dog food it is called wheat mill run. The pet industry actually describes Middlings as: fine particles of wheat bran, wheat shorts, wheat germ, wheat flour and some of the offal (waste) from the tail of the mill”. Grain industry insiders refer to this cheap product as floor sweepings.
A kernel of wheat contains three parts: germ, endosperm, and bran. All three components contain gluten, which means all three components contain gliadin, which binds to morphine receptors in the brain.
But isn’t bran good for horses, and dogs and people?
Bran contains 14% starch and 8% sugars providing a total of 22% NSC. (The Sugars of Wheat Bran, Western Regional Research Laboratory, USDA, Albany, California). For easy keepers or metabolic horses, and for dogs that are overweight, wheat bran would not be a good choice. Because of amylopectin A and the presence of gliadin, wheat bran may not be the best choice for humans either.
Wheat as a commodity
As of Feb 09/2016 Wheat middlings ranged from $70.00/ton to $115.00/ton (USDA Market News). A ton is 2,000 pounds. If we take an average between high and low prices of wheat at $90 per ton that translates into a cost of 4.5 cents per pound–a pretty inexpensive ingredient. Any wonder why it is in horse feeds and dog foods?
Wheat for horses: adverse reactions
Horses, dogs, and people are becoming more food intolerant. Symptoms in horses and dogs can include: excitable behavior, unexplained lumps and bumps on the skin, itchy or scurfy skin, loose or watery manure/stool, lack of energy, recurrent bouts of low grade colic/GI tract upset. Wheat is among the foods that horses are becoming food intolerant to. Others include: soy, corn, alfalfa, timothy, molasses, oats, barley, and beet pulp. For dogs this can include wheat and other grains, and animals proteins like chicken, beef, turkey, or fish.
Going wheat free
The decision to eliminate wheat for horses or dogs or yourself is a very personal choice. At BioStar we went wheat-free several years ago, taking wheat grains like spelt and kamut out of our formulas, as well as wheat germ. We never used wheat middlings because they don’t meet the whole food standards of BioStar.
If you need an alternative to wheat bran for mashes, try oat bran instead. Remember to always add a high calcium food like alfalfa pellets or cubes to balance the high phosphorus in oats.
This is such an excellent and timely article. I have recently taken my horse off of all bagged horse feeds as most of them are just floor sweepings and chemical vitamins and minerals from China and full of GMO’s. I supplement my horse with the Biostar cookies…and some Real fresh and dried whole foods mixed with organic alfalfa pellets. He is doing marvelously. I felt like he went through a period of detox and it was as if he had been addicted to the pelleted feed he had been getting which indeed did contain Wheat Midlings as a base. I am so happy with how this is working for him that I am giving up eating wheat as well.
Thank you for your wonderful articles. They are so informative and very helpful when navigating through the plethora of feeds for horses out there.