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Let's talk about food: prickly pear for horses

When I look for foods to incorporate into a biscuit it is typically because I meet a horse who has a particular problem and I get curious.  I want to know if there is a natural way to try to safely affect a change to improve their life.   One such horse, a gorgeous and incredibly sweet gelding who looked like a mini-Clydesdale, put me on the path to Prickly Pear.  Poor guy suffered from some of the foot-pain often associated with Insulin-Resistant horses so his owner and management at the barn limited his grazing to help keep him happy, healthy and sound.  

 The first question I needed to answer was,  "What in the world is a prickly pear?"  The short answer is that it is the fruit from one of the prickly pear cactus plants.  The prickly pear fruit in my Prickly Pear-adise biscuit is from the cactus, Nopales Opuntia.  I purchase my puree from the Arizona Cactus Ranch where they wildcraft (hand pick) the fruit from land above the mines in Southern Arizona.  The plants are not chemically sprayed, and though it is washed, the fruit is not soaked or cooked before being processed into prickly pear pulp.  The color varies from bottle to bottle but it is typically a vibrant, ruby red color.  

Prickly Pear fruit is high in dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C, a spectrum of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, copper, taurine, flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains and horses LOVE it!    

Let's dig in to this a little further because it is helpful to know what some of the nutrition terms are when evaluating foods.   Like... flavonoids and polyphenols.  Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites thought to provide health benefits through cell signalling pathways and antioxidant effects. Polyphenols are micronutrients with antioxidant activity that play an important role in preventing and in reducing the progression of a number of health problems.  Polyphenols also play an important role as a prebiotic, increasing the ratio of beneficial bacteria in your gut.  So, plants rich in flavonoids and polyphenols are very, very good for a body.  

Beyond their helpful nutritional profile, on-going research at the NIH (and elsewhere) shows that regular consumption of prickly pear can lower glucose levels and improve lipid function....in humans and animals.  Woo Hoo!  This is great news for people AND animals suffering from diabetes and a number of other problematic disorders. 

Here is the abstract of one study on prickly pear published by the NIH, but there are many others available. If you are a geek like me and want to learn more about this fascinating food and what scientists are discovering about it, check out the NIH website or look for University studies.  Fortunately most of them are written in plain English so the objectives and the outcomes of the studies are quite easy to understand and reading them can be more fun than you think.

Effect of prickly pear on glucose- and lipid-metabolism in non-diabetics with hyperlipidemia--a pilot study.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Besides others pectin, a soluble fibre, has been reported to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels in both animals and man with hyperlipidemia as well as being able to slow carbohydrate absorption and hence reduce the postprandial rise in blood glucose and serum insulin in patients with type-II diabetes. Aim of this pilot study was to assess the effect of prickly pear consumption on glucose- and lipid metabolism.

DESIGN:

In 24 non-diabetic, non-obese males (aged 37-55 years) suffering from primary isolated hypercholesterolemia (n = 12; group A) or combined hyperlipidemia (n = 12; group B) respectively, the influence of prickly pear pectin (Opuntia robusta)-intake on glucose- and lipid metabolism was examined. After an 8 week pre-running phase with a 7506 KJ step-I diet (phase I), 625 KJ were replaced by prickly pear edible pulp (250 g/day) for 8 further weeks (phase II).

RESULTS:

Prickly pear leads to a decrease of total cholesterol (12%), low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (15%), apolipoprotein B (9%), triglycerides (12%), fibrinogen (11%), blood glucose (11%), insulin (11%) and uric acid (10%), while body weight, high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I, and lipoprotein(a) remained unchanged.

CONCLUSION:

The hypocholesterolemic action of prickly pear may be partly explained by the fibre (pectin) content, but the hypoglycaemic actions (improvement of insulin sensitivity) in the non-obese, non-diabetic need further investigation to get more insights on the potential advantage of treating the metabolic syndrome.

And now you know a bit more about what is in my Prickly Pear-adise biscuit and why.  
Here's to happy and healthy horses!
Mary

 

 

1 comment

  • Hi, My riding pony and sweet little buddy, Indigo, is recovering from a laminitic episode and right now is confined to her stall and has special shoes with a good break over and gel covering most of her soles. She is overweight and we suspect insulin resistant though the vet won’t do bloodwork until her pain has subsided for an accurate reading. She gets a low starch forage, a hay cube that is low starch, low sugar, a splash of aloe vera and hay, with pain meds of Bute and Pentoxifylline. She loves treats but is off them now as we are trying to keep her from another episode. I would love to be able to giver her a treat that would actually be good for her and help her situation. Could you advise on which would be best and how many a day? She weighs 830# but should probably weigh 700. She is 13.1 hands. I desperately want to help her get through this and keep her safe. We are building a dry lot for her for the future. She was going out for a few hours with a grazing muzzle on a not so great pasture and still foundered. I know she needs to lose weight and exercise will be a big part of that when she is able, but that could be some time. The vet saw her 10 days ago so this long process is just getting started. Since she is confined, I would like to teach her a few tricks that we could do in her stall to help keep her mind involved and break up her day – she is very smart and would enjoy doing anything for a treat. Thank you so much for any help you can give us!

    Tucker Bailey

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