Beet pulp is the fibrous material left over after the sugar is extracted from sugar beets. It’s an excellent source of crude fibre (18%) and contains both insoluble and soluble fibre which is mostly pectin. Pectin is a highly digestible fibre which is why beet pulp is such a good energy source – horses obtain over 75% of their energy from the fermentation of fibre; not from protein, carbohydrates or oil. Beet pulp fibre is also an effective prebiotic that helps the equine hind-gut synthesize natural levels of probiotics which, in turn, helps to maintain the intestinal ecosystem including the immune system. Fibre is a natural detoxifier of the intestines and the liver and beet pulp is also high in calcium.
Beet pulp has a very low glycemic index meaning that it doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike as do grains such as oats, corn or barley. In addition, it will actually help stabilize blood sugar levels due to its high fibre content. And even though most manufacturers add 5-10% molasses to the pellets the glycemic index is still within acceptable levels because the high fibre content slows down any sugar absorption. Therefore, beet pulp of any kind is frequently a suitable feed for metabolic and/or insulin resistant horses or other sugar-sensitive horses.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about beet pulp that are not based on fact. Here is what is true about beet pulp.
- Beet pulp is not high in sugar. It is high in fibre.
- Beets are not treated with chemicals to kill the top leaves – they are mechanically removed.
- The pulp is produced by soaking beets in hot water, not harsh chemicals.
- Beet pulp is not a source of toxic iron; iron is not a toxic mineral, it is vital to good health and many horses are deficient in iron.
- Beet pulp does not contain higher levels of aluminum than table salt and/or oats for example.
- Pesticide levels in beet sugar is zero and the levels in pulp are extremely low.
For many horses, the available energy, the digestible fibre and its activity as a prebiotic makes beet pulp a beneficial feed that over-rides any negative aspects. At this time there is no other healthier substitute which has the same benefits. However, beet pulp is a GMO crop so let your growers know that organic is your choice for all foods. If everyone bought organic food for themselves and for their animals the world would be cleaner, happier, healthier and, most importantly, more humane.
Some horses don’t tolerate beet pulp however so eliminate it from the feed program if there are any signs of indigestion or other symptoms. Always avoid high sugar feeds, commercial feeds, feeds with unknown ingredients, fats/oils and any other high fat foods.
Beet pulp should always be fed soaked. It can absorb four times its dry weight in water making it a good source of water as well. It is not necessary to rinse or wash beet pulp before soaking.
For more information on equine nutrition and holistic healing programs read Healing Horses Their Way
Marijke van de Water, B.Sc., DHMS
Equine Health & Nutrition Specialist
Medical Intuitive & Healer
Author & Educator
“Healing Horses Their Way”
“Healing People: The Marijke Method”