It’s difficult to find a bag of feed or even a supplement that doesn’t have natural or artificial flavorings as an ingredient.
The term “natural flavorings“ sounds innocuous; perhaps it means a nice apple flavor from a real apple, or carrot flavor from a real carrot. How about delicious real meat juice as a “natural” flavoring in dog food?
The sad truth is, “natural flavorings” are created in laboratories using hundreds of chemical compounds. Only one component of a natural flavoring must come from a plant, tree, spice, vegetable, yeast, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products whose significant function is flavor not nutritional. Some natural flavorings are made up of 200 blended chemical additives.
According to research by the Environmental Working Group: “natural and artificial flavors really aren’t that different.”
Palatants: The livestock diet
In the livestock business flavorings are often called palatants; the purpose of palatants is to encourage animals to eat more. Much of the feed for animals is made up of the starchy grains—corn, millet, barley—because feeding carbs is cheaper than feeding fats. It has been estimated that as many as 75% of cattle and hogs eat palatant during their lifetimes. Remember, farmers growing animals for food want their animals to get big as fast as possible before going to slaughter.
But by increasing the flavor of feed in order to get animals to eat more and thus get bigger and fatter, the ones that aren’t killed as youngsters often become obese and susceptible to metabolic disease.
Why do we need flavorings?
The answer to this lies partly in the agricultural revolution that began after World War II. The impetus to grow more food meant that how the food actually tasted was not as important as growing a LOT of food. It was quantity over quality. New hybrid seeds plus an arsenal of fertilizers meant that farmers could produce more per acre…resulting in more food, yes, but less taste and, in the words of a famous chef: “blandness.”
The blandness in part comes from lower nutritional content, higher carbohydrate content, and greater moisture content of the food. There is even a term for this: dilution.
Not only is the food bland that humans eat, so are the feeds and concentrates and supplements that horses, dogs, cattle, pigs, goat, sheep, and chickens eat. Animals and humans are less inclined to eat bland food, so flavorings are added to stimulate smell and taste. Flavoring chemicals give food specific smells that the food industry calls flavor. The same mixture of chemicals would be called fragrance if added to cleaning products, perfumes or personal care products. Smell makes up to 80% of the sense of taste. If the food smells good to a horse, dog, or human, our brains thinks it will taste good too.
There are taste receptors in the GI tract, too: these are the sensors for fat, protein, bacteria, hormones and plant compounds. These receptors play an important role in how humans and animals feel during and after eating.
The Flavor Industry:
The fragrance and flavor industry is estimated to rake in $24 billion dollars annually. This is not a small industry. It’s size underscores just how much of our food, our horses’ food, and our dogs’ food contains flavorings.
In a 2011 interview on 60 Minutes with Morley Safer, two flavor scientists from the Givaudan corporation said that one their goals was making food addictive.
The flavor cocktail:
Flavorings contain solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives, which can make up the majority of ingredients in each specific flavoring itself. Take apple flavoring for instance: as many as 50 chemicals can be used to approximate the taste of an apple.
Some of the additives you may see on labels include: propylene glycol, polyglycerol esters of fatty acid, mono and di-glycerides, benzoic acid, polysorbate 80, BHT, and BHA.
Horses and dogs and humans crave variety in food; fake flavors disguise foods that are similar and make them seem more different than they really are. The technology of fake flavors applied to bland food induces the sense of smell, and tricks the brain into a heightened level of pleasure. Like a person with alcoholism or drug addiction always needing more in order to get that initial experience of “high” or “bliss”, the more we eat food with flavorings, the more we crave.
Author Mark Schatzker’s book The Dorito Effect highlights why “we can’t eat just one Dorito.” It’s not the corn chip itself, or even the fat it is fried in. It’s the taste, coming from a concoction of flavoring chemicals—a kind of opiate for the brain, leading to extra pounds for the body.
Bottom line: our industrial food system grows food that has more carbohydrates and moisture and almost literally no taste. What’s more, due to the years of chemical fertilizer and pesticide applications, the soil no longer provides enough nutrients to the plants, so fortification is necessary in the form of synthetic or coal tar derivative vitamins.
Now look at commercial horse feed. The ingredients are from the industrial food complex, but most of these ingredients are not even “whole.” They are byproducts: wheat middlings, dried distillers grains (which is the leftover mash from ethanol production) soybean hulls, wheat flour, corn distillers dried grains (also from ethanol production) corn germ, de-hulled soybean meal. Add some fortification, because byproducts are even less nutrient-dense than the whole food they were once a part of, and then add some flavoring so that the stuff tastes good.
Satiety and toxins:
When we eat wild blueberries or organic heirloom tomatoes, we tend to eat less and not “pig out” like we do on Big Macs, soft drinks, and chicken nuggets. This is because real food provides a deeper satiety from the complex of nutritional factors in food, and another component: toxins.
Organisms like plants contain small amounts of toxins; for example the tiny amount of cyanide in apple seeds. One theory is that mammal and human brains and GI tracts evolved a system to regulate the consumption of toxins. When we eat real food we become satiated, and the dose of toxins obtained in the food isn’t enough to hurt us.
As author Mark Schatzker says: “Nature has mastered the art of hedonic density—food that maximizes pleasure and minimizes calories.”
The problem with food today is that the food we grow on an industrial scale is less delicious. The food that we, our horses, and our dogs should not eat—flavorings, by products, highly processed ingredients—tastes much more exciting.
The MSG connection:
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer found in pet foods under the name hydrolyzed protein among others. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) allows pet food companies to call it “natural flavors or natural flavorings”.
There are other ingredients that often contain MSG or create MSG in processing: maltodextrin, carageenan, protease, citric acid, corn starch, gelatin, pectin.
MSG overstimulates the nervous system, and can cause an inflammatory response. MSG has been called an excitotoxin because it overexcites cells to the point of damage.
In equine feeds and supplements MSG may be labeled as: protein isolate, texturized protein, natural flavor, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extracts, soy extract or concentrate, and glutamate.
Obesity and metabolic syndrome:
When we look at the rise of obesity and metabolic imbalances in humans, dogs and horses we can point to many possible factors. In the last 50 years as the food has become bland, the rise in flavorings has exploded. So have our waistlines, and the girths of our horses. Today less than 1/3 of Americans are slender, which means 2/3 are overweight or obese. Additionally, a recent survey indicated that 50% of American dogs are overweight.
Flavorings aren’t the single reason for these issues, but are a contributing factor. Remember, feeling satiated from real food ultimately means eating less, but getting more nutrition.
Getting flavorings out of the diet:
Read the ingredient listing on equine feed labels. Whole food component products like Cool Stance, Renew Gold, alfalfa pellets, timothy pellets, whole flax seeds, whole chia seeds, whole oats do not contain flavorings of any kind. Organic or cold pressed oils like hemp, coconut, and camelina do not have flavorings; however, highly processed oils like vegetable, soy, corn, and canola do.
Check the labels on your supplements: most all supplements for horses contain natural or artificial flavorings, and the often hidden MSG. Remember, it is not just the amount of chemical additives in flavorings….it is how those chemicals and the ingredients they are combined with over time affect the body system at large, and the GI tract in particular.
NOTE: Pasture seeds are much richer in carbohydrates than native grasses. Current pasture grasses are focused on fattening cattle and producing vast quantities of milk from dairy cows. Grass seed companies want grasses with lower fiber content and higher sugar and fructan content. Hay farmers are encouraged to cut hay in the afternoon when the sugar levels are higher. These factors are going to reduce satiation, and increase calories and weight.
For dogs: read labels! Feed raw if you can, reduce the amount of kibble by adding whole food like buffalo, venison, salmon, organic chicken, organic eggs. When dogs eat real food, they maintain a healthier weight.
Food for humans: buy organic real food, or food from a farmer’s market or CSA. Food in a package—even labeled organic—can have flavoring added. Even antibiotic-free chicken often has added flavorings.
BioStar will never use flavorings because true satiation comes from the whole food itself.