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Beet Pulp Toxicity – PLEASE don’t fall for this!

Preparing to soak beet pulp

The baskets are used to strain off the excess sugars

There is a lot of information on the internet about beet pulp.  Unfortunately that includes a great deal of misinformation.  There are some things out there that are just WRONG.

Simply do a Google search for “Beet Pulp Toxicity”, and you’ll come up with nonsense like this article that proclaims that beet pulp is toxic and can cause all sorts of health issues for our horses.  This is the kind of stuff that belongs on Snopes or Myth Busters.

While I have not fed beet pulp to my horses for the last five years, I had fed it for quite some time with no ill effects.  When I used it, I purchased only molasses free beet pulp – yet the amount of residual sugar varies from batch to batch.  This is why it is extremely important to rinse it.  Don’t just take the feed store’s word for it that the beet pulp you are purchasing is “molasses free”.   It usually takes two or three rinses till the water runs clear.  Check my photos and you can see the water after the pellets have been soaked – it looks coffee colored.

Soaked beet pulp with the strained water in the bucket

After reading some of the unbelievable claims about beet pulp being toxic and all of the reasons why, I had to ask a friend of mine who is a vet and a nutritionist – Dr. Susan Garlinghouse for her take on it.  Fortunately, she is well versed on the misinformation that is on the internet about beet pulp.

I’m going to go over some of the stuff that is completely wrong, followed by some answers from Dr. Garlinghouse.  By the way, Dr. G has taught this stuff at the university level so make no mistake about her being able to separate fact from fiction.

I will do a follow up to this post in the future that will include more rebuttals to the toxicity issue…including peer reviewed research.  Stay tuned!  Till then read the following to at least get some of the basics down about beet pulp.

MYTH: Beet pulp originates from sugar industry. It is an insoluble fiber, meaning that it does not interact with the body. It rushes through the intestines taking with it whatever supplements have been given. Simply put, it cannot be digested.

THE TRUTH: Beet pulp is primarily SOLUBLE fiber (mostly pectin), meaning they ferment in the cecum and colon like hay does, just with higher bioavailability.  The end products are volatile fatty acids, which are highly utilized. Even if insoluble fibers aren’t fermented to VFAs, they still play a role in providing bulk, which stimulates motilin, which promotes motility.

MYTH: It takes four molecules of water for the body to process beet pulp adding water weight,

THE TRUTH: True of any carbohydrate, not just beet pulp.

MYTH: Like many other crops, sugar beets are treated with an extensive array of herbicides to limit weeds and grasses in the fields. The herbicides are absorbed by the beets. Nothing removes the chemicals from the pulp.

THE TRUTH: There are published toxicology reports that say there’s no residue in the root itself.

MYTH: In addition, growers top the beet plants with a chemical defoliant to kill back the tops before harvest. These chemicals also end up by-product beet pulp.

THE TRUTH: No, they don’t, too expensive.  They mechanically chop them off at harvest. The tops are useful as cattle feed, so why pay money to destroy something that will earn you money?

Click here to read Dr. Susan Garlinghouse’s “The Myths and Reality of Beet Pulp“.   Keep reading below for more rebuttal from Dr. G (also published elsewhere online) regarding the above mentioned article on beet pulp toxicity…

1) The fiber in beet pulp is not even close to “indigestible”—the only fiber found in forage that *is* totally indigestible is lignin, which is almost non-existent in beet pulp, but considerably higher (it varies) in the hay pellets whats-her-name recommends. And even being indigestible doesn’t necessarily make it bad, just affects GI transit time, etc differently than fermentable fibers. The fiber in beet pulp is primarily pectin, a soluble fiber, which is highly fermentable and digestible. Apparently, no understanding by the author of how digestive physiology works here.
2) The whole water weight argument is just total nonsense. Having a good reservoir of water in the hindgut is generally considered a good thing in performance horses and if all that water were just “rushing” through, the horse would have projectile diarrhea. Not loose stools. Projectile. One of the primary benefits of feeding beet pulp to performance horses is that there *is* more of a water reservoir in the hindgut. Doesn’t adversely affect absorption of anything else. I could go into a long dissertation of soluble fibers fermenting to primarily butyric acid, which in turn is the preferred substrate of enterocytes, thus optimizing a higher turnover(that’s a good thing), which then in turn optimizes absorption, water and electrolyte balance in the hindgut, but that’s way too long for this reply.And none of it is classified material. Find a qualified nutrition text and use that as an information source, not this twaddle.
3) “Does your horse have loose stools” – Most people that feed alfalfa think that the ideal consistency to horse poop is a tight, dry little road apple.You don’t want diarrhea, but same as for other species, a softer consistency is not necessarily a symptom of disease. It’s usually a lot better than overly dry. Horses on pasture and on grass hays (and also beet pulp) often have a bit of a splat to their poop, which is highly fine-by-me.
4) Sugar beets don’t “store” pesticides in the pulp. If they did, it wouldn’t be very effective in eliminating bugs on the outside of the plant,would it? I’ve seen the tox assay reports on beet pulp and the results were pretty much nil. I also ran my own on beets straight from the field and hosed off in my driveway–also nil. Also, shredded beet pulp gets tossed into a water bath and the water with soluble sugars (which is the cash crop here) is removed and dried to the table sugar end product. If there were residues, it’s more likely they’d be present in higher concentrations in the table sugar. It’s not. When whats-her-name can produce real data, we’ll talk. Until then, it’s apparent she’s not even familiar with the manufacturing process, let alone any inherent shortfalls.
5) All that gibberish about “does your horse have brittle feet, weak in the hindquarters, yada yada” makes no logical point or argument. She makes claims of horses that had health problems that were being fed beet pulp, she totally changed their diets, their condition allegedly improved and therefore it was the beet pulp that caused the initial problem, not anything else having to do with its ration or management. Pretty shaky logic. It’s a lot like saying that there are pigeons in cities, and crime in cities,therefore pigeons cause urban crime. Sorry, there’s just no logical thought process here, no science or scientific background, no qualified views. But, everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if those opinions aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Susan Garlinghouse, DVM (no certifications, just university degrees)

In addition to Susan’s comments above, I found an article  called “Horse Feeding Myths and Misconceptions” by Lori K. Warren, Ph.D, P.A.S, Provincial Horse Specialist, Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development).  Here is the part of the article that covers beet pulp.  To read the entire article click here.

Myth: “Beet Pulp is Just A “filler”

Most old-timers will tell you beet pulp has no nutrition, “it’s just a filler.” Again, science has proved otherwise. Beet pulp is the fibrous material left over after the sugar is extracted from sugar beets. It’s an excellent source of digestible fibre for the horse and can be fed in addition to, or instead of, hay. Recent research has shown that the fibre in beet pulp is easier to digest than the fibre in hays. In fact, horses may derive as much energy from beet pulp as they do from oats (Table 4). In other words, a pound of (dry) beet pulp has almost the same amount of calories as a pound of oats. Because beet pulp provides these calories as fibre (as opposed to the starch in grains), it can be safely fed in larger amounts without the risk of colic or laminitis associated with feeding a large amount of grain. Furthermore, the protein content of beet pulp (averaging 8 to 12%) is comparable to most grains and good-quality grass hays (Table 4). And, beet pulp also provides a reasonable source of calcium, intermediate between the high calcium in alfalfa and the lower calcium content of grass hays, but much higher than grains (Table 4).

Whether used as a source of forage or as a replacement for oats, beet pulp is a useful addition to the diet of many types of horses. Beet pulp has been successfully fed at levels up to 50% of the horse’s total ration (approximately 10 lbs for a 1000 lb horse). More commonly, owners choose to feed 2 to 5 lbs of beet pulp per day. The high digestibility of beet pulp makes it a good choice for horses that are “hard keepers” (it’s very good for encouraging weight gain), as well as horses with dental problems, or older horses who have trouble chewing or digesting other types of forage. Beet pulp is also used as a grain replacement in the diets of horses that suffer from tying up (providing calories as fibre rather than starch). And the low potassium content of beet pulp makes it an ideal forage replacement for horses with HYPP. Finally, endurance riders favour beet pulp because its high water holding capacity provides the horse with a larger reservoir of fluid in the digestive tract that can be used to help prevent dehydration.

Table 4: Comparison of the nutrients in beet pulp with the nutrients in other common feeds.*
Beet pulp
10 – 12
Alfalfa hay
15 – 18
Timothy hay
6 – 9
*Please note these are average nutrient values and are presented on a 100% dry matter basis.

8 comments to Beet Pulp Toxicity – PLEASE don’t fall for this!

  • Robert H. Sydnor, M-AERC

    Thanks again to Karen Chaton for an erudite, scholarly, and factual report that can be relied upon.

  • J Field

    Thank you Karen for making sense out of nonsense. I have horses who do well on grass alone, too well as they are susceptible to laminitis in good years like we have had this year. Your information is excellent and used regularly to help me make informed choices. Thank you for taking the time to write this and many other wonderful pieces.

  • Diana

    I turned to Beet Pulp a few years ago, as I became more educated in natural and holistic nutrition for my horses. Getting away from pellet foods was my first step, and that left me with Beet Pulp. I needed weight on one of my geldings, so I changed their diets again. After some time passed, i started to notice the Beet Pulp was filled with alot of dirt, and the shreds were often different each time. My geldings were not always eating their food and leaving a good amount of it, on a regular basis. I then started hearing in my horse community things like; beet pulp is just a filler offering no nutritional value, there is alot of sugar that is often not divided from the beet pulp shreds and pellets, it’s dirty and needs to be rinsed, it’s like a by-product that is utilized simply so the companies can make more money on the waste, it’s a product that is covered with pesticides, etc. I got more and more concerned with it and there was a nagging feeling within that told me something was wrong with my choice. Not knowing, at the time, what else to feed them, and nowhere to turn to get help with nutritional consultation for my horses, I continued down the destructive Beet Pulp path.
    I lost one of my geldings due to a fever and enteric colic. That was when something clicked inside for me and I knew I had to make some changes with my remaining geldings diet. Even though I have no real evidence that I lost my gelding due to the beet pulp, I just knew that I could not continue on the path i was going. That was when I found Happy Natural and Lorrie Bracaloni. Switched him to the Standlee Timothy Hay Pellets immediately!! He must have gone thru a 4-6 week detox, which I believe was directly related to the Beet Pulp. I feel at peace now with his diet. I may not have any scientific or documented testimony as to the changes, but it is an intuitive sense I have and sometimes that is all I can rely on when it comes to making decisions about my horses health. The love and passions of my life! My horses! My horse! Thanks!

  • Diana – sounds like a sloppy mill and feed processing, and not knowing that you shouldn’t feed stuff like that when you knew it was there. You should never feed any feed that is dirty and full of debris. I specifically choose a certain type of beet pulp pellets for that reason. I have found the shreds to be too full of junk including pebbles and rodent parts. When I complained the feed store acknowledged it and found another supplier (at a higher cost). I think in your case it was the processing of the product and not the beet pulp itself that caused problems. I’ve fed beet pulp for at least fifteen years with no problems to several high mileage horses and so have hundreds of other riders whose horses have not had any health issues.

  • Lace

    Can you possibly explain what she means by “It takes four molecules of water for the body to process beet pulp adding water weight”
    I’ve been scratching my head over this one and need more context. I realize she is trying to describe the digestion process but I just can’t figure this one out.

    I’m glad Diana (are you really Diana?) has found a product that works for her “horse” but I have to agree with Karen on this one.

    If you do some proper research on your own (and don’t just blindly follow the gospel other people preach to sell their product or service), you will learn that beet pulp is actually VERY digestible. It can be up to 33% soluble fiber, is low in lignins (truly indigestible) and it is highly fermentable. Any problems with beet pulp are likely due to processing problems at the mill or with a *rare* chance the horse has allergies or intolerances to that particular fibre carbohydrate.

    Look at this paper by Kentucky Equine Research:

    Beet pulp is not meant to be a sole source of fibre, or even the sole source of food, for horses. It is meant to be a useful addition to a diet, especially in horses that are less capable of digesting their feed or in horses that require more fuel for competition and work.

    Beet pulp is only a “waste” product of the sugar industry. If they can make more money selling it as livestock feed, so be it. It does not make it a “waste” product as a whole. You must remember that humans, horses and cows (etc.) have different physiological methods of digesting the food they eat. So even though humans cannot digest cellulose, it is the primary energy source used by horses for millennia. Therefore, we cannot compare apples to oranges.

    You made no mention of any other factors in your horse’s healthcare. A number of things could have caused your horse’s “enteric” colic (btw enteritis is inflammation of the colon and causes diarrhea) such as a chronic parasite infestation, rapid feed changes disrupting the bacterial colonies in the intestines, reactions to antibiotics, etc.

    Provide scientific backup to your writings and I will consider them, but outright twisting of facts to sell a product or service does no one any good. Least of all, our horses.

  • g mcmahon

    I’ve fed beet pulp forever….. 25 years plus……. I will never ever stop the horses do extremely well on it and love it

  • ty

    1. As long as I was feeding beet pulp, no problems with sand colic. Didn’t have to add psyllium to their diets. My vet, after he researched it, approved it for pregnant made. He didn’t realize it actually had as high of a protein content as it did. Very healthy foalborn and she’s now 19, still going very strong in games events.

    2. Side benefit, I have horse coats that look like they were show sheened.

  • Sonja

    Thanks Karen,

    someone send me a link last week about how bad Beet pulp is and I was real shocked . We do have 4 horses and feed all of them with BP just before bed time and if we trailer them they get some warm BP as well . Our TB had problems with Stomach Uclers and feeding him warm BP before Trailering or before long ride seems to really help him a lot more then any meds we have given. Thanks for taking the time to find out all that info and putting up a Website for everyone to find. Thanks Sonja

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