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Bringing Back the Magic: A Transformational Memior
Why Food Is Better Than Pellets
By Alicia McWatters, Ph.D.
"PROVIDE COMPLETE, BALANCED NUTRITION TO ALL OF YOUR FEATHERED FRIENDS BY SERVING A PELLETED BIRD FEED" This is what many of the advertisements are saying. We are told that all the essential nutrients our birds will ever need are to be found in a bag or canister, and by simply pouring these crunchy morsels into our birds’ feed bowls, we’ve done our jobs as good bird owners. And many of us are happy because we think we’re providing our pet birds with 100% nutrition. But we have been deceived.

All of the known vitamins and minerals might be there in the pelleted diets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing our birds much good. Commercial feed makers would like you to believe that our birds’ bodies can’t tell the difference between synthetic nutrients and nutrients in food. The reasoning goes something like this, "Synthetic vitamins are manufactured to produce the same chemicals that a vitamin is made of, so our birds’ bodies can’t tell the difference." We’re also told: "Don’t feed too many fresh foods like fruits and vegetables: they are not nearly as healthy as a perfectly balanced pelleted feed and may upset its delicate balance." With my busy schedule, I wish this were true. Let me tell you I say this:

Synthetic nutrients are not the same as those from foods, and our birds’ bodies CAN tell the difference. An example: Vitamin C is known as a chemical called ascorbic acid. But, when Dr. Svent Gyorgyi first isolated ascorbic acid as a cure for scurvy, an interesting thing occurred: isolated ascorbic acid did not completely cure scurvy, but only lessened its effect. Later when vitamin C in the crude (raw) form from peppers was used, it cured scurvy completely. What was the difference? The difference was that ascorbic acid in food is always found with a class of compounds called bioflavonoids, which scientists have confirmed are necessary to completely cure scurvy.

Bioflavonoids do more than just prevent scurvy. They are a phytochemical that has important biological functions. They are antioxidant compounds that protect our birds from free radical damage and cancer. These natural substances also have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties that may help arthritic conditions, as well as boost immunity.

There are also needed trace element-containing enzymes found in vitamin C in food. One of these is ascorbate oxidase, a copper containing enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of ascorbic acid at a physiological pH that makes ascorbic acid effective in the body as an antioxidant. Another important enzyme is tyrosinase, which supplies organic copper needed in the body for lymphocyte function and other purposes. There are other co-nutrients found with vitamin C and some we don’t even know about yet.

These co-nutrients are required to make vitamin C an effective protective agent against disease. Ascorbic acid alone has limited value in the body. Ascorbic acid is just one compound out of a number of nutrients that are found together in food and are known collectively as vitamin C. They work together synergistically.

What applies to vitamin C applies to ALL vitamins. Vitamins in nature are never isolated in pure crystalline states. They are always found in combination with proteins, trace element-containing enzymes, and other substances in a complex of nutrients.

Nature put all of those nutrients together in food for a very good reason– they are ALL needed to work together to protect us from disease. There is a biological difference between natural and synthetic sources of vitamins.

Since birds are known to synthesize vitamin C in sufficient amounts, many feel it is not necessary in their diets. We have noticed that in times of stress, and that includes at breeding times, our birds consume larger amounts of foods containing this vitamin; thus, we feel it to be especially useful at these times. Also, a bird may have a dysfunction of the enzyme that produces vitamin C; therefore, individual requirements may vary. Vitamin C is known to prevent C. Albicans, viral and various bacterial infections. Some factors which deplete vitamin from the body are: stress, air pollution, cortisone, antihistamines and tetracyclines. A deficiency may cause anemia, poor digestion, decreased resistance to infections, stress, bone and joint disorders, and dry skin and feathers. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and most fresh uncooked fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin C therapy may help with allergies, high cholesterol, sinusitis, diabetes, gout, heart disease, cataracts, cancer prevention and kidney disorders. Vitamin C is a natural anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, antioxidant and anti-stress nutrient. It assists in collagen production, iron absorption, red blood cell formation, proper function of the adrenal glands, burn and wound healing, and it boosts immune system function. The absorption of iron and calcium are increased by adequate intake of vitamin C. Foods high in vitamin C work as antioxidants which help free the body of the daily toxins (unavoidable in some cases) which are in our air, water, some foods, radiation, toxic metals, stress and other harmful environmental conditions (known as "free radicals") which can cause damage to our birds’ health.

Bioflavonoids are nutrients which are not synthesized by the body and must be obtained in the diet. There are many different bioflavonoids, including hesperidin, quercetin, rutin, and they are sometimes referred to as vitamin P. Bioflavonoids possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic capabilities, and they often occur with vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, as they work in conjunction with vitamin C to enhance its absorption. Bioflavonoids are found in the pulp and white grind just beneath the peel of citrus fruits, along with cherries, blackberries, blueberries, apricots, grapes, peppers, soybeans, garlic and buckwheat. Bioflavonoids may be helpful for reducing pain, healing bruises and protecting the structure of the capillaries. They have been known to possess antibacterial properties, as well as to aid in the prevention of cataracts and cancer.

In the case of vitamin E (tocopherol), the dextro form occurs in nature in foods, such as nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and vegetables— and is the form that is highly usable and biologically active in the body. Synthetic vitamin E is found in the levo form of tocopherol (listed as dl-tocopherol), and it is only partially usable in the body, meaning that the unusable portion is eliminated.

An interesting phenomenon is sometimes seen in clinical work. Treatments with high doses of synthetic vitamins, such as synthetic ascorbic acid and B-1 (thiamine), will cause adverse reactions, while naturally derived vitamins at the same dosage cause no harm. The body’s biological response to synthetic vitamins can be very different from its response to the natural vitamin containing all the synergies. That is because vitamins in the chemically isolated form often don’t function as vitamins, but more like drugs. It is the abnormally high levels that can induce toxicity similar to the way a drug can.

One of the biggest myths today concerning food is that we can make food healthy by enriching or fortifying it with synthetic vitamins, minerals, amino acids and so forth after the natural nutrients have been removed. Grains lose an average of 75% or more of their vitamin and mineral content after the germ and bran are removed in the processing and refining procedures. Grains also lose their vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and chromium during processing. The germ and bran content are the most nutritious parts of grains, and they are thrown away. Of the thirty known nutrients removed, usually only around four are added back in synthetically. These synthetic nutrients are NOT the same as the nutrients nature produces and, in some cases, they may be virtually useless to our birds’ bodies. We are left with a fractional feed, an inferior product.

The way our birds are supposed to get their nutrients is in the form that nature provides...whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and so forth. Living food provides minerals in organic form, biologically combined with special proteins (enzymes and amino acids) that allow the body to utilize them properly.

Beyond proper utilization, many trace minerals are toxic, if our birds eat them in inorganic form. Zinc can be toxic as an inorganic chemical, such as from zinc-coated toy parts, galvanized hardware cloth, or supplemented zinc (ie..zinc oxide), but it is a necessary and very important nutrient in food. Elemental copper is considered a heavy metal; but if a bird absorbs too much, it can be poisoned. Iodine can be poisonous in its elemental form, but is also essential in food.

It is quite remarkable how nature converts something that’s toxic to our birds in an inorganic form–to a safe organic form–nutrients in food. Your Grey can never be harmed from the trace minerals in food because nature balances the elements out and gives them to our birds in the form their bodies can safely use.

In the case of selenium, the organic form is selenoamino acids, such as L-selenomethionine. In this form, it is assimilated into the tissues readily and is useful as an antioxidant and is easily tolerated at levels where inorganic forms would show toxicity. Inorganic selenium compounds, such as sodium selenite, while much better than elemental selenium, become toxic in much smaller amounts than with selenoamino acids and are assimilated into the tissues poorly.

The same holds true for other inorganic compounds of minerals. They include calcium carbonate as a calcium source and ferrous sulfate as an iron source. They are much easier to make than organic forms and cost less. None of the inorganic forms have the biological activity of the organic forms found in food. There is a major difference between organic minerals found in living plants and the inorganic minerals found in rocks.

I think of pellets as a supplement, rather than a food, similar to taking a multi-vitamin/mineral pill. Multi-supplements always omit nutrients that are known to be essential and nutrients which are not yet known. Look at the form in which the nutrients in pellets occur. Most use inorganic minerals and synthetic vitamins that have limited value in the body. Also, many of these nutrients don’t break down in a period of time that enables our Greys to absorb the vitamins and minerals they are consuming in these diets. So they pass right through the system unabsorbed and as a result, a deficiency may occur. Because these diets are concentrated, it’s very easy to get far more of certain nutrients than is actually required by the body. And as with any supplement, you never know how much your bird really needs as each Grey is biologically and genetically unique; therefore, dietary requirements will vary.

Finally, how do you know your bird is getting what it says on the label of a fabricated feed? The nutrients in these products are subject to the same losses as they are in food. If vitamins have been sitting around at room temperature for a while since manufacture, they can decompose into unusable and even toxic forms.

The end result to all of this is that your bird’s body may have a big job of eliminating the vitamins and minerals it doesn’t need, because it’s getting either excessive amounts or amounts in a form it can’t utilize, and this elimination involves enzymes. While it is true that vitamins and minerals are coenzymes, they are not the enzyme itself, and the enzymes will be helped very little by the excess or unusable forms of vitamins and minerals. The excess or unusable forms of vitamins and minerals act in the body like drugs and have to be expelled continuously. This constant use of the body’s enzymes for the elimination of unneeded or unusable nutrients taxes the body’s enzyme system. Anything that depletes your body of enzymes is detrimental to good health.

It’s one thing if one chooses to feed a pelleted diet because they simply don’t want to take the time to feed a well-balanced fresh food diet and acknowledges that it is inferior to a fresh diet. But is quite another issue when one feeds a pelleted diet because they think it is superior to a varied fresh diet. IT IS NOT!!!

It is my belief that feeding a daily ration of a fabricated feed does not support optimum health for our birds. If you feed a manufactured diet, just remember that it is NO substitute for the whole natural foods.

All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without permission of the author.

This article was first published in the Fall 1997 issue of The Grey Play Round Table Magazine.

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