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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

Food Wars ...

So, recently I have been asked about the differences between "fortified" and "enriched" diets and diet "staples." These terms are used to influence bird owners toward one type of food or another. It sounds ominous and important but if you understand what is meant by these terms you'll see it's not that big a deal.

There are tons of pellet, treat, and bird bread recipes; pre-made mixes; and various food stuffs you can buy. For all these recipes and mixes and alternatives there are an equal number of self-proclaimed "experts" who will tell you this is bad because "it isn't fortified" but what does that even mean? Let's take a look ....

Fortified Foods

Sounds impressive doesn't it? But all this means is these foods have extra nutrients added by manufacturers. What is added doesn't replace anything that was lost during processing. Actually, being fortified, means there are things added that don't occur naturally in the base food product. The idea is to make food more nutritious by adding things like vitamins and minerals.

Foods that need to be fortified are usually made from ingredients that are deficient (nutritionally speaking) in key nutrition. All mass-produced pellets are fortified ... your chop may also be "fortified" if you add things like red palm, supplements, Vitamins or Minerals. If you are feeding mass-produced pellets you should not be adding Vitamins or Minerals to your chop because the pellets already have this added. It is not recommended for Eclectus to be fed pellets for this reason although many who are fed conventional pellets have no issues with toe tapping and wing flipping.

Enriched Foods

When we talk about "enriched" foods that simply means nutrients have been added back in to replace the ones that were lost during processing. Some foods can lose nutritional value during the cooking process due to heat, and some nutrients are released into the water used for cooking. Refining processes for products like flour strips away nutrition; in the case of flour, the B-complex vitamins and iron are stripped from whole wheat because the hulls are removed. To replace it, flour will be 'enriched' with these items before packaging.

Water-soluble vitamins are lost to the cooking water, so boiled or steamed vegetables lose vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamins B-6 and B-12, niacin and folate along with some minerals, but minerals survive better than vitamins. Freezing, reheating, cooking, and steaming can all affect the nutritional value of foods. [Read more here.]

According to the FDA, foods can claim to be enriched if they "contain at least 10 percent more of the Daily Value of that nutrient than a food of the same type that is not enriched." In general, to preserve the most nutrition, raw foods are the best choice.

Diet Staples

Here's another term that's thrown around in the "food wars" and that is the diet "staple." Staple foods vary from place to place, but typically they are inexpensive or readily-available foods that supply one or more of the three organic macronutrients needed for survival and health: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Typical examples of staples include tubers and roots, grains, legumes, and other seeds. Eaten routinely and in quantities that constitute a dominant portion of a standard diet, 'staple' items provide a large fraction of the energy needs and generally a significant proportion of the intake of other nutrients as well. The staple food of a specific group may be eaten as often as every day or every meal, and most people live on a diet based on just a small number of staples.

For most Psittacines, the staple diet should be vegetables (a variety of greens, orange, reds, etc.), fruit, and nuts. Lorikeets and Eclectus have different dietary requirements than other birds so please research their needs carefully.

Pellets were developed and fortified to provide nutrition to exotics because previous practice had been to throw a cup of seeds in the cage and walk away. Over the years as the exotic pet industry grew and health issues surfaced, it became apparent that Parrot husbandry was lacking and the Parrot Pellet industry was born.

If your Parrot's diet is well balanced with the staples mentioned previously, then you don't really even need to feed pellets at all. Many parrot owners are going that route. If you want to supplement with manufactured pellets then by all means do so ... if you want to make your OWN pellets then that's fine too. Just make sure your birds are eating a well-rounded, balanced diet and you'll be just fine.

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