*NSC = starch PLUS sugar

D. J. Burke, Ph.D.
Director of Equine Nutrition
Upper Sandusky, Ohio

What is “LOW STARCH”?

Did you know that there is NO

official definition of “LOW STARCH” for horse feeds? ANY product can be called

“LOW STARCH”!!!!!! In addition, “low STARCH” ignores another major

“non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) – SUGAR!! We must consider the sugar level

of feeds as well, especially in feeds with molasses and in forages. As the

horse digests starch, it is absorbed from the intestine as sugar, so, in

effect, the horse’s body cannot tell the difference between starch and sugar in

his diet.


% STARCH plus % SUGAR level in feeds gives us % NSC. We use “ESC” (ethanol soluble carbohydrates) for

“sugar” in grains or concentrates and “WSC” water soluble carbohydrates) for

“sugar” for hay and pasture. Thus, for the balance of this article, we will use

“NSC” to more correctly represent what is commonly called just “STARCH”.

Why is “LOW NSC” important
to the horse and its owner??

The main effect high NSC intake

causes is an increase in blood glucose (sugar) levels, which leads to an

increase in blood insulin levels. High insulin levels are only positive during

emergency situations, when a hor