Avicu. lturists are busy people and we tend to get our education on foods and nutrition from the media. The recent trend toward fat-free diets has been taken to such an extreme that we have lost sight of the fact that fats are essential to good health. Many foods on our grocer's shelves proclaim loudly and proudly that they contain NO FA TS so we have come to think of all fats as unhealthy. Nuts and other good foods that contain essential fatty acids are often thought of as junk foods because of the "fat-free" media blitz.
Good Fats - Bad Fats
Leading nutritionists have discovered that the 01Jeoffats is more important than the total fats consumed. Nuts are one of the foods that we think of as having high fat and cholesterol content, but it is important to distinguish between saturated· and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats, found mostly in meats and cheeses, contain cholesterol that chokes arteries with plaque. They are the "bad" fats. Nuts and plant products are low in saturated fats and contain no cholesterol. Ninety percent of the fats in nuts are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated type. These unsaturated fats are the "good" fats. Eating nuts will raise the percentage of the "good" unsaturated fats and lower the percentage of the "bad" saturated fats in the bloodstream. On average, one ounce of nuts contains 165 to 200
calories and 14 to 21 grams of fat; however, 93 percent of the fat in walnuts and 90 percent of the fat in almonds is unsaturated. Nuts also are a good source of protein and vitamin E, which some studies suggest will improve the immune system.
It is true that birds should not be fed salty, roasted nuts intended for human consumption, but fresh raw nuts are a natural part of the diet of many parrots in the wild. Indeed, fresh, raw nuts fed in moderate quantities can make a significant contribution to the overall health and vitality of captive birds. The good fats in nuts promote the vibrantly colored, shiny feathers that attract us to the beauty of birds. Recent studies suggest that nuts play a role in reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease and certain kinds of cancer in humans. These benefits might also apply to the avian population.
Harvard's associate professor of medicine, Frank Sacks, advises, "Forget the total fat. Forget the percentage of calories from fat. Yes, nuts have a lot of oil but they also happen to have a lot of nutrients essential to a healthy diet. Frankly, we should be encouraging people to eat more nuts."
Parrots seem to know by instinct what we are just now discovering--and that is that nuts are one of the most nutritious gifts of nature. Most nuts are
the seeds or the dried fruit of trees and are natural to the diet of wild parrots who live and forage mainly in treetops. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, fiber (one ounce of nuts has as much fiber as two slices of whole wheat bread), vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, riboflavin, niacin, and phytochemicals. Because of their protein content, they actually are listed as an alternative to meat in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. For most parrots, "nut meats" are more natural to their diet than animal meats. Some wild parrots do eat small insects and lizards but most get their protein from non-animal sources.
Why Birds Need Fats
Birds need the three essential unsaturated fatty acids (linolenic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids) or EFAs, to keep their skin and feathers healthy, among other benefits. Essential fatty acids require Vitamin E for assimilation and nuts provide this anti-oxidant vitamin in the proper balance. Every living cell in a bird's body needs essential fatty acids for rebuilding and producing new cells. EFAs are used to produce prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that act as chemical messengers and regulators of various body processes. The two basic categories of EFAs are Omega-3 and Omega-6 which contain linoleic and linolenic acids. These are found primarily in raw
nuts, seeds and legumes.
In addition to providing energy, fats act as carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all important to the health of parrots. Fats aid in the assimilation of vitamin D which helps to make calcium available to body tissues. Fats also are important for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, a most important vitamin for the health of parrots.
Fats are essential to parrots housed outside in the cooler northern climates because it is a layer of fat that insulates the body from environmental temperature changes and preserves body heat. Nutrient-dense nuts are one of the healthiest forms of fat to offer birds for the purpose of creating and maintaining body heat in cold weather.