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Should I Cook My Parrot's Food?

In a perfect world, you would open a portal in your kitchen that allows your beautiful parrot to feast among canopies of tropical fronds nourished by rains and dewy sprays from a nearby waterfall. In the real world, you have to do your best to give your bird an assortment of healthy and beneficial vegetables, fruits, and grains consistently. That's why so many people choose to nourish their parrots with cooked, hearty mashes that offer the best variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that birds need to thrive. When researching bird nutrition, you may have heard that a "cooked diet" is a "dead diet." What that means is that some people are concerned that the cooking process zaps certain foods of nutrient content. While it's true that the cooking process does cause some degree of nutrient leeching in some foods, it's important to take a realistic and holistic view of bird nutrition before dismissing mashes.

Some people may say that only "fresh" and raw foods are appropriate for genuine bird nutrition. While this is said with the best of intentions, it's not realistic for most people to have a vast assortment of fruits, vegetables, and grains on hand to safely prepare and serve to a bird daily. That means that pursuing the fresh-only lifestyle could leave a bird with very little variety. Convinced that there's no value in cooked foods after reading a few blogs, some bird owners simply give their birds all-seed or all-pellet diets.

As we've covered in past blogs, these diets don't provide birds with the full nutritional support they need. In fact, birds can easily become malnourished, experience dangerous deficiencies, and grow vulnerable to illnesses when fed these cookie-cutter diets. What should a parrot owner do to consistently provide a treasured bird with the right nutrients? Ultimately, it is important to find a way to give a bird access to nutrient-dense, natural foods that are as close to their original forms as possible daily. For many parrot owners, the best answer is a parrot mash that is balanced and takes into account any loss of nutrients during the cooking process. Next, let's tackle the claim that cooked food may not be nutritious for parrots.

Feeding Your Parrot Cooked Parrot Food: Should You Do It?

Many bird owners feed their birds cooked parrot food for the same reasons that they eat "human" cooked dishes consisting of things like quinoa, carrots, black beans, natural spices, and more! It's a great way to take in nutrients in a form that's easy, available, and pleasant to eat! Few of us worry about the small amount of "nutrient leeching" that occurs when we prepare cooked dishes at home for our families or ourselves. We have every reason to have that same peace of mind over feeding our parrots cooked parrot food as long as it's packed with required, high-nutrient ingredients.

What Happens When You Cook Bird Food?

Different foods react differently to heat because of different nutrient and vitamin compositions. Not every food loses nutrition when heated. According to Berkeley Wellness at the University of California, cooked carrots are actually more nutritious than raw carrots because the beta carotene in carrots becomes more readily available when cooked. That's important because beta carotene is a big source of the vitamin A that's so important for overall parrot health! You'll find carrot listed as an ingredient in many of our tasty parrot mash varieties here at Bird Street Bistro. Another example, the protein in cooked eggs is 180% more digestible than that of raw eggs. When covering a parrot menu, it can be difficult to give a uniform answer regarding the nutrient changes that happen to cooked parrot foods because the vitamin and nutrient compositions of different foods react differently to heat. What's more, we know that the cooking process actually improves digestion and increases nutrient absorption in some foods. It's also important to note that cooking specific foods can sometimes cause loss of one specific nutrient or vitamin while leaving the rest of the nutritional content relatively untouched. Lastly, combinations of foods can be beneficial for retaining nutrients like vitamins A and E because their fat-soluble properties actually allow them to be absorbed more easily when paired with healthy fats from sources like seeds. You may notice that we pepper our mixes with healthy, bird-appropriate fat sources likes anise seeds and coconut here at Bird Street Bistro. All of this points to the fact that saying cooked food is "not nutritious" is really not a black-and-white issue because there are so many variables that help to boost nutrients and impact your bird's ability to absorb the highest nutrient content possible!

The Nutrients That Are Reduced When Cooking Bird Food - Can they be recovered?

What are the specific nutrients that are vulnerable to cooking? We can break the commonly reduced nutrients into three categories. They are:
  • Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C + B vitamins consisting of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
  • Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Minerals consisting of potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium
Does that mean that cooked bird food definitely loses nutrients? Based on different studies (1,2) Nutrient leaching is rarely more than 60%+, in some cases when the liquid containing these juices is consumed, 100% of the minerals and 70–90% of B vitamins are retained. At Bird Street Bistro, we offer such a wide variety of nutritious ingredients that it can be hard to give a standard answer. However, we can show you what the research says about some of the commonly used ingredients in our popular mashes. Take a look!

Blueberries

According to Berkeley Wellness at the University of California, "In a 2009 study, blueberries that were microwaved, simmered, pan-fried or baked showed no significant loss in antioxidants. In fact, pan-frying for a short time actually increased antioxidant activity, possibly because it breaks down cell walls, releasing the antioxidants."

Grains (Millet, Kamut, Triticale, Spelt, Barley)

There's not much evidence to suggest that grains lose nutrients when cooked. However, it's possible that grains may appear to be less nutrient dense after cooking due to the fact that they "puff up" from water content in a way that reduces the nutrient-to-mass ratio.

Carrots

As we covered earlier, cooked carrots may actually provide a better source of readily available vitamin A.

Pineapple

Known for its high vitamin C content, pineapple likely loses some nutrients during cooking. The simple fact is that water and heat can dilute the concentration of vitamin C in foods. However, diluted vitamin C doesn't mean no vitamin C. The reality is that enjoying daily meals consisting of chunks of delicious cooked pineapple is still going to give a bird access to all of the nutrition of this tropical staple. While it's perfectly fine to treat your bird to fresh chunks of pineapple as a snack, most people simply don't have the time or means to have fresh pineapple on hand all of the time. A cooked, ready-to-go meal medley offers consistency that is hard to recreate when only providing fresh ingredients or defaulting to all-seed/all-pellet diets.

Beans

According to some findings, cooking beans may actually "increase digestibility of the beans because these compound sugar molecules can require extra work on the part of our digestive tract." Many people point to the fact that soaked/cooked beans have less protein when measured against raw beans. However, this is mostly a case of volume altering nutrient density because beans swell following soaking.

Why Nutrient Loss Isn't Always What It Seems: The Volume Factor

As we've covered with a few of the ingredients discussed above, measuring nutrients before and after cooking doesn't always provide for an apples-to-apples comparison. That's because the cooking process often causes vegetables, grains, and proteins to expand due to water absorption. As a result, these foods may appear to have lower nutrient density per serving than their raw counterparts when comparing like-sized samples.

Some Final Thoughts on Cooked Parrot Food

As a bird owner, all you can do is look at the evidence to determine which diet is best for your bird. Many of us who have used mashes can see first hand our parrots thrive with our medley of mashes. However, looking at your own diet can help to bring some perspective into the picture. Most of us can appreciate the way that eating a balanced diet full of prepared vegetables, protein sources, and grains allows us to feel healthy and enjoy extra energy. If we were to only try to eat raw, readily available foods, it would be challenging to get in the wide range of nutrients that we need to thrive, survive, and keep illnesses at bay. It's not a stretch to say that the same logic can be applied to what we feed our birds. The most important thing is to ensure that our birds are getting access to healthy, whole foods that are easily and safely digested. It's also so important to source organic bird food that is free from pesticides and other concerns. Another question that bird owners might have is why they need to feed their birds "special" cooked parrot chop when they can just feed them cooked human food. Unfortunately, this can put birds at risk for obesity and other health problems due to issues with sodium, cooking oils, unhealthy fats, and unbalanced portions. At the end of the day, a diet of perfectly formulated, cooked bird food that is supplemented with some healthy, natural treats gives your bird the best chance to thrive while enjoying the natural variety he would get in his native tropical environment!

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