With all the low carb/no carb/grain free diets that have recently become popular you probably think starch is a dirty word. What if I told you starchy foods do provide important health benefits and if prepared in a certain way can actually improve insulin sensitivity, strengthen healthy microbes in your gut and help you lose weight?
So, if you have been avoiding potatoes, rice or even legumes for fear of these foods being forbidden foods on your low carb or grain free diet, let me introduce you to Resistant Starch.
What is resistant starch?
Resistant starch is what’s called a prebiotic. It is found in many commonly consumed carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, rice bananas, and legumes.
Prebiotics are generally classified into three different types: non-starch polysaccharides (such as inulin and fructooligosaccharide), soluble fiber (including psyllium husk and acacia fibers), and resistant starch (RS). Each of these types of prebiotics feeds different species of gut bacteria, but among these, RS is emerging as uniquely beneficial.
RS is a type of starch that is not digested in the stomach or small intestine, so it reaches the colon intact. In this way it “resists” digestion. When we consume this type of starch we don’t experience spikes in either blood glucose or insulin after eating it. And one of the advantages of eating this type of starch is that we do not obtain significant calories from resistant starch.
Why is resistant starch good for me?
Foods naturally high in resistant starch help beneficial gut bacteria take hold and flourish. When we consume resistant starch it becomes food for specific types of bacteria in your colon.
This undigested starch goes to the large intestine, ferment to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids like acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid and vitamin K2. All of these have many positive effects on the body. These “friendly” bacteria multiply, which can benefit gut and immune health.
Adding resistant starch has important health benefits for those working to maintain insulin sensitivity (pre-diabetic and diabetic); metabolic syndrome/obesity and weight loss. Anyone with an autoimmune condition or poor immunity can also benefit from resistant starch.
Foods that have beneficial starch fall into four categories
RS1: starch that resists digestion because it’s trapped by intact plant cell walls (in legumes, grains, and seeds)
RS2: starch that’s protected from digestion because of its molecular structure, and only becomes accessible to human digestive enzymes after being cooked (found in raw potatoes, green bananas, and raw plantains)
RS3: also called “retrograded starch,” which forms when you cool down certain starchy foods after they’ve been cooked (such as potatoes, rice, and other grains)
RS4: chemically modified starches that don’t occur in nature, but are created to resist digestionNote: RS 4 type is not a preferred RS because it is manmade. Stick with RS found in food.
The best way to add resistant starch to your diet is through food first and supplements second.
Having said that, if you have food sensitivities, bacterial overgrowth SIBO) or are on a SCD/GAPS diet you want to be sure to avoid specific carbohydrate foods that each food therapy indicates. Remember that we are talking about predominantly polysaccharide carbohydrates that are RS and since these foods feed bacteria, if you are on a therapeutic program to reduce bacteria you’ll want to discuss this approach and timing of doing this with your nutrition practitioner first.
Health benefits of resistant starch
Although we are just beginning to get a more detailed picture of how these beneficial bacteria are fed and flourish in the GUT we do know that each type of starch helps feed specific strains of beneficial bacteria and help them to grow.
In a study that compared “diets high in resistant starch (RS) or non-starch polysaccharides (NSPs) and a reduced carbohydrate weight loss (WL) diet, over 10 weeks researchers found significant differences in gut bacteria. One of the findings showed that two individual phylotypes, E. rectale and Ruminococcus bromii, showed increased proportions on the RS diet whereas Collinsella aerofaciens showed decreased proportions on the WL diet.”
They go on to state that; “increased intake of RS, an important ND carbohydrate in the human diet, can substantially alter the species composition of the colonic microbiota. Diets containing RS and NSP offer potential benefits in prevention of colorectal cancer through the delivery of fermentation acids, in particular butyrate, to the distal colon (McIntyre et al., 1993; Duncan et al., 2007). Microbial breakdown of NSP also releases bound phytochemicals into the colon (Gill and Rowland, 2002). These health benefits may be particularly important in obese and overweight subjects who are at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer and diabetes (Polednak, 2003; Cani et al., 2007)”.
Another benefit of adding RS is that of improving both the mucosal barrier of the gut and improving resistance to pathogens.
Another way to help protect yourself against pathogens is to include herbs high in plant phytonutrients. Researchers found that; “plant extracts, or phytonutrients such as anethol (found in fennel and ansie), carvacrol (found in oregano, thyme and bergamot), cinnamaldehyde, eugenol (oil of clove), capsicum oleoresin and garlic extract enhance the immune system and improve resistance to various infectious diseases.”
“Besides the consumption of probiotics to stimulate favorable bacterial communities in the human gastrointestinal tract, prebiotics such as inulin-type fructans (ITF) and arabinoxylan-oligosaccharides (AXOS) can be consumed to increase the number of bifidobacteria in the colon. Several functions have been attributed to bifidobacteria, encompassing degradation of non-digestible carbohydrates, protection against pathogens, production of vitamin B, antioxidants, and conjugated linoleic acids, and stimulation of the immune system”.
There is strong evidence demonstrating that RS lowers whole body and visceral adiposity. The magnitude of these changes in adiposity are very large and sufficient to independently improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce the risk of diabetes, CVD, and certain cancers.
How to add resistant starch to your diet
RS1 & RS2: Adding semi-green bananas, plantains, legumes and seeds are one way to increase this type of resistant starch in your diet.
RS3: Can be added to your diet by cooking and cooling rice and potatoes that are then eaten cold or at room temperature. The key is not to re-heat them but instead enjoy these as cold salads and side dishes.
While you can buy potato starch and mix it in with water and drink it this is not the most enjoyable way to add RS to your diet so I advise eating the foods instead.
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Try my resistant starch potato salad!
- 2 lbs. red skinned potatoes
- ¼ cup finely chopped sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
- ½ lb. fresh green beans washed and stems removed
- Vinaigrette dressing
- Whisk the following in a large bowl until you have a slightly paste like consistency–
- ¼ cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
- 3-4 fresh garlic cloves finely minced
- 1/4- 1/2 cup (depending on how tangy you like it) good quality olive oil
- Dill weed
- ½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt
- Ground pepper to taste
- Slowly add 1/4- 1/2 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil to the herbs and mustard/ vinegar mixture.
- Step 1: Boil the potatoes in Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salted water until fork tender but do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
- Step 2: Blanch green beans until they just wiggle and drain. Set aside.
- Step 3: In the bottom of a large mixing bowl make the vinaigrette dressing
- Step 4: Chop potatoes into quarters while still warm and cut green beans into three even sections while still warm.
- Step 5: Add the potatoes and green beans to the bowl with the dressing. Gently toss the potatoes and beans with the dressing. Be careful not to break up the potatoes too much.
- Step 6: Add the chopped sun dried tomatoes and gently mix to coat evenly. Allow to sit at room temperature for best flavor then refrigerate and serve at room temperature.