by Rachael Link, MS, RD
If you’re like most people, the word “starch” may conjure up images of guilty pleasures and high-calorie treats like pizza, pasta and donuts. It’s been drilled into our brains time and time again that starches are unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs if you’re looking to stay trim and achieve better health. Not all starch is created equally, however. Resistant starch, for example, is actually a beneficial type of starch that can have a multitude of positive effects on health.
In addition to aiding in everything from weight loss to blood sugar control, getting in your daily dose of resistant starch is also super simple. It’s naturally present in a variety of sources and may even be found in many of the foods that you already consume. Keep reading for everything you need to know about this nutritious type of starch and how you can add it to your diet.
What Is Resistant Starch?
So what is resistant starch, and how does it work? Resistant starch is a type of starch that isn’t completely broken down and absorbed in the stomach or small intestine. Instead, it passes through to the colon and is converted into short-chain fatty acids, which act as prebiotics to help feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Because it’s processed and metabolized in a similar way as dietary fiber, it also boasts a similar set of health benefits. In fact, some research suggests that resistant starch could help stabilize blood sugar, support satiety and improve digestive health.
Not only that, but some also consider it keto-friendly and ideal for those on a low-carb diet because it passes through the body undigested without spiking blood sugar levels or throwing the body out of ketosis. Best of all, resistant starch is found in a variety of sources and can easily be incorporated into a well-balanced and healthy diet.
Resistant Starch Foods
There are four common types of resistant starch foods that are found in the diet, including: (1)
- Type I: Found in the endosperm of whole grains, seeds and legumes
- Type II: Found in raw potatoes, green bananas and high-amylose maize starch
- Type III: Formed by a process called retrogradation through the cooling of cooked starches, such as potatoes or rice
- Type IV: Chemically modified resistant starch found in certain processed foods
So which foods are rich in resistant starch, and how can you start adding them to your diet? Grab this handy resistant starch foods list and head to the grocery store to start stocking up on these gut-friendly ingredients.
1. Cooked and Cooled Potato
When potatoes are cooked and then cooled, they undergo a process called retrogradation, resulting in a higher content of resistant starch. Although there is resistant starch in sweet potatoes and other tubers, white potatoes contain the highest amount. Other ingredients like raw potato starch are derived from potatoes and also contain resistant starch.
2. Cooked and Cooled Rice
Resistant starch rice includes any type of rice that has been cooked and then cooled. Opt for brown rice over white rice to get the most bang for your buck in terms of vitamins, minerals and fiber content.
Legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils, are rich in resistant starch. Plus, they’re also high in protein and fiber to help improve heart health, maintain muscle mass and boost regularity.
Oats are an excellent source of resistant starch, and they also contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that may be beneficial in the treatment of conditions like obesity and metabolic syndrome. (2)
5. Green Bananas
Unripe bananas are jam-packed with resistant starch. Although not as sweet as fully ripe bananas, green bananas can be baked, boiled or added to smoothies for a hearty dose of resistant starch.
6. Hi-Maize Flour
This type of resistant starch-rich flour is made from corn and can be used to boost the fiber content of your favorite foods and baked goods. Simply swap out a bit of the regular flour for Hi-Maize flour and enjoy.
7. Other Starches
Thanks to the process of retrogradation, other cooked and cooled starches can also contain resistant starch, such as resistant starch pasta. Select whole-grain varieties and pair with generous portions of veggies, protein foods and healthy fats to amp up the nutritional content of your meals.
Is Resistant Starch Healthy? Resistant Starch Benefits
- Stabilizes Blood Sugar
- Promotes Weight Loss
- May Protect Against Colon Cancer
- Improves Digestive Health
- Decreases Inflammation
1. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
Sustaining high blood sugar can cause a long list of negative symptoms over time, ranging from unintentional weight loss all the way to kidney problems and nerve damage. Several studies have found that consuming resistant starch can help maintain normal blood sugar levels after meals and improve glycemic control to sidestep negative symptoms and reverse diabetes naturally. (3, 4)
Resistant starch may also improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone responsible for ushering glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells where it can be used as fuel. When you eat lots of high-sugar foods, the amount of insulin in your bloodstream remains elevated, decreasing your body’s ability to use insulin effectively and resulting in a condition called insulin resistance. Consuming plenty of resistant starch, however, has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity, allowing your body to utilize this hormone more efficiently to keep blood sugar levels under control. (5)
2. Promotes Weight Loss
Resistant starch is believed to help boost weight loss in a few different ways. First of all, it’s lower in calories than regular starch, so you can eat the same amount but take in less calories, which can ultimately lead to weight loss.
Additionally, it can help promote satiety to ward off cravings and keep you feeling fuller for longer. One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, for example, showed that consuming a supplement containing resistant starch led to a significant reduction in food intake compared to a placebo in healthy adults. (6) Other studies — including one out of the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — have had similar findings, reporting that resistant starch could be beneficial in decreasing both appetite and intake to aid in weight loss. (7)
3. May Protect Against Colon Cancer
Consuming resistant starch can have a powerful impact on the health of your gastrointestinal tract, especially when it comes to your colon. In fact, some studies even suggest that it could help block the growth and spread of colon cancer cells to keep your digestive system in tip-top shape.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and conducted at the University of Würzburg’s Department of Medicine in Germany, consuming resistant starch modified the metabolism of certain bacteria in the colon to aid in cancer prevention. (8) Another in vitro model conducted at Georgia Health Sciences University’s Department of Biochemistry showed that butyric acid, one of the compounds formed by the breakdown of resistant starch, may be effective in reducing inflammation in the colon and blocking the growth of cancer cells. (9)
Despite these promising results, though, it’s important to keep in mind that current research is limited to mostly test-tube and animal studies. More studies are still needed to evaluate the effects on cancer cells in humans.
4. Improves Digestive Health
Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacterial cells that play an integral role in just about every aspect of health and disease. Research shows that the beneficial bacteria in your gut could have a major impact on everything from immunity and weight control to mental health and beyond. (10, 11, 12)
Resistant starch is converted into butyrate, a type of short-chain fatty acid that is used as the primary source of fuel by your good gut bacteria. In addition to enhancing the health of your gut microbiome, resistant starch may also improve digestive health and be beneficial in the treatment of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. (13)
5. Decreases Inflammation
Although acute inflammation is considered a normal part of the immune response, sustaining chronic inflammation over long periods of time is believed to be involved in the development of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (14)
Some studies have found that resistant starch could effectively reduce inflammation. A recent 2018 study out of Iran, for example, showed that resistant starch supplementation significantly decreased several markers of inflammation in patients on hemodialysis over an eight-week period. (15) Not only could this help protect against chronic disease, but it may also reduce the risk of inflammatory-related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Resistant Starch Drawbacks
Although resistant starch does come with a number of health benefits, there are some drawbacks and potential side effects that need to be considered as well.
First of all, resistant starch supplements, such as Hi-Maize flour, are often lower in beneficial nutrients than whole food sources of resistant starch. Potato starch, for example, contains less of the calories and carbs in potatoes, but it also contains a lower amount of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals found in the potato nutrition profile as well.
While it can definitely be beneficial to replace regular white flour with these resistant starch-rich alternatives, they shouldn’t be the primary source of resistant starch in your diet unless you’re following a low-carb diet. Instead, try to get the majority from whole food sources, which can provide a wealth of other nutrients as well.
Additionally, just as overdoing it on the fiber can come with some serious gastrointestinal consequences, it’s also not a good idea to load up on too much of this starch all at once. Consuming high amounts can have a laxative effect in the body and can cause side effects such as abdominal pain, excessive flatulence and bloating. Therefore, it’s best to increase your intake slowly to assess your tolerance and keep consumption in moderation to avoid negative symptoms.
Resistant Starch vs. Fiber vs. Starch
There’s a lot of confusion on the differences and similarities between resistant starch, fiber and starch, and for good reason. Despite having a good amount of overlap in the food sources, functions and benefits of these dietary components, there are some major differences that set these three apart.
Starting with the basics: What is starch, and is starch a carbohydrate? Starch is a type of carbohydrate made up of many units of sugar joined together by glycosidic bonds. It’s commonly found in starchy foods, such as peas, corn and potatoes, and is broken down directly into sugar when it enters the small intestine.
Resistant starches, on the other hand, are not digested in the small intestine and instead travel to the large intestine where they are converted into short-chain fatty acids. Because it resists digestion, resistant starch doesn’t cause blood sugar to increase the same way as regular starch and boasts a much longer list of health benefits. However, it’s found in many of the same sources, including foods like potatoes or rice that have undergone the retrogradation process to form resistant starch.
Fiber, meanwhile is another type of carbohydrate that is indigestible and comes with many of the same benefits. Much like resistant starch, fiber can promote gastrointestinal health, support weight loss, improve digestive health, and protect against chronic disease and colon cancer. Include both as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet to reap the multitude of benefits that each has to offer.
Resistant Starch in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Although resistant starch is a term that’s been coined just within the last century, resistant starch foods have long been used in many forms of holistic medicine.
Traditional rice varieties commonly consumed on an Ayurvedic diet, such as basmati, contain a higher amount of resistant starch than heavily processed white rice. Other resistant starch foods, such as potatoes, also work well on an Ayurvedic diet and are believed to have grounding, sedative properties that can help satisfy the stomach and alkalize the body.
Similarly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, rice is used to soothe and nourish the stomach, plus strengthen the spleen and relieve indigestion. Meanwhile, other resistant starch foods like oats are used to reduce blood pressure, decrease diarrhea and stop spontaneous sweating.
Resistant Starch Recipes and Uses
It’s easy to start incorporating this type of starch into your daily diet. Start by cooking and cooling your favorite starchy foods and enjoy pasta, potato or cold rice salads as a tasty side dish to a nutritious main meal. You can also swap out meat from your diet a few times per week and try including legumes like beans or lentils for a healthy plant-based meal that’s high in resistant starch. Adding a sprinkle of oats to your morning smoothie is also a simple and delicious way to bump up the nutritional value of your breakfast as well.
Need a few more ideas to get you going? Here are a few simple and delicious resistant starch recipes that you can try at home:
- Overnight Oatmeal
- Breakfast Fry-Up with Green Bananas
- Black Bean Burger
- Date-Nut Oatmeal Bars
- Brown Rice Salad
While it’s been long known that whole grains and legumes should be staple ingredients in a healthy, well-rounded diet, the concept of resistant starch is fairly new. In fact, the term “resistant starch” actually originated in the 1970s and is now considered to be one of the three main types of starch, along with rapidly digested starch and slowly digested starch.
The Commission of the European Communities, the organization responsible for policy-making for the European Union, began funding and supporting research on the subject. In 1996, a review entitled “Nutritional Implications of Resistant Starch” was published in Nutrition Research Reviews, setting an official resistant starch definition and describing the way that it works within the body.
In recent years, researchers have continued to find new benefits of this health-promoting compound, reporting that it can do everything from help stabilize blood sugar to promote digestive health and weight loss.
Although safe and beneficial when consumed in moderation, high amounts of resistant starch can cause digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, gas and bloating. To prevent negative side effects, it’s best to start with a low amount and increase your intake slowly. Additionally, be sure to keep intake in moderation and scale back if you experience any negative side effects.
Unless following a low-carb diet, it’s also recommended to skip the resistant starch supplement and opt for whole food sources instead. In addition to increasing your intake of this starch, incorporating these foods in your diet can also provide an array of important vitamins and minerals that are vital to health.
- Resistant starch is a type of starch that is not digested in the stomach or small intestine but passes through to the colon and is converted into short-chain fatty acids.
- There are several different types of this starch, but it is primarily found in whole grains, legumes, green bananas, and certain foods that have been cooked and cooled, such as pasta, rice and potatoes.
- This type of starch may help control blood sugar, support weight loss, reduce inflammation, protect against colon cancer and improve digestive health.
- However, consuming too much can cause digestive issues, such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain.
- Unless following a low-carb diet, it’s best to get the majority of resistant starch from whole food sources rather than supplements to ensure you’re getting a wide range of important nutrients in your diet.
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