What You Should Know about Resistant Starch 
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Becca Hurt, Carbohydrates, Insulin Resistance, Nutrition, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, prebiotics, resistant starch, starches

Not everything you know about starch is necessarily correct. 

With regard to starch, our minds tend to wander to those blood sugar spikes, the insulin overload, and the inevitable energy crashes - not to mention their ability to stop efficient fat loss dead in its tracks.

For starchy carbs, these associations would be mostly correct - albeit incomplete. There's more to the story, it seems.

Consider for a moment that one kind of starch may be a boon to your gut health and perhaps even an aid to your weight loss endeavors.

Enter the concept of resistant starch. What is it, how does it work, and what could it offer you? Read on to find out more.

What Is It?

Resistant starch is a type of starch that the stomach and small intestine are unable to break down and digest. As a result, it travels to the large intestine (colon) intact. In other words, it’s a starch that is resistant to digestion, hence “resistant starch.”

This is opposed to other starches, which we can digest, absorb in the small intestine, and metabolize as glucose (i.e. sugar).

There are 4 types of resistant starch, which I will briefly touch on for the purpose of categorizing food sources in each group.

Although there are different types of resistant starch, in general all types act fairly similarly in the body. That said, they may have slightly different effects on gut flora.

Why It’s Beneficial

Think lower blood sugar, improved digestion, enhanced sleep and better glucose tolerance?

Since resistant starch doesn’t break down in the small intestine, it reaches the colon intact. There bacteria feed on it, and eventually it is broken down.

In a sense, resistant starch is food for the good bacteria in our gut and serves as a prebiotic. As a result of the beneficial bacteria digesting resistant starches, compounds called short-chain fatty acids are formed (specifically butyrate). Why is that beneficial? Butyrate indirectly feeds the cells that line the colon, which may support improvements in digestive system functionality.

Resistant starch has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the colon, which helps benefit digestive disorders (i.e. constipation, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc.).

Most starches are broken down in the small intestine and immediately impact our blood sugar and insulin levels (both increase). In the case of resistant starch, the only way the starch is broken down is by bacteria consuming it. As a result, our bodies do not experience a spike in blood sugar or insulin.

In fact, resistant starch has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce fasting blood sugar and improve satiety! 

Is Resistant Starch a Good Choice for You?

If you’re struggling with high blood sugars or with managing your blood sugars, have known insulin resistance or digestion problems, and/or have hit a weight loss plateau, adding in resistant starch (appropriately) could be a worthy experiment.

As with most experiments, in order to know the true outcome and results, assessing beforehand is critical. Obtaining lab values (e.g. blood sugar, A1C, body fat %, etc.) before starting this new diet and/or protocol and again after a minimum of 6 weeks, will help you know for certain if incorporating resistant starch into your diet is valuable for you personally.

After learning a bit about resistant starch, you may be thinking, “I’m on board! Let’s start today!” But before we have a hay-day with resistant starch, let’s consider the bigger picture on these “RS” foods. Yams, brown rice, quinoa, white potatoes, peas, beans, and green bananas all contain resistant starch. However, what does your intuition tell you about these same foods? They’re higher in overall carbohydrate content in comparison to other foods that are classified as “carbs” (i.e. non-starchy vegetables).

Resistant starch is also very similar to fiber in that too much at once may lead to gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation, and other unpleasant digestive effects. When adding these foods to your diet for the purpose of increasing your resistant starch intake, do so with slight caution.

Particularly if your resistant starch and/or fiber intake is minimal, start slowly! The potential effects that you might feel are not the “fault” of RS. They’re indication that your gut needs work, which is even more reason to continue with this implementation.

How Can I Get Resistant Starch in My Diet?

Since there are various forms of resistant starch, there are various ways to incorporate it into your diet as well. A helpful practice to consider in conjunction with adding RS foods is a quality daily probiotic.

Whole foods 

Think green, unripe banana... A typical large banana has approximately 30 g of carbohydrate. However, if it’s green and totally unripe (probably unappealing to many people), the majority of that carbohydrate will be resistant starch that your body does not digest into glucose. Similar to cooked and then cooled resistant starch foods, your body doesn’t digest the carbohydrate in the green banana as it would a fully ripe, yellow banana. Instead, your gut flora digest it.

Cooked then cooled foods

The prospect of rice and potatoes appropriately raise concern for some people who cannot tolerate their carb load. One way to help combat the glucose response and improve insulin sensitivity, studies find, is to eat these foods by first cooking and then cooling them. By doing this, the typical “negative impacts” are mitigated by the resistant starch.

Resistant starch supplement

You can always consider supplementing with resistant starch rather than obtaining it in whole-food form. One benefit: it may be easier!

Much like supplemental protein, resistant starch supplement commonly comes in powder form as raw potato starch (others include plantain flour, green banana flour). With about 8 grams of resistant starch per 1 tablespoon, you can incorporate it into a smoothie or add it into sparkling water.

Another great option, especially for endurance athletes looking for a great addition to their training plan, is UCAN. This super-starch is broken down slowly as well, allowing for continued performance and improved fat burning for fuel.

If you choose to incorporate resistant starch into your diet (whatever the form), gradually work your way up to 30-40 grams of RS per day. Some people need to start with just a teaspoon or so (from supplement form), or half a whole-food source (e.g. half a green banana) per day. Keep in mind, too, that most people tolerate RS best when consumed in solid food form (rather than liquid) and as part of a full meal rather than alone.

Interested in learning more about the role resistant starch can – or should – play in your personal weight loss plan? See a club dietitian today! Thanks for reading.

In health, Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Assistant Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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