Resistant Starch: The Most Helpful Carbohydrate?
I know a lot of you will see the headline and sleep on this article. Don’t do it. This is something you need to keep a close eye on.
First, I’m going to sell you on some of the benefits because it’s likely that you’ve never heard the term “resistant starch” (RS). So, what’s up with RS?
Improved gut health? Check.
Improved mineral absorption? Check.
Improved insulin sensitivity? Check.
Improved satiety? Check.
Improved cholesterol panel? Check.
Improved metabolism? Less fat storage? Check.
Sounds too good to be true. Which is why you’re now like, “yeah, okay, ‘splain yo self.”
What is Resistant Starch?
To put it simply, it’s a starch that resists digestion. Where most starches convert to glucose in the small intestine as other carbohydrates do, RS resists digestion and passes through to the large intestine where it behaves much like dietary fiber and is fermented by gut bacteria.
Here’s a little science for you. I’ve bolded some of the key points.
“Instead of being digested by amylases in the upper digestive tract, it passes to the bowel, where it is fermented by bacteria into short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA are acidic, so they lower bowel pH, which facilitates proliferation of good bugs and inhibits growth of pathogenic bacteria. All of this extra fermentation and availability of SCFA provides fuel or energy for the colonocytes [cells lining the colon], which are a barrier against infection.”
I know, you’re not here for science. I’ll try to keep all of this in layman’s terms as we move forward. I want to break down each of the main points that I sold you on so you can clearly see how RS needs to be a part of your diet (and how to make that happen).
Improved Gut Health & Mineral Absorption
Resistant starch is a prebiotic, promoting the abundance of helpful bacteria and creating an environment where harmful bacteria don’t fair so well.
Of course, improved mineral absorption is a natural consequence of an improved gut-ecosystem. In fact, a lot of the benefits of RS have to do with gut health simply because gut health is such a major factor in human health and function (and especially excess fat loss).
Improved Insulin Sensitivity, Metabolism, and Everything Else I mentioned
RS intake is associated with several changes in metabolism which may confer some health benefits. RS intake seems to decrease postprandial glycemic and insulinemic responses, lower plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, improve whole body insulin sensitivity, increase satiety, and reduce fat storage.
There are other studies to back that one up, such as this one on insulin sensitivity and metabolism. And more on both glycemia and satiety here. And for those of you who care greatly about fat accumulation, there’s this:
These data indicate that replacement of 5.4% of total dietary carbohydrate with RS significantly increased post-prandial lipid oxidation and therefore could decrease fat accumulation in the long-term.
So what is all of this telling us?
We can use my ANTI food model to grade resistant starch.
The first important note is that resistant starch passes the hormone stability test. Even though it’s a starchy carbohydrate, it’s been shown that if you’re in Ketosis, it won’t take you out of it. On top of that, it helps stabilize your blood sugar at the next meal. It also has a positive effect on satiety, unlike simple sugars and some other starches.
While it doesn’t contain any nutrients by itself, it improves gut health in a way that increases the assimilation of other ingested nutrients. And through it’s conversion to SCFAs (short chain fatty acids) it becomes a source of energy and promotes the overall utilization of fat by the body. That scores it well in nutrition category.
Where we run into a bit of a rub is with the toxic and inflammatory categories. That’s kind of confusing, because I mentioned earlier than RS has been shown to have a positive impact on inflammation markers.
The rub is easy to solve though, so stay with me.
The best sources of resistant starch are legumes, whole grains, corn, cold potato, raw unripe banana, cold pasta, and barley.
That’s a who’s who of ANTI foods (except for the potatoes and bananas). You could make a case for properly prepared beans as well.
Even so, it still fails the “appetizing” part (not actually part of the ANTI model, but a common sense indicator nonetheless). Do you really want to start off the day gnawing on a green banana or cold potato? $&%# that.
But, I wouldn’t lead you down this rabbit hole without a solution would I? Of course not.
It turns out you can supplement (for lack of a better term) with resistant starch in the form of unmodified potato starch (tasteless). Nice.
Time for Self-Experimentation
I’ve always been a proponent of self-experimentation. Have I linked to research in this post? Yes. But, I’ve also told you before that research is meaningless to you unless you were part of the study.
Well, it’s time to make yourself part of the study and find out what this all means to YOU specifically.
Instead of coming up with my own experiment, I’m going to steal Richard’s because I first learned about Resistant Starch from him. Here’s what you should try (and what you might experience):
The proposed self experiment:
- Eat a big russet potato in whatever way you want to cook it, but without any stuff on it other than salt, pepper, herbs, spices, etc. Measure your blood glucose (BG) levels for the first 4 hours every 15-30 minutes (15 minutes is best in the 1-2 hour window for resolution and so you don’t miss a spike).
- Once back down to normal BG levels, take in the whole starch equivalent of the same potato, but in the form of unmodified potato starch (mix it in some liquid of preference, drink). Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch is dirt cheap and 4 tablespoons (about 40g, with 80% by weight being resistant starch and the rest, moisture) gives you a whole potato worth of starch load. Do the exact same BG measurements at the same times.
- Once BG settles out again, repeat #1, take the same measurements at the same time.
- You will have a significant BG spike in #1; way more if you’re borderline T2 diabetic or full blown. It will take about 4 hours to clear.
- You will have a small spike with #2, far less than #1 and moreover, it will clear in 2-3 hours.
- Repeating the #1 experiment, you will experience a significant “2nd meal effect” where the test you did mere hours before is far less spiky and clears far more rapidly.
- Should the foregoing results be your general experience and you decide to continue taking 2-4 tablespoons per day of RS in the form of Bob’s Unmodified Potato Starch, you will find your fasting BG gradually come down over the next month.
- And should you continue the experiment per the foregoing #4, expect to experience substantially increased satiation and fat loss over time.
If you don’t want to do all the BC measuring you can still start supplementing with RS and simply track any noticeable changes in how you feel, digestion, body composition, etc. with a 30 day trial.
Basically what you’re doing here is two fold: you’re improving your blood glucose control and you’re feeding healthy gut bacteria. This creates a situation where all of the other benefits occur: better digestion and nutrient absorption, improved body composition, disease prevention, immune health, and so on.
The comments section is open for questions, discussion, and self-experimentation reporting.
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Kevin Geary is the founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. He helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.All stories by: Kevin Geary
i think i have done a lot of the experimenting. i found black rice, not black glutenous rice, but black rice, bought at the Chinese market, could be one of these less digestible or resistant starches. it does not spike my sugars/insulin response (guessing-no test since i was pre diabetic.)
When i include this regularly i feel better, have more energy and actually lose more weight.
Black rice sounds interesting. American food is so modified and processed it lends one to think that some of our anti-foods may be perfectly healthy foods if obtained from raw cultural sources prior to Americanization. Other cultures live in third world environments but live long healthy lives based on diet and cultural habits (I mean those that avoid the rampant disease, pestilence and violence.) Americans live long healthy lives because of our medical advancements. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. We can learn from other cultures especially when it comes to their food. We need an article Kevin about the bunking the anti-foods.
This is a good point. I’ve already noted that properly preparing legumes — and even grains to some degree — makes them much more tolerable and less harmful.
However, if you’re looking at it from maximizing nutrition, grains and legumes are both far less nutritious than other options.
Grains and legumes are popular in third world countries because they’re cheap to produce. The difference is that they tend to prepare them properly, which mitigates the damage. However, they’re still not getting optimal nutrition.
If you live in a developed country, it’s still best to stop messing around with grains and legumes (grains more than legumes here) and processed foods and focus on the nutrient dense stuff that’s available.
I think if you look at other healthier cultures they’re also bigger on wild caught fish and consume far less seed oils. End the end, it’s still about real food versus processed fake stuff.
Bob’s Red Mill unmodified potato starch is no longer dirt-cheap, thanks to the spreading of resistant starch gospel–the stuff has at least DOUBLED in price!
Caveats I’d like to see here in bold are: the stuff MUST be used cold, and you must not be a diabetic of any sort to use this and expect results. I tried it on my husband, and it didn’t live up to expectations. This New Year’s, I’m going to try a serving of black-eyed peas on him (an Eastern Shore tradition). Also, the much-hyped Swerve and stevia glycerite sweeteners came with problems–mainly, the Swerve produced diarrhea, and the glycerine of the stevia glycerite made it taste too artificially sweet (even in just 1/4 t.)
Like the personal Paleo code, there is no one right answer for everyone–all you can do is try and test, test, TEST.
It isn’t clear to me why those of us on a low carb, higher fat diet would add RS to the diet. What metric would I measure? Satiety is not an issue for me.
However, I am concerned about my LDL elevated level. My HDL run between 80-90 and my Triglycerides between 50-60. But my LDL bounces around 170-180.
My interest is to evade inflammation. Perhaps my LDL is populated with copious quantities of the big plump LDL factions but my Doc still doesn’t know how to read the report to determine that. I operate on the basis that low carb mean low LDL…but so far, that hasn’t been the case
Hi Gary. The research so far indicates that the primary benefits of the inclusion of RS come from the positive changes in gut flora. There is conflicting data on the effects of low carbohydrate diets on gut flora (most seem to indicate a less advantageous gut flora distribution) while RS seems to create an advantageous distribution. Most of the indicated benefits come from this gut flora improvement.
I seem to have killed off a lot of my good bacteria by taking ALA for mercury chelation for 2-3 years. I just added RS to my supplements a few days ago. I cannot tolerate rice and potatoes at this time, but I am taking good probiotics like CP1 and Prescript Assist SBOs. Will RS and these probiotics be enough to successfully increase my good bacteria?
I moved up to 2 TBS daily in just a few days. I have no side effects that I notice, other than possibly a tad bit of nausea.
I got the Perfect Health Diet book and I plan to follow it closely. I quit eating Ezekiel bread and I had daily organic popcorn habit that may have been hurting me more than helping me. My eczema has been bad, and I guess these grains can sometimes do this to people.
PS – I see what you mean about starting slowly on RS. My GI tract doesn’t deal with RS too good right now. What I think I need is lots of probiotics and SBOs for now and then increase or resume RS later.
I was taking a lot of antifungals like oregano oil, GSE, and garlic, and it didn’t seem to do me a bit of good. They may have even done me harm by killing off more good bacteria.
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