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