Not all starch is created equal…

When people first jump on board the paleo or low carb/ high fat bandwagon, they can be very quick to shout from the rooftops “All carbs are evil. Down with carbs, down with starch! blah blah blah, bacon, mmm….” etc etc

Or at least something along those lines 😉

Starchy carb foods like bread and pasta have been frowned upon due to their ability to flood the body with cheap glucose prompting a significant insulin response that leads to weight gain and a host of health conditions (and not to mention the negative impacts they can have on the gut).

But as we learn more about the importance of gut health and its impact on our overall health, we are learning there might be more to the starch and carb story than first thought.

Have you heard about the importance of resistant starch? It raises further questions about what think we know, for example:

  • Is going completely low carb the answer to lack of weight loss woes or could it be causing you to put on more weight?
  • And how can you get more healthy carbs and starch into your diet without damaging your waistline and hormones?

When you think of carbs, you most probably picture a massive bowl of white pasta or a slice of white bread and you wince at the thought of the glucose rush, insulin spike and weight gain.

But are all carbs and starchy carbs bad for you?

Meet resistant starch

When we eat carbs they are digested and absorbed as glucose and the result is an insulin spike which can have negative impacts on your waistline and your hormones.

But this is not the case with resistant starch. When we ingest resistant starch, it passes through the small intestine into the large intestine because it resists digestion. Because it isn’t completely digested it doesn’t result in an insulin spike.

Once in the large intestine our gut bugs go to town on these resistant starches eating them up through fermentation and creating by products called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

SCFAs (including butyric acid, acetate and propionate) are known to have powerful health benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, reducing appetite and increasing insulin sensitivity (the opposite of which is insulin resistance which leads to diabetes and a host of diseases).

In fact, butyrate is a primary fuel for the cells in the colon so they get an extra hit of energy and can do their job properly.

So not only does the resistant starch have little to no effect on blood sugar levels and insulin, it also feeds your healthy gut bacteria producing SCFAs that increase insulin sensitivity.

So here’s a quick snapshot of the health benefits of resistant starch:

Health Benefits:

1. Production of SCFAs

SCFAs are known to have powerful health benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, reducing appetite and increasing insulin sensitivity (the opposite of which leads to diabetes and a host of diseases). In fact, butyrate actually is a primary fuel for the cells in the colon which means that they get a boost of energy so they can do their job properly.

2. Gut Heal and Seal

Buytrate produced from resistant starch helps to seal a leaky gut. Leaky gut is another word for increased permeability of the intestinal wall. When you have a leaky gut, you are more susceptible to colds and flus and autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, psoriasis and type I diabetes as pathogens and food particles can pass through into the blood stream wreaking havoc on our inflammatory pathways and consequently our tissues.

3. Anti-Inflammatory

Buytrate doesn’t just act on the gut. It can travel through the blood stream having a powerful anti-inflammatory action on the rest of the body. With inflammation the root cause of nearly all diseases, it’s something you want to be aware of and dampen.

Remember there are more bacteria in us than human cells like 10 to 1. So it makes sense that we should want look after them. Happy bugs, happy life.

If you would like more information on the importance of resistant starch for good gut health, you can learn more here.

4. Reduces Appetite

Keeping in mind that most of the studies on butyrate and SCFA from resistant starch are on rats, it seems that eating more resistant starch with your meal will increase fullness and satiety, meaning you won’t eat as much.

5. Lowers Blood Sugar

Eating resistant starch in your meal can lower the blood sugar post meal and in subsequent meals.

What Foods Are High in Resistant Starch?

Eating a clean or paleo friendly diet means most of the overly refined starches are already cut from the diet, things like pasta, bread, legumes. But we can still include high resistant starch from sources such as:

  • green banana flour (Try Mt Uncles Banana Flour – and no, it doesn’t taste like bananas!)
  • plantains
  • cooked and then cooled potatoes
  • raw potato starch (a supplemental powder)
  • cooked and then cooled white rice
  • See more here
A bowl of cooled, boiled potatoes, lying on a bed of lettuce - high in resistant starch.

And if you don’t like cold potatoes, don’t worry – you can lightly fry up those cooled potatoes and you still get the benefit of the resistant starch. Just don’t go crazy on the cooking or you’ll lose the benefits.

White Rice is ok – surely not?!

For those of you who are not strict paleo, you can try eating white rice. Yes, I know! Don’t get your knickers in a knot.

White rice that has been cooked and cooled is notably higher in resistant starch than good ol’ hot steamed rice.

And if you are freaking out because rice is a grain and grains shouldn’t be consumed, well take comfort in the fact that white rice is better for you than brown rice, due to it being stripped of most of its so-called anti-nutrients (such as phytates) in the manufacturing process. Essentially, it’s easier for you to digest than brown rice.

And if you are still worried about the insulin spiking response of rice, if you cook it in coconut oil you can potentially lower the digestible glucose even further, increasing the resistant starch which lowers the insulin response making your rice a low carb meal.

I choose to consume white rice in small quantities i.e. a handful of cooked white rice and in the company of healthy fats and protein. That gives me the healthy carb and resistant starch that I need without the insulin spike and without the cortisol spike from being too low carb (yes a real thing that women seriously need to consider lest they want to promote adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems and a host of hormonal imbalances).

So how much do you need?

Like everything, more is not better. Everyone is different so you will need to experiment. If you have a damaged gut, suddenly throwing a heap of resistant starch into your diet can cause bloating and gas. So use common sense and take it easy at the start to see how you feel. You can even try adding probiotics at the same time as the resistant starch and see if that helps.

Aim for 20-30g of resistant starch a day and start slowly so your body has a chance to get used to the good stuff without any side effects. Always use moderation and common sense.

Who should avoid resistant starch?

If you suffer from SIBO, a bacteria overgrowth, or candida, this can also have negative effects in that it feeds both the good and the bad bacteria potentially exacerbating the overgrowth condition so speak to your naturopath or holistic health practitioner before experimenting.

Summary

Starch as in oats, corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, legumes are often consumed in large quantities in the typical western diet. When a high quantity of starch is consumed it spikes blood sugar and insulin levels rapidly which over a long period can be damaging for your health.

However, resistant starch (plantain flour, sweet potato and cooked and then cooled white rice) that resists digestion acts similarly to how soluble fibre acts with little or no blood glucose rise. In the gut it becomes food for our gut bacteria producing healthy SCFAs that are associated with a vast array of health benefits from increased insulin sensitivity, to decreased blood pressure, to increased weight loss.

For those already on a low carb high fat diet, adding some healthy resistant starch foods can certainly aid in increasing energy levels, balancing hormones, weight loss, decreasing inflammation and overall health and wellbeing. Its all about balance and nourishment!

If you’d like to know sugars in your diet and about where different foods sit on the glycemic index, you can read more here.