Resistant starch (RS) is a prebiotic that is one of the fuel sources used by the billions of beneficial microbes that colonize your gut. It also appears to provide a host of additional benefits that may or may not be directly related to its effects on these collective groups of microbes that make up an important part of your microbiome. RS is probably a small part of your diet already, but making sure you're getting a good amount may prove to be very beneficial to your overall health.
A Host of Benefits
Just like any living organism, the beneficial microbes that colonize your large intestine need fuel to survive. The fuels that feed these amazing little bacteria are prebiotics, things like RS and inulin. When RS gets to the large intestine it produces, through fermentation, short chain fatty acids, in particular, butyrate.
Butyrate can be used as fuel for these microbes themselves or by your own body. It provides a good number of benefits to you as well. In addition to propagating your microbiome, butyrate may have anti-carcinogenic effects, with research showing that it may decrease the incidence of colon cancer.
Research also suggests RS can improve insulin sensitivity. The more sensitive you are to insulin, the less your body needs to produce to obtain its desired action. It’s a powerful way to help avoid diabetes by keeping your pancreas healthy. Unexpected, and even more interesting, is that some evidence suggests that RS may even increase brain function!
You’re probably wondering just what you can add to your diet in order to obtain more RS. Well, it’s in a lot of foods you probably already eat, but in very small amounts. There are, however, some very rich sources out there, like raw potato starch, which has eight grams of RS per tablespoon. It's a relatively flavorless addition to smoothies, hummus, or other cool dips and sauces (heating RS can degrade it into regular starch, attenuating its benefits). Experiment with one tablespoon at a time, as adding enough will eventually thicken liquids, but your results may vary depending on what you’re adding it to. You’ll be able to find bags of raw potato starch at your local health food store.
Another great source is dried plantains. Dehydrated plantain chips anyone? These contain 50 grams of RS per 100 grams. A healthy alternative to fried potato chips, they can be sprinkled with sea salt, dashed with savory spices like garlic or cumin, or even made with an Asian twist by topping with a little dried ginger. Be sure to use the plantains while they are still green or barely yellow; as plantains ripen their starch is converted to sugar, defeating the purpose of obtaining a rich source of RS.
Cooked legumes, like chickpeas or red beans, also contain RS. They're much less than plantains or raw potato starch at five to ten grams per cup. This makes hummus a decent lower-end source on its own. Do you want to ramp up your RS intake? Try dipping savory dehydrated plantain chips into some homemade hummus to which you’ve added some raw potato starch.
If you’re not used to eating a lot of prebiotics, a sudden influx of them may cause some minor gastrointestinal distress like bloating and gas. These initial symptoms will dissipate with time as your gut adjusts. Slowly building yourself up to a higher level over time is the best strategy to minimize any unpleasant side effects. As always, consult a well-informed health practitioner prior to making any significant dietary changes.
If you’re looking to optimize your health, it all starts with your gut. Resistant starch is fuel for your microbiome. From the positive effects of the butyrate production, to increased insulin sensitivity, to boosting brain function, it all looks very promising. There are a myriad of other benefits that fringe from these and others that are completely unrelated that I just don’t have the space to cover. I could write forever about the benefits of resistant starch, but hopefully this information has provided you a stepping stone into its world.