Resistant starch is a type of nutrient found in many healthy foods. It can help your body with digestion, weight loss, disease prevention, and other important functions.
What is Resistant Starch?
Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are nutrients that give your body energy in the form of glucose (a sugar molecule). Carbohydrates in food usually fall into the categories of sugars, starches, and fibers. Many foods, both healthy and unhealthy, are high in carbohydrates:
Starches are a subtype of carbohydrate. Many foods with starches have higher nutritional value, and are usually better for you than sugary foods.
Resistant starches are a subtype of starches. Unlike other types of carbohydrates, your digestive system itself can’t break down resistant starches into energy. Instead, healthy gut bacteria in your intestines feed on them. This can have many advantages for your weight and digestive health.
What Foods Have Resistant Starch?
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates have a simple chemical structure. Your body doesn’t need much energy to break them down into glucose. Simple carbohydrates are usually in unhealthier foods like candy, white bread, and white rice.
Resistant starches are a type of complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates have a complicated chemical structure that your body needs more energy to digest. They are generally healthier for you and more nutritious. These nutrients are in foods including:
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread and pasta
- Plantains or green bananas
Health Benefits of Resistant Starch
Resistant starches have many benefits for your digestive and overall health.
Diabetes management and prevention. Diabetes is a disease that affects your blood sugar levels. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble digesting the carbohydrates you eat. This can cause dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar attacks (hyperglycemia). Over time, diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, or more serious health problems.
Simple carbohydrates quickly raise your blood sugar, which can be harmful to people with diabetes. Since complex carbohydrate-rich foods with resistant starches take a long time to digest, they keep your blood sugar levels steady. This helps avoid short-term diabetic emergencies.
Cancer prevention. Eating a diet high in resistant starches can protect against different types of cancer. This includes breast cancer, colon cancer, and cancer of other organs in the digestive system.
Weight management. You gain weight when you eat more energy than you burn. Eating resistant starches helps you feel fuller for longer. This can keep you from eating too much. Resistant starches’ positive effect on blood sugar stability can also prevent weight gain.
Stool Assistance. Resistant starches can help loosen stool and ease constipation. Reduced constipation can help avoid issues like hemorrhoids. Resistant starches can also prevent diarrhea.
Limits of Resistant Starch for Health
Benefits vary. No single resistant starch diet will address all health issues equally. Some people will get more powerful benefits from resistant starches than others. Resistant starches should be one part of your larger health plan.
Discomfort. Foods like beans can cause gas, bloating, and other pains during digestion. This can make people hesitant to eat them, even though they’re high in resistant starch and other nutrients. If the discomfort becomes too much to handle, you may need to lower the amount of fiber and resistant starch in your diet.
Cooked vs. cooled. Some types of foods are higher in resistant starch when they cool verses after they are freshly cooked. Their chemical structure changes as they cool to produce more resistant starch. Rice, potatoes, and pasta can have higher resistant starch levels after they’ve cooled.
How to Use Resistant Starches to Improve Your Health
You can include resistant starches in your daily diet to improve your health. Whole grains should make up about ¼ of each meal you eat. Foods high in resistant starches can fit into the whole-grain category.
You can also eat non-whole grains like legumes. Try to eat about 2-3 cups of legumes per week.
Meal and side dish ideas using resistant starches include:
- Lentil or pea soup
- Oats soaked overnight
- Cooled brown rice
- Whole-grain cereal
- Quinoa and beans on a salad
- Chickpea curry
- Baked beans
To avoid digestive discomfort like gas, constipation, and bloating, make sure to drink water. Water helps your body digest complex carbohydrates and softens your stool. Exercise can also kick-start your digestive system and promote passing stool.