Written by Helen Vong
What does a bean salad have in common with a green banana? The answer is Resistant Starch, and a lot of it. If you’ve never heard the term Resistant Starch (RS), you’re not alone. These days, in our carbophobic society, many of us spend more time fearing starches than we do understanding their nutrient power potential. But when it comes to healthful starches, RS is no BS. This type of indigestible starch (a large complex carbohydrate used by plants to store energy) has been shown in many human studies to benefit digestive health, as well as manage appetite, improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improve satiation, and lower colon cancer risk. These benefits can translate to a healthier, even slimmer body, and make resistant starch a powerful weapon in your fitness-boosting meal plans. “Resistant starch is found in the plant cell walls of seeds, beans, and grains,” explains Joy McCarthy, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist. “Basically, it doesn’t get digested and converted into glucose the way a normal starch would.”
So where can you find this super starch? Just look in your refrigerator’s crisper. Raw or slightly cooked-then-cooled veggies contain more RS than fully cooked or hot ones. You can also find it loaded in unripe bananas, raw potatoes, and legumes that have been cooked and cooled, says McCarthy, who likes to get her resistant starch fix in the afternoon by noshing on raw veggie sticks dipped in hummus.
Go with Your Gut
When eaten, resistant starch goes through the stomach and small intestine, acting like soluble fiber, which dissolves in water and is metabolized by the hundreds of species of friendly bacteria in the large intestine. This is good news if you’re concerned about your digestive health, says Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD. “Happy gut bugs ward off potential invaders,” she says. “They make vitamin K and biotin for us, they help regulate cholesterol production and they send signals to the brain to help you feel full.”
Another positive outcome of consuming RS is the spike in the production of a fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate is the preferred fuel of the cells that line the colon and protects it from inflammation and rising PH levels. In turn, this helps lower the risk of colon cancer, which affects 1 in 6 women during her lifetime.
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The Four Types
Based on the properties that allow resistant starch to resist digestion, RS is grouped into four classifications:
Type 1 is found in whole grains, legumes and seeds, and physically resists digestion because it is bound within a protective coating.
Type 2 is intrinsically resistant to digestion before cooking. This group of foods includes unripe bananas and uncooked potatoes.
Type 3 is formed when starchy foods are cooked and then cooled.
Type 4 is chemically modified to resist digestion and absorption, and these starches are often developed for use in processed foods.
How to Increase Your RS
Some people can experience bloating and upset stomach when they first try to introduce more fibrous foods into their diet. “I often see many people shy away from foods that cause even the slightest digestive issue,” says Brown. “But sometimes we need to give good food a chance.”
McCarthy recommends gradually starting with 20-40 grams daily. Go slowly and “pay attention to how your body feels,” she warns, citing that many of her clients do not feel great eating raw foods, which contain the highest amounts of resistant starch. “Additionally, anyone with digestive issues such as an overgrowth of small intestinal bacteria, IBS or inflammatory-type conditions such as arthritis may find that resistant starch makes their symptoms worse.”
The digestive health and appetite suppressing benefits of resistant starch make it a powerful weapon in your fitness-boosting meal plans.
As a former bodybuilding competitor, Brown used to eat cold potatoes in her college days as part of her figure building diet. “I grossed out my classmates,” she says. Now a holistic chef in Santa Monica, CA (TheKitchenVixen.com), Brown is an expert on sneaking resistant starch into meals that fitness-minded women are already eating on a regular basis. In fact, she says “foods rich in resistant starch are likely already a part of a seasoned body builder or any athlete’s diet.” But there are endless possibilities on how to be more creative in the kitchen with RS.