Starchy foods tend to have a bad reputation. But some varieties of these foods contain resistant starch, a fiber-like carbohydrate that has many potential health benefits. Keep reading to learn about resistant starch, the benefits, side effects, and how to incorporate it into your diet.
Starch is one type of carbohydrate in your diet — the other two being sugars and fiber, according to MedlinePlus. When your body digests starchy foods, it typically breaks them down into glucose (sugar) in the small intestine.
Resistant starch, however, is a type of carbohydrate that doesn't break down into sugar and is not absorbed by the small intestine, according to the National Cancer Institute. Instead, resistant starch passes to the colon (large intestine) to be fermented, says Nancy Cooper, RDN, CDCES, at the Molly Diabetes Education Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. As the starch ferments, it acts as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in your gut, Cooper says.
Plus, resistant starch is lower in calories than other types of starch — about 2.5 calories per gram (g) compared with 4 calories per g of wheat starch, per a review published in June 2022 in the Journal of Functional Foods
There are five types of resistant starch. According to the Journal of Functional Foods review, they include:
Foods that contain at least one kind of resistant starch include, per Johns Hopkins University:
Incorporating resistant starch into your diet offers many potential health benefits. Some research shows that resistant starch may:
Because resistant starch is slow to digest, it keeps blood sugar levels stable. This can help reduce blood sugar spikes after a meal, which is especially beneficial for people with diabetes.
What’s more, resistant starch has a second-meal effect: Eating resistant starch at breakfast can lower your blood sugars at lunch, per the results of one small study.
According to a review published in January 2022 in Frontiers in Nutrition, adding resistant starch to your diet is a simple lifestyle tweak that can aid diabetes management.
“We’re still learning more about this topic, but it’s been suggested that the blood sugar-lowering effect may be related to improved insulin sensitivity or the action of short-chain fatty acids [or both],” says Amanda Sauceda, RD, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, California, who specializes in gut health. As she explains, short-chain fatty acids are produced when your good gut bacteria ferment fibers, like those found in resistant starch foods.
Resistant starch acts like fiber, and that fiber gets fermented by healthy bacteria in your gut. “Those good gut bugs can produce short-chain fatty acids, which can have wide implications for your gut health,” Sauceda says.
For example, short-chain fatty acids can help keep your intestinal lining strong and assist with mucus production and inflammation, she explains.
The short-chain fatty acids from resistant starch may also help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, according to the review published in June 2022 in Journal of Functional Foods.
Resistant starch has been shown to benefit heart health by lowering cholesterol levels, per findings from a meta-analysis published in June 2018 in Nutrition Research. It also improves blood sugar control, as demonstrated in a small study of overweight adults published in 2017 in Nutrition Journal. “It does this by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut, which produce the short-chain fatty acids that have these beneficial effects,” Butler says.
According to a review published in March 2022 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, short-chain fatty acids help regulate the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system. In this way, resistant starch may help treat heart diseases that are aggravated by an overactive nervous system, such as chronic heart failure, high blood pressure (hypertension), and coronary artery disease.
Because resistant starch is very satiating, it can help you feel fuller longer, which may reduce appetite. It is also lower in calories compared with other carbohydrates. In these ways, resistant starch may help with weight loss, says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, author of Recipe for Survival and senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
While early research suggests that resistant starch may play a role in weight loss, further research is needed to confirm any such benefits. Research published in 2017 in the Nutrition Journal reveals that eating 30 g of resistant starch per day for six weeks decreased hunger hormones and mindless snacking in 18 overweight adults, but didn’t create changes in body composition.
Resistant starch is harder to digest than nonresistant starch, so you may experience side effects like bloating and abdominal discomfort as you start eating more of it. “These side effects are typically mild and go away as your body adjusts to the higher intake,” says Kelsey Butler, RDN, recipe developer with Coastal Dream Life. She suggests drinking more water as you add resistant starch to your diet to help with any digestive issues.
It’s always best to get resistant starch — and any nutrient — from food. “This way, you get all the synergistic benefits from the whole food itself,” Hunnes says. Keep in mind that there is no official amount of resistant starch recommended per day, and it can be difficult to keep track of the amount of resistant starch in foods anyway, given that it is not identified on food labels and the amount can vary quite a bit based on the food and how it's prepared.
You can find resistant starch in powdered form to use as a supplement, however.
If you choose to supplement your diet with resistant starch, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your primary care provider first. When choosing a supplement, find one that is made from a natural source of resistant starch, like green bananas, Butler says.
choosing a supplement that’s third-party tested by independent testing organizations that evaluate dietary supplements for quality and safety purposes. The three primary agencies that test dietary supplements include NSF International, ConsumerLab, and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). Check the supplement label for a seal of approval from one of these three agencies.
Incorporate resistant starch slowly and gradually. Your body may need some time to adjust to the addition of resistant starch to your diet, Sauceda says.
“I would also recommend trying food-based sources of resistant starch before supplements, because you’ll get other nutrients in addition to the starch,” Sauceda says.
Begin by adding resistant starch in small amounts. For example, include a somewhat-green banana to your breakfast and a quarter-cup of lentils to your lunch, suggests Hunnes.
Here are a few other ways to add resistant starch to your diet, per Johns Hopkins University:
Also, try one these recipes that feature resistant starch:
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