Resistant Starch: How It Affects Health

Starch is another name for complex carbohydrates used by the body for fuel.

Resistant starch is exactly what its name implies: complex carbohydrates that “resist” digestion. This type of starch travels from the small intestine undigested to the large intestine, where it provides fuel for the good bacteria that live there.

When this gut bacteria breaks down resistant starch, it increases the production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which research suggests may be beneficial to your health.

Resistant starch differs from normal starch, which provides the body with sugar when digested. Because resistant starch does not produce sugar, it may benefit insulin resistance. It also provides fewer calories than regular carbohydrates, so it could be beneficial for weight management.

Because resistant starch helps maintain a healthy microbiome, it can benefit gut health, which affects all parts of the body. The trillions of microbes that live in the large intestine produce chemicals that can have a positive effect on brain function.

Research also suggests that resistant starch might help prevent or treat type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and several types of cancer, although more human studies are needed to understand these benefits.

Researchers have identified five types of resistant starch. Three are found naturally in foods, including rice, pasta, or potatoes that have been cooked and cooled, soybeans, whole grains, corn, seeds, plantains, green bananas, lentils, and flours such as cassava flour, plantain flour and potato starch.

One of the remaining types can be naturally occurring or manufactured. The other is completely manufactured: starch that has been physically, enzymatically, or chemically altered for use in the processing of foods such as cakes and cookies. It is often listed as modified food starch on ingredient labels.

Modified starches are used for the same reasons as regular starch: to thicken, stabilize, or emulsify food products. Although modified does not necessarily mean genetically modified, some modified starches are made from genetically modified ingredients.

Anything that has a positive effect on the intestinal tract can benefit overall health. Although there are no nutritional guidelines for this, try to include natural resistant starch sources in your diet as often as possible.

Environmental Nutrition is a newsletter written by health and nutrition experts.

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