Resistant starch is something that we have become interested in over the years due to its positive effects on gut health. A healthy digestive tract requires a healthy microbiome, which are the life sustaining bacteria and organisms that live inside your gut. This bacteria helps with your body function properly. It benefits your digestion; immunity; production of neurotransmitters (feel-good hormones); vitamin synthesis; energy synthesis and much much more. We rely completely on healthy gut bacteria for our well-being, and if our diet worsen, our microbiome suffers and ill health runs rampant. You have probably heard about probiotics, but prebiotics are just as important. Prebiotics feed the bacteria (probiotic organisms), and that’s where resistant starch gets interesting.
Resistant starch plays an essential role in supporting our colonic health by acting as a prebiotic for some seriously important bacteria. We have touched upon this in other articles but we feel it needs a little extra attention in order to really discuss its merits and worth.
Resistant starch is a type of complex sugar molecule that in essence, resists digestion. It passes through the small intestine undigested until it reaches the large intestine where it gets greeted by hungry, perhaps even starving, gut bacteria. These bacteria are able to use it for food, which then causes a chain reaction fermentation process involving different types of bacteria that feed and eliminate different molecules. One of the end products, which is actually a waste product from one type of bacteria, is something called butyrate acid (a short chain fatty acid). However, butyrate acid is not actually a waste product as it gets used often by your body.
Butyrate acid molecules can absorb straight into the lining of the large intestine, and this helps improve and maintain a strong blood flow into the intestines. The cells can live entirely on butyrate acid as an energy source. If there is enough acid being produced by the bacteria of the large intestine, then this will ensure a healthy intestinal lining.
The intestinal lining is extremely efficient at regenerating itself, and sheds its cells every 3 days in order to ensure that all the gut cells are the most healthy they can be. This is because they do such an important job and your body takes no chances by having tired old cells coating the gut, that aren’t up to the serious task of digestion.
The constant synthesis of new cells and regeneration of the gut lining requires energy and nutrients to do this effectively. Your gut cells need as much available energy and nutrition as possible in order to keep regenerating. Many gut issues can be caused by the cells not being able to regenerate fast enough which causes the cell renewal process to slow down and cellular death or mutation can take place.
The bacteria in your gut forms a thick band along the gut wall, which protects it from unwanted invaders and also feeds the gut cells, keeping them nourished. If the gut bacteria is starved, they will become depleted and then your intestinal cells will become exposed to pathogens, viruses, and any harmful bacteria. A colony of healthy bacteria that have an abundant supply of food for them to feed on are essential for the survival of your intestinal wall.
4 Types of Resistant Starch:
RS1 - starch that is found in plant cell walls that can’t be broken down by digestion e.g. grains, pulses, legumes and seeds.
RS2 - starch that can’t be digested in its raw state due to its molecular structure and needs to be cooked in order for it to become digestible. These foods are best eaten cooked to get the most benefit e.g. potatoes, green bananas, raw plantain, cassava root.
RS3 - this is a form of resistant starch that forms once a starchy food has been cooked and then cooled down and is also known as retrograded starch e.g. cooked potatoes, grains, rice and beans.
RS4 - a man made resistant starch, that isn’t found in nature.
Other Health Benefits:
Resistant starch has also been linked to other health benefits such as reduced blood sugar levels after eating it, due to improved insulin sensitivity (so better able to balance blood sugar). It also seems to keep blood sugar levels balanced during fasting periods, or periods in between eating, which helps to keep your energy levels stable and inhibit constant snacking.
Normal starch or carbohydrates is digested in the small intestine and then turned into energy. They are often digested very quickly and can result in a spike in blood sugar levels. Resistant starch can offer you a carbohydrate option, which keeps your blood sugar levels balanced, satiated, and helps to keep your large intestine and colon healthy.
Luckily you can find resistant starch in lots of our food as we use plantain flour at the restaurant in our house bread, macho pancakes and plantain cookies. The resistant starch from the plantain flour in the cookies may also help to balance out any effects of the coconut sugar as even though we like to use coconut sugar as a better choice of sugar, it is still a sugar, and may have some impact on your blood sugar levels, albeit less than a refined sugar would. The resistant starch in the cookies help balance your blood sugar levels and you feel fuller longer.
Introducing foods high in resistant starch can cause some bloating, perhaps due to the fermentation process being kicked off in your large intestine by the bacteria suddenly having access to a food source. This could happen when introducing any type of resistant starch but we like to feed it to ourselves in a whole food form with whole plantains, plantain flour, yucca and malanga (a Mexican tuber). We believe it is important to get resistant starch in this whole food form as opposed to an isolated form, such as potato starch.
This is because our digestive tracts have evolved to deal with whole foods and in the case of resistant starch, the benefits are most experienced when combined with fiber from different foods. This helps the starch to move further along the large intestine where it can feed more bacteria and cover a larger surface area for producing butyrate acid. You can introduce these foods slowly into your diet and see how your body reacts, and if you are fine you can keep increasing but it is generally recommended to have around 15-30g a day for a substantial effect.
Whole foods contain many healing properties, which is why it's best to receive nutrition from a whole food as opposed to a supplement or an isolated part of a food. You can find plenty of sources of resistant starch on our menus in the form of the macho pancakes; plantain bread; plantain cookies; yucca fries; malanga fries; hemp bolitos.
RHIANNON BAKER | HEALTH & WELLNESS AUTHOR