Resistant Starch: Don’t Resist Its Effects!


Just when you thought you had mastered food exchanges[1], carbohydrate counting[2], and the glycemic index[3], along comes something else that you may want to include in your meal-planning arsenal: resistant starch.

When you’re first learning about carbohydrate counting, you’re typically taught that all carbohydrates (with the exception of fiber[4]) are broken down into glucose in the small intestine. For the most part, this is true. However, about 10% of carbohydrate isn’t digested. This carb, called resistant starch because it “resists” digestion, leaves the small intestine pretty much intact and enters the large intestine. Once it’s in the large intestine, this resistant starch is fermented by bacteria, and short-chain fatty acids are formed. It’s thought that short-chain fatty acids play a role in our health, including:

In fact, one study has shown that when subjects replaced some of the carbohydrate they were eating with resistant starch, they had between 20% and 30% higher fat oxidation (fat “burning”) after a meal. One of the short-chain fatty acids in particular, called butyrate, appears to block the body’s ability to use carbohydrate as a fuel; therefore, the body responds by burning more fat instead.

Resistant starch may help people with diabetes better manage their blood glucose levels, too. Blood glucose levels tend to rise less quickly and not as high after meals high in resistant starch compared to “regular” carbohydrate foods. And because resistant starch tends to improve insulin[7] sensitivity, it may also help those who are at risk for diabetes or who have prediabetes[8]. Resistant starch is found in some snack bars aimed at preventing hypoglycemia[9], too, such as the ExtendBar.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But where the heck do you find resistant starch? You probably need to look no further than your kitchen cupboard or refrigerator. Here are some top sources:

Legumes contain the highest amount of resistant starch. You can also find some breads and cereals made with added resistant starch called Hi-maize.

You might find it interesting to know that cooking and then chilling certain starchy foods, such as potatoes and pasta, also increases their resistant starch content. When starch is heated, the starch granules in the food will swell during a process called gelatinization. When that same food is then cooled (think pasta salad and potato salad), some of that gelatinized starch gets converted to a less digestible, or resistant, type of starch.

There’s no RDA for resistant starch, at least at this point. Some estimates put our typical resistant starch intake, at least in the U.S., at about 4 grams. We should probably aim to double that. And it’s not that hard to do. Including 1/2 to 1 cup of foods high in resistant starch can definitely help. One half cup of navy beans contains 3.8 grams of resistant starch, 1 cup of cold pasta contains 1.4 grams, and one cold potato contains 1.1 grams.

So don’t write off all carbs as being bad. Start getting some resistant starch into your eating plan and reap the benefits!

  1. exchanges:
  2. carbohydrate counting:
  3. glycemic index:
  4. fiber:
  5. cholesterol:
  6. weight loss:
  7. insulin:
  8. prediabetes:
  9. hypoglycemia:
  10. Whole grains:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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