For the past couple of years, resistant starches have begun making the news among health food advocates.
I must admit, I was resistant myself. I was skeptical about the new wonder-food touted to feed good bacteria in our guts and improve general health. I was shaped by the anti-starch diva herself, creator of the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who teaches that starches are hard to digest and best to be avoided by all who need healing in their gut.
It was time I read all the facts and came to some conclusions of my own.
Who would benefit, if anyone, from intentionally consuming foods containing resistant starches?
WHAT ARE RESISTANT STARCHES?
Resistant starches are starches found in common foods, potatoes, beans, rice, green bananas, that resist being digested and therefore, they make it all the way to the large intestine and end up being food for good bacteria.
The foods that probiotics eat are called prebiotics. Resistant starches are one variety of prebiotic starch that feed certain species of gut bacteria.
A popular enthusiasm that goes hand and hand with this discovery is that humans are 90% microflora. It makes sense: if we feed the flora we will be healthier.
The science behind this assessment surrounds the compound butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced by friendly bacteria when they’ve consumed resistant starch. The beauty of butyrate is that the cells of the colon are fueled by it. Colon cells that consume butyrate are happy cells, thus a healthy colon.
Those of us with autoimmune diseases have compromised gut linings. Let us take a quick look at the gut, and how the cells there function.
The gut lining has multiple layers: the epithelial layer is made up of epithelial cells but there are several other kinds of cells as well, each having a unique function: secreting mucus and anti-microbial peptites. The cells that consume butyrate are T reg or T cells. T cells provide a barrier of defense against pathogens and help strengthen the immune system.
It makes sense that to feed them would be beneficial, especially for those with autoimmune diseases. An abundance of T cells in laboratory rats (sorry, little guys) have been shown repeatedly to reduce inflammation and even to prevent immune responses. T cells can actually recognize antigens and have been shown to prevent colitis! (source)
In addition to these claims, T cell regeneration is expected to lower the risk of colon cancer, the 4th most common form of cancer to cause death internationally.
Any abundance of butyrate, up to a certain point, that isn’t consumed by the T cells moves into the bloodstream and benefits insulin levels and liver function.
HOW BEST TO CONSUME RESISTANT STARCH
Very green plantains are my favorite source of resistant starch. Organic plantains are easy for most of us to source and they’re a whole food.
Green plantains can be sliced and dehydrated for a snack similar to banana chips or they may be added to smoothies to hide the starchy quality.
Surprisingly, most advocates for increasing RS in one’s daily diet recommend a factory-made food, Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch, working up to 2-4 T. a day!
I don’t agree with this approach.
The goal for restored health involves getting away from factory-made foods and having a whole food diet. Potato starch may feed good bacteria; but there are plenty of whole foods that do that too. What potatoes does Bob use to make that starch? (Hint: they’re not organic.) Yulch!
Health is not bought with convenience foods.
IS RESISTANT STARCH RIGHT FOR EVERYONE?
Moderate voices in this discussion include Sarah Ballantyne, M.D., aka The Paleo Mom, and Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac, who understand that each individual’s body is unique and subtleties of genetics and health history play in considerably.
The average healthy person, or someone who has largely healed their leaky gut, is advised to experiment with introducing multiple sources of resistant starch, since different kinds of resistant starches feed different beneficial bacteria and sensitivities to different resistant starch foods will vary.
Those who have autoimmune issues vary widely in the resistant starch foods they can handle: one patient might see healing from IBS symptoms with the introduction of green plantains but many patients see a flare-up of symptoms when they attempt resistant starch foods, especially in any quantity.
GAPS patients and most who are still in the trenches of healing are advised to wait on all starches. These long-chain sugars can exhaust the enterocyte gut cells that are trying to regenerate, while also feeding invasive pathogens, sabotaging the purpose of the diet.
I make plantain chips for my own family.
So yes, I think the starches are beneficial!
Given my appreciation for the Paleo diet, I also respect that cooked and cooled grains and legumes can have a purpose in the healthy person’s diet.
One thing not to forget?
Grains and beans must still be soaked and pre-digested properly. If you source resistant starches from these foods, they will only do your body good if you break down their phytates and enzyme inhibitors first.
For more information on how to prepare soaked beans and rice, here’s a recipe for a resistant starch rice and bean salad.
(top photo: stevendepolo)