When it comes to carbohydrates for an Anti-Inflammatory diet, confusion abounds–so I’m here to answer the question: What is a resistant starch, is it anti-inflammatory, and is resistant starch good for me?
I think this is a really important topic to cover in this dietary style because there’s a lot of confusion over whole grains and carbs in general when it comes to reducing inflammation in the body.
A lot of this is because of the constant battle regarding carbs in the last two decades. People have a hard time distinguishing between sugars and complex carbohydrates and what they should or shouldn’t be eating. This becomes especially complicated when you’re trying to manage a condition that really relies on an anti-inflammatory diet as a basis for controlling the symptoms and pain of that condition.
So let’s start out with answering what a resistant starch is first.
What is the difference between starch and resistant starch?
The three forms of carbohydrates that we consume are (1) sugar, (2) starches, and (3) resistant starch.
Sugar is pretty obvious, besides the limitless disguises it’s given on food labels. But let’s take a look at the difference between starch and resistant starch.
Starches are long chains of sugar molecules, and come from those plant foods that we consider refined carbohydrates that are not straight sugar. Those would be refined flours that are used to made breads, crackers, pasta, and bakery items.
Even though these foods aren’t straight sugar, they’ve been broken down and have so much starch degradation that they are absorbed extremely fast into the bloodstream to have the same effect of straight sugar.
The foods that contain these non-resistant starches usually contain no fiber and are frequently paired with sugar and unhealthy fats to create a trifecta of inflammatory triggers in the body.
Most starchy foods in this category are ones that should be avoided for a variety of negative effects on human health. Alongside sugar, they’ve been shown to induce insulin resistance, inflammatory conditions, and contribute to heart disease.
Resistant starches are still considered starches and carbohydrates, but they are slowly digested starch and also act as a prebiotic. Instead of breaking down into sugar for energy, they resist digestion and pass through the small intestine and into the large intestine.
Once they’re in the large intestine bacterial fermentation occurs and assists the colon in producing short chain fatty acids, including butyrate.
Short chain fatty acids matter because they help blood flow and absorption of minerals while blocking the growth of harmful bacteria and toxins. And butyrate suppresses colonic inflammation.
This nifty job is what helps generate a posh home for our good gut bacteria, which is why we should promote an increase in resistant starch intakes while eliminating regular starch and sugars.
Various varieties of resistant starch is found within many foods, and the addition of these into the diet is beneficial to digestive health.
Resistant starches also contain less calories than normal starchy food: we extract approximately 2 calories per gram of resistant starch, while regular starch is absorbed at approximately 4 calories per gram. That’s DOUBLE!
This means that the higher resistant starch is in food the less calories it contains. This helps tremendously if trying to lose weight or maintain it but have problems with appetite and feeling full.
These types of resistant starch do, however, still contain vitamins and minerals that are available for absorption.
(Note that this is not permission to go crazy with pasta. It’s still a good idea to reduce calories from these types of foods and increase your vegetable intake when your goal is weight loss or increasing insulin resistance.)
Is resistant starch good for you?
The resistant starch is also known as soluble starch and is considered an insoluble dietary fiber. These varieties of resistant starch offer many health benefits and have lower calories than non-resistant starch.
Several human studies show resistant starch can improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure, decrease hunger and can help support a healthy digestive system, which has many health benefits in and of itself, including:
- Improved gut health
- Preventing colorectal cancer and colon cancer
- Lower risk of depression and anxiety
- Assistance in weight loss or maintenance
- Appetite reduction
- Lowered blood sugar levels
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Prevention or treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases
All of these factors, individually and cumulatively, add up to anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Is resistant starch good for diabetics?
Although those with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and PCOS (and other conditions with poor insulin sensitivity) are generally told to shift into a low-carb or even ketogenic diet which severely limit all starch including resistant starch, studies have shown numerous health benefits of resistant starch intake for these conditions by following and Anti-Inflammatory Diet in the form of the Mediterranean Diet.
Since resistant starch (especially when fiber is paired) helps blunt a blood sugar spike, improves gut health, and triggers short chain fatty acids, it can be especially helpful at improving overall health, including increasing insulin sensitivity.
Since many people with metabolic issues like type 2 diabetes are also overweight, including more resistant starch in their diet will also help with feeling full and satisfied to assist in weight loss (which is what many doctors recommend to those who are diagnosed with these conditions.)
What are types of resistant starch?
There are five types of resistant starch (a fifth category was added to include those produced by food manufacturers), aptly named, “Type 1”, “Type 2”, “Type 3”, and “Type 4”, and “Type 5”. Let’s discuss where you can find each one and what their pros and cons are.
Resistant Starch Type 1:
This refers to starchy food that has a seed or germ as its outer coating.
Can be found in grains, seeds and legumes. Type 1 resistant starch is unable to broken down by our digestive enzymes. This means our digestive system does not absorb its nutrients due to them being attached to fibrous tissue walls, as long as it is intact or just cracked (ie, not ground down into flour.)
Resistant Starch Type 2:
This type of resistant starch is naturally found within the starches of certain foods. The more raw these foods are, the more resistant the starches are. Once they are heated, the starch is more easily digested. These include:
- raw fruits
- potato starch from raw potatoes
- some legumes
- hi-maize resistant starch products
- green (unripe) bananas
Resistant Starch Type 3
Type 3 resistant starch is referred to as retrograded starch. This is starchy food that is cooked, then cooled. This heat and cooling application increases the resistant starch content.
These would include foods like sushi rice, and pasta or potatoes that are cooked and then cooled for a salad (for example.)
Resistant Starch Type 4
This type of resistant starch is chemically modified starch created by food manufacturers from starchy foods. The end products are resistant to digestion, but start out as rice, raw potatoes, or corn. These are created so that food companies can increase thickness or improve texture by adding resistant starch.
Resistant Starch Type 5
This is a new category that was recently added. This is another type of resistant starch that manufacturers also produce, but they heat and cool the starchy foods with fatty acids, waxes, or other lipids.
What is the best source of resistant starch?
Although types 2 and 4 have been shown to increase levels of good bacteria in the gut, the types of bacteria are different. This, along with the fact that each person is so different, makes it difficult to determine which would be better from a gut health perspective.
Aside from that, the most feasible options we have come from types 1-3. These include the resistant starches we can cook whole intact (or cracked) grains like:
- teff, and
- wheat berries
Also lentils; soybeans; and legumes.
And lastly, this includes raw fruit, green bananas, and plantains.
How do you increase resistant starch in food?
A great way to increase resistant starches if you’re not able to find whole or cracked grains (like the ones listed above), but must make do with whole grain pastas or even potatoes in a recipe is to plan ahead.
If you start out with whole grains (or even lentil pasta), you can create dietary resistant starch in those foods if it’s cooked and cooled.
Further research done on resistant starch at the University of Surrey showed that blood sugar levels can be even further controlled when those foods are then reheated again.
All in all, resistant starches and the fiber that’s present in these types of foods have been shown to be immensely beneficial to gut health, prevention of certain diseases, blood sugar control, and assist in weight loss. Based on the data we have, resistant starches’ ability to do all these things has mega anti-inflammatory benefits.
That being said, as long as there are no food allergies or sensitivities to any of the foods listed as resistant starches or those where resistant starch could be made or increased, these are definitely foods that are recommended on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.