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food for the troops

An introduction to resistant starch

Though you may not realize it, every day there are trillions of good and bad bacteria fighting an ongoing battle in your gut. Scientists now realize that your health may largely depend on whether or not the good bacteria (probiotics) are winning.

You can do a number of things to support your good bacteria troops, such as limiting the use of antibiotics and avoiding both junk food and stress. You can also send in reinforcements by taking a daily probiotic. But an army can’t fight without food. You have to feed the troops.

What do probiotics eat? Prebiotics. For years scientists thought that soluble fiber, found in oat bran, barley, seeds, beans, and some fruits and vegetables, was the best food source for good bacteria. We now know that resistant starch is another prebiotic that is equally as effective for feeding good bacteria.

Starch is a common form of carbohydrate that is simply a long chain of glucose (sugar) molecules glued together. Most starchy foods, like potatoes, pasta, and rice, are easily broken down in the small intestine into simple sugar molecules. These sugar molecules are then absorbed into the bloodstream where they provide fuel for human cells or are stored as glycogen by the liver and muscles.

Resistant starches got their name because, like fiber, they resist digestion in the small intestine and pass largely undigested into the large intestine (colon). When resistant starch reaches the colon, the good bacteria feed on it and transform it into food for the cells of the gut wall. So resistant starch not only nourishes the good bacteria, it indirectly strengthens the colon as well.

Besides improving good digestion, there are several other reasons that you should be adding resistant starch to your diet.

  1. Regulating Blood Sugar: Resistant starch has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels after a meal, decreasing overall insulin production and over time improving insulin sensitivity. These changes are particularly important for anyone at risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Appetite Control: Much like fiber, resistant starch helps you feel full for longer periods of time, helping to control hunger even when you are eating fewer calories.
  3. Weight Loss: Besides helping to control your appetite, there is evidence to indicate that resistant starch increases fat burning and decreases fat storage. In fact, one study found that replacing just 5 percent of your daily carb intake with resistant starch increased the post-meal fat burn by as much as 30 percent.
  4. Protection From Colorectal Cancer: Resistant starch is associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer. Scientists believe that this is because resistant starch produces high levels of the short-chain fatty acid, butyrate. Butyrate is known to induce cell death of colorectal cancer cells.

Adding resistant starch to your diet is a great idea; and though there is no official recommended daily intake, doctors suggest getting 20 to 30 grams per day.

Some of the best sources of resistant starch are green bananas, raw potatoes, and white beans. Unfortunately, green bananas and raw potatoes taste terrible, and beans often cause intestinal distress and gas.

Luckily, there are easier, tastier, and less expensive ways to add resistant starch to your diet.

  1. Potato Starch: Potato starch has no discernable taste and contains 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon. Just add 3 tablespoons to your morning smoothie, and you will have already met your daily resistant starch goal.
  2. Raw Oatmeal: Also an easy addition to a smoothie, ½ cup of raw oatmeal flakes contains 5.3 grams of resistant starch.
  3. Lentils: Only ½ cup of cooked lentils will give you 5 grams of resistant starch.
  4. Cashews: A handful (18) cashews yields 3.5 grams of resistant starch.

Napoleon is credited with saying “an army marches on its stomach.” This axiom just as true for the probiotic army in your gut as it is for any military unit. Fortunately, with resistant starch, it is easy to feed the good bacteria troops in your gut so that they can continue the never-ending fight for your health.

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