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Resistant Starch = Free Calories!

Contrary to what we thought it might do, the internet and its unlimited wealth of information has confused nutrition, not simplified it. Everyone seems to know what carbs are, but common questions that I hear from clients are:

  • should I eat them?

  • how much?

  • what time of day?

  • which ones?

While I individualize the answers based on my client’s own health and fitness goals, what is known now (thank you microbiome researchers!!!) is that we MUST take care of our gut bacteria - and one main way is by eating the right type of carbs or starches. If we neglect our gut bacteria, we are in for a tumultuous future of heath maladies.

Fiber-rich plants, especially those containing resistant starches - like rice, oats, potatoes and legumes, are perfect food for gut bacteria.

So what is resistant starch you might ask?

Resistant starch (RS) is a carbohydrate or starch that resists digestion (read…. FREE CALORIES!) and travels intact all the way to the colon, where it feeds gut bacteria and imparts health benefits. You don’t metabolize it or break it down with your own enzymes like you do other carbohydrates. So resistant starch is classified as prebiotic fiber because it fuels healthy gut bacteria, helping it flourish.

There are 5 types of resistant starches. Raw/uncooked starches (rice, oats, beans, potatoes and green bananas) contain resistant starch type 1 and/or type 2. But when was the last time you ate any of these raw/uncooked foods? Me either. So today's focus is on type 3, the kind of RS we have the most control over.

Resistant Starch Type 3 comes from cooked then cooled starches, even when the food is later reheated All the make-ahead, bulk-batch home cooks rejoice!! Now that's a food hack if I ever saw one. I like to refer to these cooked, cooled starches as MAGICAL LEFTOVERS, because they.just.are!

Here is a pic of steel cut oats and brown rice in their raw and cooked, cooled forms.

Resistant starch rice and oats

Other than getting some free carb calories, why is this really important?? There is plenty of research (both animal and human) to explain. Here are just a few examples:

  1. RS lowers post meal blood sugar and improves insulin - essential for anyone with prediabetes (84 million in the US alone) or diabetes (422 million people worldwide!!). This doesn’t only happen with the first meal but with the NEXT MEAL TOO!

  2. RS lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death globally.

  3. RS reduces fat storage - 2.1 billion people, a third of the world, are overweight or obese - WOAH.

  4. RS helps you feel full so you feel more satisfied with less quantity of food. Yes, please!

  5. RS increases production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate when the healthy bacteria feed off of it. Butyrate production helps improve inflammation in the gut (mice study), reduces risk for colon cancer, improves absorption of minerals and helps restore proper intestinal permeability. Anyone developing adult food allergies they’ve never had before? May be due to poor intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut) - when the lining of the intestines is weak and allows food particles to leak into the blood stream causing an immune reaction.

  6. RS helps lactobacillus and ruminococcus grow in your gut - both beneficial bacteria species associated with good health.

Clearly RS is important for every person on the planet. I REST MY CASE. :)

To get the benefit of the resistant starch, less digested carbohydrate, less calories and more fuel for your gut bacteria, follow these simple tips:

Eat leftover grains. Instead of making rice or quinoa the day of, for a single meal, make double or triple the amount. Once it is finished cooking, freeze it in freezer bags or simply refrigerate if you will eat it all in a few days. You can break off as much as you need and simply reheat it. Here is a frozen block of quinoa and brown/wild rice from my freezer:) Your gut bacteria and waistline will thank you when you eat it!

Parboil your potatoes. Borrow this trick from restaurants and cut your potatoes into desired shapes (or leave whole), and partially boil them (about 7 to 10 minutes). Then dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking, drain and then store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to finish cooking them (use within 1 to 2 days). You can then cook these parboiled potatoes in the oven to make extra crispy baked fries, whole baked potatoes, finish boiling to make your potato salad or mashed potatoes, dice into soup, saute up with eggs, etc.

Bulk batch your oats. Use a rice or slow cooker to make steel-cut oats for a week of breakfasts (my new favorite routine!). You may need to add a little more liquid each time you reheat. I turn on the rice cooker the night before, let it cook and cool, then before bed I refrigerate the whole container for breakfast the next morning. Then I simply scoop out what I need for everyone, add some more liquid, any toppings or fruit and quickly reheat on the stove. It takes me about 5 minutes! Easy peasy! Here's my steel cut oats ready to cook (mixed with coconut milk, flax protein milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon and a pinch of salt) in my rice cooker.

coconut milk steel cut oats in rice cooker

Make a pot of beans or lentils. Several RS types are found in beans and lentils. Make that batch of beans and if you get tired of the leftovers, freeze what is left and in a month from now, throw the whole frozen bag in the fridge to thaw, or break into chunks, dump it out of the bag and reheat it on the stove in a lidded pot.

Eat canned beans. Canned beans contain similar amounts of resistant starches as cooked and cooled starches. Add canned chickpeas to your salad, soups or wraps, pinto beans to your taco salad or tacos, eat beans as a side or make a cold bean salad. Here's my favorite brand of canned beans - they are low sodium, organic and have a good texture.

Make a cold salad or pilaf with cooked and cooled starches. Here is a peach quinoa salad with red onion, jalapeños, cilantro, mint, pumpkin seeds, fresh lime and a creamy chipotle dressing (diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce + vegan mayo/Greek yogurt + lime juice + cumin). YUM YUM! Sub the peaches for mango, pineapple or your preferred fruit when peaches are not in season. A cold potato or bean salad also provides great resistant starch!

To summarize:

Cooked, cooled starches = resistant starch = magical leftovers = free calories = healthier gut and body. Yes, please!


Ask the Expert - Legumes and Resistant Starch. (2015). Harvard School of Public Health.

How to feed the Mammalian Gut Microbiota. (2017). Frontiers in Microbiology.

Resistant Starch: What is it? Why do we care? (2017). Kate Scarlata's blog, Digestive Peace of Mind.

Resistant Starch 101. (2017). Healthline.

Resistant starch and rice varieties. (2016). Proceedings for National Academy of Sciences.

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