Food ScienceHealthy Weight Loss

What is Resistant Starch and Does It Really Help You Lose Weight?

One of the first things you would do if you are chalking out a weight loss diet is to avoid carbs meticulously from your diet chart. Carbohydrates don’t sound like they can cause any harm to you at all. After all, they just bring in the sugar, starch, and fiber your body turns into energy. Then why should you cut them out of your weight loss diet? Well, that’s because carbohydrates are guilty of triggering insulin release, and that’s bad news in terms of weight gain. Insulin does a very effective job of pushing the carbs into our cells, and when we eat too many carbs, what is stored away cannot be burned up by the body simply because there is much more of it than is needed. This is exactly why we gain weight when we adopt a high carbohydrate diet. In particular, the weight gain arising from these unused carbs shows up on your waistline most often, adding to your belly fat at an alarming rate.

This is the exact reason why a weight conscious dieter will steer clear of carbs in all forms and sizes and shapes and go to great lengths to find carb free diets that will help lose the extra pounds. But is this really the smartest move to make? According to some experts, not all carbs are bad when it comes to weight gain. They believe that some specific kinds, known as resistant starches, may actually have weight gain benefits to offer.

What are Resistant Starches?

Typically, carbs and starches break down in the body and are converted into simple sugars. These are absorbed by the small intestine in the normal digestive cycle and then utilized as fuel to power the body or stored away for a rainy day as glycogen. Unlike normal starch, resistant starch does not undergo this process at all because it (as the name suggests) resists digestion. Much like what you would expect fiber to do, resistant starch simply passes through the small intestine intact and reaches your colon as it is. This is where this kind of starch gets metabolized.

Here, in the large intestine or colon, the resistant starches are fermented. Then, they turn into short chain fatty acids that are later burned to fuel the body. There are two key ways in which resistant starch differs significantly from regular starch:

  1. It gets digested far more slowly.
  2. It is converted into short chain fatty acid.

What you need to remember is that all resistant starches are not the exact same – they aren’t really calorie free as you would like to believe or as diet promoters may lead you to believe. The calorie impact of the resistant fat varies depending on how easily it is broken down and absorbed by the body.

There are several kinds of resistant starches. The first comes from foods like grains, seeds, and legumes. This kind has both fiber and starch that are indigestible in the small intestine. The second comes from unripe bananas and raw potatoes. This starch is indigestible because of the unique structure it comes with. There is another kind found in foods when they are cooked and then allowed to cool, wherein the cooling converts normal starch, that is the digestible kind, into indigestible starch. The resistant starch forms in such foods thanks to the heating and then cooling process.

For example, cooking a potato and then leaving it to cool before you eat it may give you a good dose of resistant starch. This is because, when you cook the potato, the starch granule in it expands and opens up. The hot potato or warm potato has an opened-up starch granule that is easy to break down and absorb when it gets into the body. The sugar that is created form this starch enters the bloodstream, immediately giving you a burst of energy. However, when the potato cools down, the molecular structure also goes back to its original form, and the starch granule now closes up once again. Now, when you consume it cold, the starch is not as easily accessible for breaking down, so sugar is not produced out of it and neither does it result in extra fat being stored away for future use. Instead, the starch directly lands in the colon where gut bacteria ferment it in the most beneficial way.

Does resistant starch actually help in weight loss? Well, there is no substantive research that verifies this impact of resistant starch yet. To the contrary, in this study, it was seen that resistant starch does not seem to have any effect on body weight any more than other kinds of starch. However, the study did indicate that this kind of starch lowers the whole-body adiposity and visceral adiposity as well. More research is necessary to conclude for sure that resistant starch can help with weight loss directly. In fact, it would be fair to say that, based on current research, resistant starch does not directly result in dramatic weight loss, but it does appear to have some impact on the systems that may result in overall better health and also make weight maintenance easier.

Another point to note is that, to derive the benefits from resistant starch, you would have to include this in your diet on a consistent basis over a long term. A day or two of consumption of foods rich in this particular kind of starch is not going to help at all.

The Indirect Impact of Resistant Starch on Weight Gain

Promotes Good Metabolism

Good metabolism is the key to maintaining an ideal weight. Efficient metabolism helps your body optimally utilize all the nutrients from the food you eat and also ensures that you are efficiently burning up the fat as per the body’s requirements.  Any food that aids your metabolism does ultimately also aid weight loss and control, and resistant starch has benefits to offer in this way without doubt.

Resistant starch is a prebiotic fiber that is used by gut flora to create short chain fatty acids. While these fatty acids help produce energy for the body, they also keep the colon’s pH value at an optimum level. As they ferment the resistant starch, the bacteria in your gut also nurture good gut flora and enable the destruction of bad microbes. This, especially the nurturing gut flora part, helps improve your metabolism, which helps maintain your body weight. Apart from helping maintain weight, resistant starch may have other benefits to offer too, including reducing insulin resistance and lowering cholesterol levels.

Appetite Control Effect

One of the  biggest challenges faced by weight watchers is that they are often unable to avoid snacking in between meals and also unable to cut down meal portions. This is a primary cause of the rapid weight gain that is most difficult to address.  Resistant starch may be beneficial in this respect as per this study that showed how a protein plus resistant starch meal resulted in increased fat burning. This was quite a surprising find because a carb rich meal usually has a contrary effect on the body. The resistant starch component of the food resulted in better satiety too, so the participants felt fuller for a longer time.

Although this was also aided by the protein content, there is little doubt that the resistant starch did have this effect on the study’s participants. The conclusion is that it could be very useful in curbing the appetite, reducing the urge to snack between meals and also help maintain smaller portion sizes at meal times. All of these can lead to easier weight management. While it is impossible to say for sure that resistant starch directly helps weight reduction, it does have a certain impact on the body that works towards better weight control.

The Insulin Connection

Resistant starch is known to improve insulin sensitivity. What that means for our body is that the insulin spike that happens after you eat regular starchy foods does not happen with this kind of starch. Insulin impairs the breakdown of the fat stored away and ingested in food. It also promotes production of body fat. There is less insulin in the system when you consume resistant starch, so the impairing of fat burning is reduced as well.

As a side benefit, the fact that resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity also helps you avoid several ailments, including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

A Substitute for Regular Starch

As you can see, resistant starch has benefits to offer, but it may not directly result in an agreeable drop in pounds at a fast rate. What it does do for you is offer benefits that lead toward better digestion or weight management. However, one thing you can keep in mind about resistant starch is this: when you compare this kind with regular starch, the former definitely scores better. This means that, as a partial substitute for regular starch foods, these foods with resistant starch may work very well indeed.

We all know that eating starchy, high carb foods is bad for your weight – it can lead to some serious weight gain at a very fast pace. At the same time, the body definitely needs carbs too, for it needs to burn it down to produce energy. A zero- carb diet can leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and lethargic and that can seriously hamper the activity level in your lifestyle, which can further promote weight gain.

By ensuring that you have enough energy and that you feel active and eager to go at all times, a resistant starch plus regular carb filled diet helps you maintain an active lifestyle that keeps your metabolism working right. Also, since the foods digests more slowly than if you are eating a regular carb meal, this one keeps you feeling fuller for a longer time. The result is less portions and less snacking in between meals.

The very fact that there is no concrete scientific conclusion yet to prove that resistant starch directly aids weight loss brings us to one conclusion: Do not give up entirely on regular fat in favor of this kind. While you would do well to substitute to some degree, especially if you are only eating regular carbs that directly digest in the small intestine and are broken down into sugars quickly, you do want to maintain the right balance between both carbohydrate types.

The daily recommended intake of resistant starch is about 15 to 20 grams, far – higher than we normally take in a regular diet. The average American takes in just about 3 to 5 grams of resistant starch a day, a far cry from the 30 to 50 grams our ancestors used to include in their meals. Somewhere down the decades, our diet changed drastically enough to reduce the intake of this starch and increase the intake of regular carbs that are more readily converted into sugars. With the recommended quantity of resistant starch in the diet, we can be sure that our digestive system is getting a helping hand, which will lead to better weight maintenance as well. Of course, as the starchy food makes for better satiety, it also helps in cutting down snacking.

However, as with anything else, too much of a good thing can be harmful too. Resistant starch acts like fiber and is tough to digest. When you load up on foods that are tough to digest, you tend to experience symptoms like bloating or gas. The same may happen if you take in too much of this kind of starch in your diet. In fact, this is also why you should not jump from zero to max with your resistant starch diet – this can cause your digestive system to come under strain as it battles to break down this fairly unaccustomed food. If you do want to incorporate this starch into your diet, start slow with tiny portions and slowly build it up so that your gut develops the ability to break down gradually as you increase the quantity.

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