Resistant Starch: Why Your Body Needs It

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Sugary and sweet foods are bad, right? We have reported on the hazards of sugar in the diet, especially for people suffering from mental health issues. The issue extends beyond the theoretical to the real life: days that are a rollercoaster of highs and lows, beginning with the bagel for breakfast, soda with sandwich lunch, and brownie after pasta dinner. Sugar disrupts our health by creating systemic inflammation, an underlying factor in most disease states. It dysregulates hormones, exhausts adrenals, and deprives the brain of important nutrients through the surge-first, crash-later cycles of insulin response.

But are all sweet foods created equal? What about starches and carbs? What about the glycemic index? Let’s examine the nutritional difference in a sweet potato (a safe starch, but low in resistant starch) and it’s caloric equivalent, four teaspoons of white sugar. The sweet potato contains these essential nutrients: B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, chromium, vitamin E, beta carotene, C, calcium, potassium, zinc, and selenium. The white sugar? Zero nutritive value, causes insulin spikes, hyperactive adrenals, and interferes with vitamin and mineral availability. Not a difficult choice to make, especially when you add a little ghee and a drizzle of raw honey to the sweet potato. Delish!

All Carbs Are NOT Created Equal

Resistant or “safe” starches are specific carbohydrate foods that actually help restore blood sugar balance.

While some individuals opt to eliminate all carbohydrates from the diet in one sweeping motion, this can lead to discomforting side effects and energy deficits in some individuals. When I first kicked my serious sugar habit, I followed a strict ketogenic diet and felt great for about two months. Then I crashed HARD. Brain fog, lethargy, low vitality – all symptoms that my thyroid wasn’t getting proper dietary support. What I needed to restore the balance was healthy carbohydrates. That’s when I learned about resistant starch.

Safe starches are fiber-rich carbohydrates that are slowly digested by our gut bacteria, rendering them non-disruptive to blood glucose levels. Unlike simple carbohydrates that break down quickly in the stomach and small intestine causing blood sugar levels to spike, these carbs are processed in the large intestine where they remain partially undigested, or resistant to digestion. This undigested fiber undergoes fermentation in the gut, encouraging beneficial gut bacteria, and contributing to the health of the microbiome and large intestine. Resistant starches have been clinically shown to direct more blood flow to the colon,1 reduce intestinal fat deposits,2 improve mineral absorption,3 and bind with toxins so they can be excreted in stools.4

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: Why You Need Both

Resistant starches behave differently in our digestive systems in important ways. The long, straight chain polysaccharides that comprise resistant starch remain in the curve of our intestines longer, providing short-chain fatty acids like sodium butyrate, a proven anti-inflammatory bridge between the gut and brain.5 Resistant starch boosts the number of good bacteria in the gut, while increasing these short-chain fatty acids that support overall intestinal and brain and brain health.6

Safe starches are prebiotic; providing fermentable fiber that feeds and supports the roughly 100 trillion cells that comprise 90% of our body mass – the microbes we play host to in our microbiome. Research shows that different types of fiber encourage different microbial colonies in the gut.7 Eating prebiotic foods supports the varying colonies of probiotic bacteria. Diets that include modest amounts of fermentable fiber are demonstrated to reduce the risks of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer.8 Adding safe starches can also lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol,9 and improve insulin sensitivity, making them useful in diabetic and pre-diabetic protocols.10 Therapeutic uses for resistant starch have produced encouraging results in animal studies for reducing body fat deposits,11 increasing calcium absorption,12 and delivering a low-cost nutritional boost.13

Incorporating Safe Starches in Your Diet

In the depression-treatment protocol presented in A Mind of Your Own and the companion online course, we recommend a one month elimination of grains, dairy, beans, and white potatoes so that you can LEARN your relationship to these powerful foods…not because they are “bad”. This is the slate-clearing phase where you reset your body to a neutral, non-reactive state. As a part of a strict elimination diet designed to rid the body of most known sources of inflammation and allergic response, the month Reset is not intended to support the body’s energy needs, long-term. Most individuals, especially women, will need to incorporate more starches into their diet to enjoy optimum energy and focus. The key is to integrate the right kinds of starches so that your now-healthy body ecology can be maintained.

After your month Reset, here are some of the foods to mindfully introduce, one at a time:

Safe Starch List:

  • White potatoes, cooked and cooled*, and/or potato starch
  • White rice, cooked and cooled*
  • Amaranth
  • Muesli
  • Millet
  • Unprocessed oats
  • Soaked beans
  • Chickpeas

* It’s important to note that allowing white rice and potatoes to cool before consumption is what turns these particular starches into resistant starch.

Reintegration of these foods after a dietary reset should be approached slowly, to see how your body responds to each type of starch. I recommend consuming only one starch at a time, up to three servings in a day, and then waiting for two to three days before trying any others. See how you feel under the influence of each individual starch. Do you have gas, bloating, brain fog, or intense fatigue? Any reactive foods should be eliminated again for thirty days, then the reintroduction process can be repeated.

Understand that not everyone can tolerate all of these foods. Given the fundamental differences in each person’s gut ecology, extreme care is needed in the reintegration phase to ensure that individual sensitivities are identified and respected. If you suffer from a bit of gas, this can be alleviated by easing back on portions and reintegrating more slowly. A full system reset is a great way to establish your baseline so that you can begin to identify your own optimum dietary habits. Ultimately, it’s your inner compass that will guide you to the foods that work best for your physiology. Tune-in and listen to what your body and mind are telling you during this process. Wellness is your birthright, and now that you are armed with the facts of good nutrition, the only thing left is to claim it!

Interested in more insights and tools to help you Own Your Self?

My newest book, Own Your Self, helps you discover the meaning behind your symptoms and your struggle as a way to reclaim your health and your Self. Click below to claim your copy today.


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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More