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What’s All The Fuss About Resistant Starch?

There’s been a whole lot of talk lately, especially from our friends in the Paleo community, about a concept you may or may not have heard about before called “resistant starch.” There’s a really fantastic column by Ryan Andrews that gives you lots of basic information about this fascinating topic at Precision Nutrition. On the past two Low-Carb Cruise events, there have been questions submitted during the Q&A Session by attendees about resistant starches. So this is obviously something people are thinking about and wondering whether they should be adding them to their diet or not.

Here’s the basic gist of resistant starches: they are consumed by the bacteria in the gut and not fully digested with all the typical post-prandial carbohydrate impact on your blood sugar, for example. Instead, resistant starches ferment in the large intestine to produce short-chain fatty acids and to provide fuel for the bacteria in your colon. You can find resistant starches in foods such as beans, legumes, starchy fruits like bananas, grains, starchy vegetables, and (most interestingly!) cool potatoes and rice (apparently cooking these for too long or at high temperatures make them a lot less resistant). If you’re interested in finding out more about resistant starches, then you can glean from the wisdom and knowledge shared by Mark Sisson, Laura Dolson, Monica Reinagel, Norm Robillard, Dr. Oz, Adel Moussa, Dave Asprey, Steve Cooksey, Kevin Geary, and even at a web site called (oddly enough!) ResistantStarch.com.

In 2011, a book extolling the virtues of resistant starches was released called The Carb Lovers Diet: Eat What You Love, Get Slim for Life! by Health magazine editors Ellen Kunes and Frances Largeman-Roth. I attempted to have these authors on “The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show” podcast at the time and they responded that they weren’t interested. Too bad. I was sincerely curious about hearing their thoughts about how starch and grains can be a part of a healthy diet. The most vocal proponent of resistant starches in the Paleo community in 2013 has been hands down Richard Nikoley from the “Free The Animal” blog and you can catch up on all of his posts about this subject here. Richard asked to be on my podcast recently, but I was already booked up for the rest of the year when he asked (and now I’m away researching and writing my next book and will not be returning to do new interviews until April 2014). I told Richard in a Twitter exchange this week that I’m definitely keen on doing a panel on one of my podcasts about resistant starch when I return:

When I finish writing Keto Clarity and get back into the groove of podcasting regularly again, I will DEFINITELY do a show about resistant starches. A panel discussion with people who are both for and against resistant starches will be an important debate for the low-carb community to be exposed to. Closing our minds about something that may seem to be the antithesis of everything we believe to be true is the fastest way to fall into the same trap that the vegan proponents have cornered themselves into–what they believe is the final word and nothing is going to change that. That’s so shortsighted and we must continue to add to the knowledge we have now with the new information that the science is showing us.

You may recall this controversial blog post I wrote from October 2011 where I discussed whether there is any such thing as “safe starches” on a low-carb diet and this examination of resistant starches certainly adds another wrinkle to consider in our nutritional thinking. There are a few skeptics of this concept, though–namely Dr. Mike Eades, Mr. Heisenbug, Dr. Anastasia Boulais, members of the Active Low-Carber Forum, and this June 2010 Los Angeles Times column. I’m happy to see this being openly discussed and investigated. This is a net positive in the greater discussion of healthy living.

I know you’re probably wondering what my position on resistant starches is, right? Long-time followers will be abundantly aware of my general motto regarding diet and health: find the plan that will work for you, follow that plan exactly as prescribed and keep doing that plan as long as it is still working for you. Despite the fact that the name of my brand is “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb,” I have ALWAYS held the position that people should stick with what’s working for them to keep them happy and healthy. Whether that’s vegan, Paleo, ketogenic, or whatever floats your boat, if you’re doing well on your preferred way of eating then who am I to say you should do anything differently? The answer is I wouldn’t. Right now I am doing exceedingly well staying in a constant state of nutritional ketosis (listen or watch my lecture about the results of my one-year experiment of testing blood ketones and other health markers from the 2013 Low-Carb Cruise here). Because of that, I have no first-hand experience with resistant starches. But if someone wants to try it, test it out for themselves to see how they do, and report their findings, I think that’s totally AWESOME!!!

In fact, there’s a guy named Allan Folz who has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $850 for his family of four in Portland, Oregon to test resistant starch and to see the impact on their gut microbiota (using the test kits from the American Gut Project) over a 6-week period. Very creative Allan! You can follow along with their experiment at this special blog set up just for this “Family Science Project of Resistant Starch on Gut Biome.” It’ll be great to see the results they get from this intriguing experiment. Definitely help fund their Indiegogo campaign here. Even beyond that, if you’re interested in testing resistant starch, go for it. My bud Tom Naughton said in a Twitter post this week that he’ll be trying it after the holidays–with a funnyman bent to his purpose in doing so:

If you listen to the proponents of resistant starch, then you’d think it MIGHT cure baldness. Just kidding. As for me, I think with my past struggles that have been resolved by nutritional ketosis, it wouldn’t be wise for me to try this at this time. Could it help me even more? Perhaps. Am I interested in learning more about it? Absolutely. Do I think I MUST try resistant starch right now? No. I’ll play “wait and see” to watch it all play out in others and continue to follow the research that is sure to continue pouring in about this in the years to come. Let me know if you decide to give this a test for yourself or why you wouldn’t try this. Share your thoughts about it in the comments section below.

  • humplik

    Looking forward to that podcast discussion. Should be an interesting one to learn from. Taking a conservative approach is very reasonable. If you have found what works for you personally stick with it.

  • http://freetheanimal.com/ Richard Nikoley

    Jimmy.

    Thank you very much for introducing this topic to your readers. As I hope was abundantly clear, my “roughing you up” over the past few days was all about that. You personally? Well, that’s up to you, just like everything I may blog about is not necessarily something I practice myself, or at least well.

    Based on the hundreds of N=1s I’ve received since this caught my interest last April—to the point I’ve put up about 45 posts on it (thank’s for that tag link)—I am absolutely convinced that this will benefit around 9/10 of your readers who try it, particularly diabetics. I’m not going to list a bunch of testimonials but they’re there amongst hundreds of comments, many from 10-20-yr diabetics enjoying the best blood glucose regulation ever.

    Anyway, thanks Jimmy and I’ll go do an update on my two recent posts to add a link to this, closing the look on that chapter. Any time or forum for further discussion.

    Oh, one other thing. I did write up a short primer a couple of days ago for newbies to this so they don’t have to sift through 45 posts. I’d love the added traffic, but that’s just too much. :)

    http://freetheanimal.com/2013/12/resistant-primer-newbies.html

  • Sabine

    As I am on a ketogenic diet, I allow myself the occasional shiratake noodles (also available as shiratake rice etc.), which are almost carb-free, yet provide lots of substrate for gut bacteria. I also like some onion and garlic, which are great bacteria food. I eat all of this with a lot of animal and dairy fat.
    I stay away from legumes , grains, potatoes, and the like, as I respond very badly to these, and as they would destroy the essence of my diet, with which I feel very well.

  • marie

    Jimmy, about this: “Right now I am doing exceedingly well staying in a constant state of nutritional ketosis… Because of that, I have no first-hand experience with resistant starches.”

    If you’d like at some point to get first-hand experience, know that you can absolutely stay in ketosis if you take resistant starch alone, for example, unmodified potato starch.
    In fact, resistant starch is ketogenic.

    Just don’t cook it, it won’t be ‘resistant’ then :)

    Thanks for all the great work you do here explaining, among other things, ketosis and its practice.
    I am very much in favor of Ketogenic diets for several applications, not least of which is my dad’s. He has been on a very severe ketogenic diet as part of a multi-faceted colon cancer therapy.

    With his medical team’s encouragement, I did controlled experiments myself (I’m a scientist, but now a guinea pig!) with the potato starch from an inexpensive source to make sure it was compatible with deep ketosis, like resistant starch was expected to be. Results posted here : http://freetheanimal.com/2013/10/resistant-ingestion-blunting.html

    Resistant starch has been reported repeatedly to have therapeutic and prevention properties specifically for colon cancer, so finding a good source meant that this keto-compatibility allowed us to throw all known weapons at that cancer (the deep ketosis was adjuvant to chemotherapy).

    His colonoscopy 2months after adding the resistant starch to his therapy showed a gut that was clear of cancer and still is now, 5months later. Yes, that’s early yet, but it’s the first time in a three-year battle when this has happened. It is also clear of polyps (a rare clarity in older people), with a ‘healthy color’ for the lining and tight junctions (per biopsy).
    This was after two earlier post-operative failures and after only partial improvement with an earlier first round of chemo+keto alone.

    Resistant starch seems to be the agent that finally is tipping things in the right direction for him as far as the colon is concerned.

    As for myself, I’m like you, good where I’m at metabolically and how I feel.
    But…..there’s still that close-up view I’ve had above, of damage that won’t show until old-age.

    Given all the research on what is needed to create a healthy gut biome and the far-reaching physiological effects of that biome’s composition, I’m now taking resistant starch for life, even though I have no immediate problems, I have made it to 46yrs old without any of the usual complaints….AND I have thick, healthy hair (!).

    Just about everyone in our family is taking it by now too and many friends.
    Some get all kinds of other benefits, mostly metabolic/BG control, but for me it’s about ‘just’ Prevention – worth a pound of cure? :)

    • http://www.speechmastery.com Jonathan_Steele

      There is one more thing to consider with regard to this process. What effect does the hydration of our body have on this process.

      On the http://www.watercures.org site, they encourage taking a pinch of salt and drinking a glass of water 45 min before eating. This evidently prepares the stomach and gut for the soon to come food.

      Just drinking water does not work as well as taking a pinch of salt in the mouth so it can get absorbed in our mucous membranes. They recommend unprocessed sea salt which has a bunch of minerals like magnesium and potassium.

  • rs711

    Jimmy – you may not be a credentialed scientist but don’t let that fool you, your approach is (generally) highly scientific and certainly more so than the vast majority of ‘credentialed’ people I’ve met/heard/spoken to etc.,

    Respect Respect Respect – that’s what I have for your brother!

  • Phil Thompson

    What level of blood ketones did you sustain while taking the RS kjulian ?

    • kjulian

      Didn’t test every day due to the cost of strips, but for example last night I did 4 TBS PS and my fasting blood ketone reading this morning was 1.7 on the precision xtra. I typically hover in the 1.0-2.5 fasting range with or without PS.

  • Phil Thompson

    Uncooked vs cooked potato and carrot science at http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/7/3/221.full.pdf – anyone seen RS specific science ? or even potato starch specific.

  • Andreas Eenfeldt

    Very nice Jimmy. After reading another person posting on this recently I have to say this: You OWN the high road.

    • Butch Pornebo

      But did you get past the drama and considered looking into what the fuss is all about. Resistant Starch. We need good authorities like you to dig deeply into this and see how beneficial it could be.

      • LLVLCBlog

        As I shared in my blog post, Butch, I’m in the midst of researching and writing my next book. That’s pretty much gonna consume my life in the next few months to the point that I’m having guest hosts on my podcast. But when that’s over, I’m delighted to look into it even more and investigate it for myself. I wrote this post to encourage my readers to check it out and be ready to have a discussion on it in 2014.

  • Mary Antico

    Hi Jimmy! Thanks so much for this informative and open-minded post. I recently went off a keto diet partly because of low energy and partly as a response to warnings from these resistant starch advocates. I was trying to add rice for the most part (also some lentils) but it just does not work for me, firstly because any amount of carbs seems to make me binge eventually and also because I started having intestinal symptoms, including something called gastroparesis (I actually was vomiting immediately after eating even a normal amount, presumably because my stomach wasn’t emptying). In reading up on gastroparesis I found that it can be caused by bacterial overgrowth. So perhaps, in people that do not have a tendency to bacterial overgrowth, resistant starches can be beneficial. But for someone who does have a problem with bacterial overgrowth, the resistant starches make matters worse. Anyway, a few days ago (after the vomiting started) I went back to keto eating, starting with sort of a fat fast to get things going, and the intestinal symptoms are subsiding.
    Thanks again, Jimmy, for being so cool and open-minded!

  • http://mark3000.com/ Mark3000

    Good stuff, Jimmy. Thanks for your open-minded approach.

  • LLVLCBlog

    Definitely too complex for Keto Clarity but worth investigating.

    • PaleoPhil

      Thanks for open-mindedly covering this topic, Jimmy. I hope you’ll put aside Keto Clarity and investigate this further first. I know that sounds strange, but I think that this is about more than just resistant starch (such as prebiotics and the Old Friends Hypothesis, for example) and your Keto Clarity book will be incomplete without it. It’s that crucial.

      • LLVLCBlog

        I welcome anyone to write a book about it if they think it’s that important. Not gonna stop writing my book.

  • LyndaF

    Thanks to Richard for his many blogs. It took me a while to give this a try. I’ve been VLC for 3 years, trying to stay in ketosis. For the last 2 years I’ve had Raynaud’s syndrome. I started taking potato starch 6 days ago, at 1 tbsp, now at 4 tbsp/day. Within 3 days, I noticed that I haven’t experienced the white numb fingers that I usually get when out on a walk at 0 Celsius or handling frozen food (or even handling a milk jug from the store). Last week I was having to wear winter gloves, today only thin gloves. My fingers got cold, but stayed nice and pink! My appetite seems to be under better control too, although that tends to happen when I try new regimens, so will have to wait on that one. Will have to see if there are any more improvements (hoping it will help clear up sebhoric dermatitis)

  • http://freetheanimal.com/ Richard Nikoley

    Here’s another data point. Steve Cooksey, that many may know as Diabetes Warrior induced a Type 1 friend of his to give resistant starch via potato starch at 4 TBS per day. What’s great about this self experiment is that she has an insulin pump that delivers basal insulin and continuos glucose monitoring with data capture.

    See the dramatic difference in the data, pre RS/PS supplementation and after.

    http://www.diabetes-warrior.net/2013/12/21/type-1s-resistant-starch-diabetes-experiment/

  • Christina P

    I am diabetic and have tried only a few products that claim to have resistant starches. I found that they spiked my blood sugar like any other sugary substance and will probably never try it again. I think it’s irresponsible to use anecdotal evidence to support an idea. The rs supporter quotes many diabetics but what are the controls ? What type of meds are they on ? This is why one should trust their meter when trying something new.

  • http://MeetInnovators.com Adrian Bye

    cramps are caused by a lack of magnesium, which are easily fixed by taking supplements.

    have you continued to use RS while staying in NK?

    • Chris D.

      Yes, still using RS and in NK. Fasting blood glucose has dropped 15 points, due to RS, which is amazing. As you know NK generally elevates fasting BG. Long term, it is unknown if this is really bad. But, the addition of RS, has provided me some comfort as it has dropped my fasting BG.
      Cramps are better with RS. And yes, I have been supplementing with mag. Orally, transdermally, ionic in water, Epsom salt soaks, varieties of oral mag. You name it. It didn’t take away the crippling cramps. Also supplement with sea salt, potassium, and more. RS has been the biggest help.
      BTW, also trying Hydrogen. HydroFX. I don’t have a hydrogen water ionizer, so trying the pill form. I would say it is helping.
      Cure from cramps is being OUT OF Ketosis. But, I feel much better, perform better, and believe in NK. So trying to find the right balance.