We often hear about the importance of probiotics, and rightfully so. They can help improve our digestion, elimination, immune system, and even the look of our skin!
Probiotics are live bacteria and/or yeast that live inside our body. We bring them into our systems via foods, supplements, and soil. This is the good gut flora that everyone is after. But like any living organism, probiotics need to be nourished and supported, which is where prebiotics come in.
Feed Your Good Bacteria
Prebiotics are indigestible substances that pass through our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of good bacteria in our lower bowel. They are essentially sugars and fibers, short or long-chain carbohydrates, that act as “food” for our flora.
Foods rich in prebiotics include acacia gum, raw chicory and dandelion leaves, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, garlic, and leeks. These are great to include in the diet to boost your prebiotic intake.
But when is the last time you had a Jerusalem artichoke? Plus, you need to eat a lot of these foods for a therapeutic benefit. There’s got to be a simpler way.
Resistant Starch to the Rescue
One of the easiest, cheapest and most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake is through the consumption of resistant starch. Like other prebiotics, this starch passes through the upper digestive tract and stimulates good bacteria growth in the large intestine and colon. Additionally, resistant starch increases fermentation and the production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. Why is this important? Well, these acids lower the pH of our bowel, making it less hospitable for nasty pathogens and bad bacteria. Additionally, butyrate is the preferred fuel of the cells that line the colon.
Health Benefits of Resistant Starch
For over three decades, studies have looked at the health benefits of resistant starch in humans and animals, and the results are pretty amazing. Resistant starch has been shown to:
- Increase absorption of important minerals like calcium and magnesium
- Decrease absorption of toxic and carcinogenic compounds
- Affect positive changes in microflora, particularly increasing bifidobacterium
- Help with insulin sensitivity
- Lower overall blood glucose levels
- Increase feelings of satiety
Good stuff, right? So how do we get more of it?
How to Get Resistant Starch in Your Diet
We get resistant starch from the food we eat. The highest sources are raw potatoes, green bananas, green plantains, cooked and cooled potatoes, rice and beans. If you eat grains and beans, think potato salad, cold rice salads, re-heated beans with your eggs, that sort of thing. You can see a detailed list of resistant starch foods in this chart from Free the Animal (PDF).
Most resistant starch studies are based on ingesting 30 grams a day. According to the chart linked above, a 200 gram boiled potato can have up to 9 grams of potato starch. You can boost the starch content by cooking and then cooling potatoes. But still, you’re looking at eating a lot of carbs in order to reach that target amount of resistant starch.
Here’s an Easier (and Paleo-Friendly) Way to Get It
I know that many Wellness Mama readers are paleo/WAPF/real food and don’t eat some of these foods. If that’s the case with you, try this little “hack” devised by some folks on Free The Animal’s Blog instead: Raw potato starch. Raw potato starch contains approximately 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon and very few “usable’ carbohydrates. This starch doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, as your body doesn’t digest it. Your gut bacteria does.
Raw potato starch is inexpensive and bland in taste, so it’s easy to use. Keep in mind that it has to stay raw, so you don’t want to cook it. It’s best to stir it into a cold or lukewarm beverage or add it to uncooked foods.
For a more tasty option, I also recently started using this prebiotic powder, which tastes amazing and I find more palatable than other starches.
Start Slow and Watch for Reactions
Of course, consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any health regimen to determine appropriate dosages and any health risks. It’s also best to start slowly and watch for detox reactions. You may want to start by simply eating more prebiotic foods or cooked and cooled potatoes. Or, you can try adding 1 tsp. of potato starch to your morning smoothie or before bed mixed in kefir or water. Some people find it more effective if they pair it with a probiotic. Slowly build up your dose.
A common reaction to the potato starch is an increase in gas, bloating, and changes in your stool. These symptoms are the result of rearrangements in your bowel bacteria. For most people, these side effects are short lived. If they persist, it is best to stop taking the potato starch and work on boosting your existing good bacteria with probiotics, particularly soil-based ones. Then try incorporating small amounts of the potato starch back in and see how you do. Many people, who consistently include resistant starch in their diet, report improved sleep, dream recall, bowel movements, digestion, blood sugar control and muscle tone. Sounds good to me!
Do you work to include resistant starch in your diet? What is your favorite way to get it?