Why You Should Eat Resistant Starch for a Healthy Microbiome
To have a diverse and well-balanced gut microbiome, we need to eat specific types of carbohydrates
Starch Is Naturally Eaten by Bacteria
Many scientists think of the complex ecosystem of microbial organisms in our intestines as an entirely separate and important organ within the body. The millions of organisms that ideally live in harmony in our gut require a sufficient supply of food, referred to as “Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates” or MAC. Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates consist of fiber or resistant starch. Resistant starch is a special type of fiber in carbohydrate-containing foods that is difficult for the small intestines to break down and use as energy.
Starch Is Metabolized by the Microbiota in the Gut
Resistant starch is fermented by the microorganisms in the intestines to further promote their growth. In fact, approximately 60% of the bulk of our stool is gut bacteria. This explains why even a slight increase in dietary fiber can significantly increase the mass and frequency of bowel movements. If we do not eat enough resistant starch/fiber in our diets, we are essentially starving our beneficial microbial co-inhabitants.
Resistant starch is metabolized by microbes in the gut to produce molecules called short chain fatty acids, such as acetate, butyrate, and propionate. These short chain fatty acids have significant health benefits, including cancer fighting benefits and anti-inflammatory effects.[4,5] Diets high in resistant starch lead to higher levels of short chain fatty acids and may offer protection against colon inflammation and disease. The dietary fiber that is fermented by our gut microorganisms is referred to as “prebiotics,” leading to the production of beneficial short chain fatty acids and other molecules, including serotonin and deoxycholic acid.[7,8]
Eating resistant starch may even improve problems with insulin regulation, including insulin resistance and diabetes. Some skin diseases, including acne vulgaris, rosacea, and hidradenitis suppurativa are associated with insulin resistance.[10-12] It is plausible that higher dietary intake of resistant starch and subsequent improvement in insulin resistance may alleviate symptoms in these skin conditions. However, more clinical research is required to evaluate these possible connections.
Healthy Foods Contain Resistant Starch
Even after just one serving of resistant starch, the microbial composition of our gut microbiome begins to diversify to contain more of the bacteria that eat resistant starch and away from a predominance of pathogenic and harmful microbial species.[13,14] Unfortunately, the Western diet is relatively low in resistant starch and fiber and high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, leading to gut dysbiosis. In order to improve gut homeostasis and fruitful growth of beneficial bacteria, try to incorporate foods high in resistant starch into your daily diet.
Table 1. Examples of Foods High in Resistant Starch[1,15,16]
Unripe bananas (slightly green)
Cooled rice after cooking
Cooked and cooled potatoes (after potatoes are cooked and then cooled, the carbohydrates become more resistant to digestion)
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- Sonnenburg ED, Sonnenburg JL. Starving our microbial self: the deleterious consequences of a diet deficient in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. Cell Metab.2014;20(5):779-786; PMID: 25156449 Link to research.
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- Bindels LB, Walter J, Ramer-Tait AE. Resistant starches for the management of metabolic diseases. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care.2015;18(6):559-565; PMID: 26406392 Link to research.
- Cotillard A, Kennedy SP, Kong LC, et al. Dietary intervention impact on gut microbial gene richness. Nature.2013;500(7464):585-588; PMID: 23985875 Link to research.
- Wong JM, de Souza R, Kendall CW, et al. Colonic health: fermentation and short chain fatty acids. J Clin Gastroenterol.2006;40(3):235-243; PMID: 16633129 Link to research.
- Delcour JA, Aman P, Courtin CM, et al. Prebiotics, Fermentable Dietary Fiber, and Health Claims. Adv Nutr.2016;7(1):1-4; PMID: 26773010 Link to research.
- Sharon G, Garg N, Debelius J, et al. Specialized metabolites from the microbiome in health and disease. Cell Metab.2014;20(5):719-730; PMID: 25440054 Link to research.
- Bodinham CL, Smith L, Thomas EL, et al. Efficacy of increased resistant starch consumption in human type 2 diabetes. Endocr Connect.2014;3(2):75-84; PMID: 24671124 Link to research.
- Clark AK, Haas KN, Sivamani RK. Edible Plants and Their Influence on the Gut Microbiome and Acne. Int J Mol Sci.2017;18(5)PMID: 28513546 Link to research.
- Akin Belli A, Ozbas Gok S, Akbaba G, et al. The relationship between rosacea and insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Eur J Dermatol.2016;26(3):260-264; PMID: 27328660 Link to research.
- Karagiannidis I, Nikolakis G, Zouboulis CC. Endocrinologic Aspects of Hidradenitis Suppurativa. Dermatol Clin.2016;34(1):45-49; PMID: 26617357 Link to research.
- Winglee K, Fodor AA. Intrinsic association between diet and the gut microbiome: current evidence. Nutr Diet Suppl.2015;7:69-76; PMID: 28690398 Link to research.
- Walker AW, Ince J, Duncan SH, et al. Dominant and diet-responsive groups of bacteria within the human colonic microbiota. ISME J.2011;5(2):220-230; PMID: 20686513 Link to research.
- Shamai K, Shimoni E, Bianco-Peled H. Small angle X-ray scattering of resistant starch type III. Biomacromolecules.2004;5(1):219-223; PMID: 14715029 Link to research.
- Wang SJ, Li C, Copeland L, et al. Starch Retrogradation: A Comprehensive Review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.2015;14(5):568-585; PMID: Link to research.