Resistant Starch: What it Is and How it Could Improve Your Health

The typical American dinner plate consists of a protein (usually in the form of meat), a vegetable, and starch, which are complex carbohydrates like cereals and potatoes. However, with the growing popularity of low-carb diets, many people are (reluctantly) cutting down on these comfort food staples.

Recent research into one category of starches suggests that this trend may be shortsighted: Resistant starch, found in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, gets its name because it defies digestion. Unlike most starches, the resistant variety isn’t quickly broken down into sugar in the small intestine. Instead, these starches "resist" digestion and are passed into the large intestine, which causes them to act like a dietary fiber. While these super starches are fighting off digestion, they feed the body’s friendly bacteria and increase production of short-chain fatty acids, which promote colorectal and digestive health.

The Benefits of Resistant Starch

Resistant starch has been the subject of some interest in recent months. Studies suggest that including more resistant starches in your diet could improve blood sugar and weight management. One investigation, published in Cancer Prevention Research, found that foods high in resistant starch could reduce the risk of colorectal cancers that are heightened by red meat consumption. In other words, substituting your standard starch for the resistant kind may be life saving.

Other benefits of a diet high in resistant starch may include improved digestion, enhanced brain function, and bowel disease prevention.

Where to Find Resistant Starches

So where exactly can you find this miracle nutrient? Typically resistant starches are found in plant-based foods we don’t typically deem starchy. Foods high in resistant starch include:

  • Green bananas and plantains
  • Wild rice
  • Yams
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains

The closer these food items are to being eaten raw, the more of a nutritional punch they’ll pack. Steaming, parboiling (partially boiling), and baking are recommended.

Because most of the research on resistant starches is relatively new, suggestions for how much and how often to eat them have not been agreed upon. Still, when planning what to put alongside your protein, consider replacing the mashed potatoes and stuffing with lentils or roasted yams.

Alison Massey MS, RD, CDE, LDN, director of education at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, reviewed this article.


Bodinham CL, Frost GS, Robertson MD. "Acute Ingestion of Resistant Starch Reduces Food Intake in Healthy Adults." British Journal of Nutrition 103 no. 6 (2010): 917-922. Published online 27 October 2009. 

Higgins, Janine A, Brown, Ian L. "Resistant Starch: A Promising Dietary Agent for the Prevention/Treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Bowel Cancer." Current Opinion in Gastroenterology 29 no. 2 (2013):190-4. doi: 10.1097/MOG.0b013e32835b9aa3.

McIntosh, James. "Could Resistant Starch Reduce Red Meat Cancer Risk?" Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2014. 

Robertson, MD, JM Currie, LM Morgan, DP Jewell, KN Frayn. "Prior Short-Term Consumption of Resistant Starch Enhances Postprandial Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Subjects." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 82 no. 3 (2005): 559-567. 

Sajilata, M.G., Rekha S. Singhal, and Pushpa R. Kulkarni. "Resistant Starch—A Review." Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety Volume 5 (2006). 

Humphreys, Karen J, Michael A. Conlon, Graeme P. Young, David L. Topping, Ying Hu, Jean M. Winter, Anthony R. Bird, Lynne Cobiac, Nicholas A. Kennedy, Michael Z. Michael, and Richard K. Le Leu. "Dietary Manipulation of Oncogenic MicroRNA Expression in Human Rectal Mucosa: A Randomized Trial." Cancer Prev Res 7 (2014): 786 doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0053