Resistant starch (RS) is the latest buzzword in glycaemic control, prebiotic support for our microbiome and improved fatty acid metabolism. How does this hot new topic relate to the ancient teachings of Ayurveda?
In this article we will consider:
- What is resistant starch?
- What are the different types of resistant starch?
- How does resistant starch help us?
- What kind of resistant starch is best for me?
- How does it feature in an Ayurvedic diet?
- Should I worry about resistant starch?
As some of you know, my watchword is: eventually the latest research will 'prove' controversial teachings of Ayurveda to be correct. Resistant starch is one such example, as you will see.
What is resistant starch?
Resistant starch is starch that is resistant to digestion by small bowel enzymes. As such it acts as part of our dietary fibre, passing into the large intestine and being fermented by our gut microbes. Note the word fermented here. If we introduce too much resistant starch too fast, or the wrong kind for our particular microbiome (aka agni type), we will get gas--and Ayurveda takes gas seriously as a symptom of vata buildup.
What are the different types of resistant starch?
There are four main types:
- Type I is found in seeds, beans and whole grains and is resistant because it is encapsulated. The Ayurvedic diet is full of this type of resistant starch.
- Type II is inherently resistant due to its amylose content. Green bananas, raw potato starch and raw plantains fall into this category (but could be very vata disturbing).
- Type III is formed when we cook and cool starchy foods. This type of resistant starch is thankfully not destroyed when the food is re-heated--in fact it may even increase. (That's a mercy, because we don't want you to eat cold food!)
- Type IV barely deserves a mention as it is a chemically modified high amylose industrial corn product, which we definitely don't recommend.
How does resistant starch help us?
- Resistant starch feeds our gut microbiome, the key factor in good health.
- Resistant starch is beneficial for glycaemic control, lowering the postprandial glucose spike--or in plain English, it helps your blood sugar not to spike up after meals. Foods with more resistant starch are considered as having a lower glycaemic index than foods with less resistant starch.
- Regular intake of resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity.
- Resistant starch improves fatty acid metabolism.
- Resistant starch lowers appetite.
What kind of resistant starch is best for me?
Read this carefully--there are a lot of people who want to sell you a product with the buzzword 'resistant starch.' Probably the different types of resistant starch would have different effect on the microbiome, but the research on this isn't done yet. But Ayurveda tells us that we need 'different strokes for different folks.'
- If you are kapha prakriti, try to meet your RS needs with type I sources. Quinoa and cooked buckwheat groats are brilliant sources of resistant starch that will best suit your metabolic type, as well as some whole beans and some seeds. If you are on our Diabetes Prevention diet, make sure to include these foods on a regular basis to help your gut bacteria and glycaemcic control.
- If you are vata prakriti, your digestion is more delicate and you are more gas-prone. It's fine to have some Type I RS to the extent that you can tolerate it, but you can also support your microbiome with Ayurvedically prepared Type III RS. And in a few minutes I'll tell you how to make that!
- If you are pitta and have really strong digestive fire, you might want to try including green banana in your diet! But many of us pittas are quite delicate and probably would do well with a combination of Type I and Type III RS.
How does RS feature in an Ayurvedic diet?
As it turns out, Ayurveda has come up with ancient agricultural and culinary techniques that create Type III and IV RS using the basic food--rice. A new, hot off the press Sri Lankan study recently presented at 249th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Denver, CO has served only to illustrate the advantages of these traditional techniques. Here are some highlights:
- Traditional rice varieties like basmati rice and Bhutanese red rice have higher levels of RS and are inherently lower glycaemic than new and 'improved' varieties.
- Parboiled rice--a traditional Indian rice processing technique--contains more RS. and hence a lower glycaemic index.
- Traditional cooking methods create more RS in rice. For example, pilaf rice and fried rice have more RS than boiled or steamed rice.
- In the Sri Lankan study, rice was cooked the traditional Sri Lankan way, then cooled for 12 hours in the refrigerator, with an increase in RS. This increase was not reversed by re-heating the rice. And this is important because rice can be a source of botulism and should either be eaten fresh or heated up thoroughly.
How to Make:
Lower glycaemic rice: boil the rice in extra water until it begins to fluff up. Then drain, rinse, add new water and finish cooking. This simple method lowers the glycaemic index of rice.
Yellow Rice: Adding turmeric to your rice will lower the blood sugar spike from eating rice.
Sri Lankan high RS rice: Start with a traditional and ideally a parboiled rice. Wash thoroughly and soak for an hour. Then cook the rice with a teaspoon or two of coconut oil. This should help increase the amylose in the rice--and it's delicious and traditional. After cooking the rice on the stovetop for 40 minutes, oven-dry it in a low oven for a couple of hours. Now refrigerate the rice for use the next day. Steam or better still fry it before you eat it. Voilà--higher RS rice!
Should I worry about Resistant Starch?
- If you are on a Standard American Diet, (SAD) you're not getting enough RS. But then, you are not getting enough of many nutrients. So instead of adding commercial RS to your deficent diet, why not start eating an Ayurvedic diet of whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy oils?
- If you are on a Paleo diet, you should worry about RS because you're probably not getting enough. Bear in mind that your microbiome is totally different from that of a hunter-gatherer who never tasted sugar or refined flour and never had any exposure to antibiotics.
- If you are on an Ayurvedic diet, rest assured that our ancient sages have already featured plenty of RS into your diet, as long as you adhere to traditional foods, traditionally prepared.
Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
Enliven your holistic health! Visit Alakananda Ma in Alandi Ashram’s ayurvedic clinic to support the overall rejuvenation of your body, mind, and spirit. In-person and virtual appointments available. Book now!