"Dr. Hyman, I took a quick glance at your Eat Fat, Get Thin plan and saw that you recommend potato starch as part of the diet," writes this week's house call. "I thought we were supposed to avoid carbs?"
I can understand the confusion surrounding why I would recommend potato starch, considering I've discussed how detrimental refined carbs (especially white, powdery substances) can be.
Here's the deal. A special type of starch called resistant starch provides unique and remarkable properties, improving your metabolism and blood sugar while optimizing your gut flora to promote weight loss.
Resistant starch is a kind of starch that is not digested in the small intestine, hence its name. Instead, your gut bacteria processes it, creating beneficial molecules that promote balanced blood sugar and healthy gut flora. In other words, when you eat resistant starch, it "resists" digestion and does not spike blood sugar or insulin.
Resistant starch is made by cooking and then cooling starches like potatoes or rice and not reheating them, transforming regular starch into resistant starch.
Interestingly, resistant starch is really a prebiotic. Prebiotics come in many forms, including inulin from chicory or Jerusalem artichokes, soluble fiber from psyllium, or high-amylose plants such as potatoes, green bananas, and plantains.
Consider resistant starch to be compost or "super-fertilizer" for your healthy gut bacteria or gut microbiome, which profoundly connects to almost every part of your health. In fact, researchers link gut flora imbalances with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, cancer, depression, anxiety and autism.
An effective way to get your gut back into balance is tending to your inner garden by giving your gut bugs prebiotics, which they love to munch on. As resistant starch enters your gut, hundreds of species of bugs digest or ferment the starch. From that process, those good bugs create many beneficial compounds.
Doing this also increases beneficial bugs that crowd out the bad ones. Those good guys produce what we call short-chain fatty acids, which provide your colon cells fuel.
Butyrate is one such fatty acid, which can help prevent cancer, speed up your metabolism and reduce inflammation. Doing this heals your gut while preventing leaky gut that drives food allergies, inflammation and weight gain.
As your gut heals, you can then optimally digest your food and absorb nutrients in that food. When your good bugs flourish, they can then replicate, producing vitamins, regulating your hormones, excreting toxins and creating healing compounds that keep your gut healthy and functioning properly.
Bad bugs and yeast overgrowth, on the other hand, overload your system with toxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) that subsequently trigger inflammation, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and ultimately weight gain. As your gut heals, good bugs increase and crowd out the bad ones, decreasing inflammation in the process.
Resistant starch can also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce your blood sugar after meals. It becomes a powerful tool to reverse diabesity. In one study, 15 to 30 grams (about two to four tablespoons) of potato starch improved insulin sensitivity and fat loss in obese men.
Simply put, when you incorporate prebiotic-rich foods like resistant starch into your diet, you change your gut bacteria to promote overall health and weight loss. I've even found resistant starch helps me sleep better at night.
If you are on a higher-fat, low-carbohydrate diet like my Eat Fat, Get Thin plan, I suggest adding potato starch to your diet because it is well tolerated by most. Be careful to not use potato flour, which is NOT recommended. Bob's Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch provides a great source of resistant starch. This particular brand of potato starch contains about eight grams of resistant starch per tablespoon.
- Mix it into a glass of water or a glass of cold or room temperature almond milk. It offers a pleasant potato taste and is the simplest way to start adding. You can also add it to your smoothies or full, fat coconut milk yogurt.
- Eat prebiotic-rich foods. Add acacia gum, raw chicory and dandelion leaves into salads. Enjoy bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic and leeks daily.
- Cook, then cool your starches. This process changes starches and how your body digests them, decreasing insulin spikes and feeds good bacteria.
- Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates. Optimal gut health demands a balanced diet with plenty of nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods like broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, and asparagus. You can prepare these foods in many different, delicious ways to help feed good gut bugs.
One heads-up: Resistant starch can change the bugs in your gut and cause gas, known as the die-off affect. Once good bugs enter, they duke it out with the bad bugs. As a result, you may experience gas and bloating. Once your system adjusts, this will occur less often.
I recommend starting with adding about two tablespoons of resistant starch to your diet each day. Add one tablespoon into a smoothie at breakfast and another tablespoon before bed. As the good bugs crowd out the bad ones, the die-off will lessen and eventually completely go away.
If you still experience gas and gut discomfort after taking resistant starch, you might have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or yeast overgrowth. In this case, I strongly recommend working with a Functional Medicine doctor to properly fix your gut.
For all of the reasons stated above, I've included resistant starch in my new 21-day plan. To get this plan, plus learn more about the benefits of resistant starch and how it can help you become lean and healthy, check out Eat Fat, Get Thin.
Now I'd love to hear from you. If you've done any of my plans or other plans that incorporated resistant starch, have you noticed the benefits I've mentioned here or any other benefits that I didn't list? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page. And keep those great questions coming, because next week's house call might be yours.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD