There is absolutely no question that good over-all health is somewhat dependent on the micro-biotic flora that resides in the small and large intestines. We all have them, and without them, we would probably die. There are several hundred species of bacteria, yeasts and fungi that live in our digestive system and they perform vital functions such as breaking down undigested carbohydrates, assisting in the manufacture and synthesis of certain vitamins and hormones, breaking down waste materials so they can be eliminated, and keeping out pathogenic microorganisms. We need a healthy, thriving colony of these tiny guys in order to survive.
Unfortunately, in the modern world, life can be hard on these little guys. The increased use of antibiotics (which cannot tell the good guys from the bad), heavily chlorinated and fluoridated water, and the lack of probiotics in our diets can severely reduce the number of beneficial micro-organisms in our intestines. This results in such unpleasant things such as excess gas, painful bloating, sleep problems, nausea, not getting the full nutrition from your food, irritable bowel syndrome, impacted feces, and more…
So what exactly is a probiotic? A probiotic is a food that contains live cultures of the beneficial micro-organisms we need. Most actively fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, cheeses, unpasteurized milk (or acidophiles milk), tofu, and such, all contain live cultures that will add to the population in our innards, and keep them replenished and healthy.
Anything alive needs to be nourished, and probiotics are no exception. They need prebiotics. One of the best prebiotics is called Resistant Starch. Resistant Starches are things which we can’t digest, but represents a feast for the hungry little guys in our abdomens. The more food they get (within reason), the more they can reproduce. Many foods contain good amounts of resistant starch. Good sources can include bananas, potatoes, rice, beans, peanuts, peas, lentils, oats, barley, carrots, cassava, sweet potatoes, and tapioca.
Studies1, 2, 3, 4 have indicated that increased use of resistant starches can result in many health benefits, including:
- Less absorption of harmful things like toxins and carcinogens
- Improving insulin sensitivity
- Eating less and feeling more satisfied
- Improved absorption of vital minerals like calcium and magnesium
- Increased populations of beneficial organisms in the digestive system5
The study was based on a daily intake of 30 mg of resistant starch. A 7 oz. potato contains about 9 grams of resistant starch, so you would have to eat 3 or 4 of these per day to get the benefits. This could tend to cause you to put on some weight. But there is an alternative that should not cause you to gain any weight, or spike your blood sugar if you are diabetic.
There are companies that sell potato starch. One of the most widely available is Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch, available in most major grocery stores. This starch has about 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon, so 4 tbsp of these per day should do the trick, without causing any weight gain or boosting blood sugar levels. Remember, resistant starches are indigestible for humans…. A tablespoon or two in your morning smoothie, and evening yogurt, kefir, or just in water should keep your abdominal residents healthy and happy.
Of course, any changes you make to your health regime should be discussed with your health care provider beforehand. And your body needs time to adjust to changes, so they should be gradual. Start with one tbsp per day, and work up to the 30 mg level over a period of two or three weeks. Some side effects could be:
- changes in your stool
If you experience any of these, they should dissipate rapidly. If they don’t go away in a few days, you should either reduce the amount, or discontinue it altogether and try something else. Very few people have any serious issues with resistant starch.
1. Resistant Starch Intakes in the United States, MARY M. MURPHY, MS, RD; JUDITH SPUNGEN DOUGLASS, MS, RD; ANNE BIRKETT, PhD; Journal of the American Dietetic Association: January 2008 Volume 108 Number 1, pp 67-78.
2. Short-Chain Fatty Acids and Human Colonic Function: Roles of Resistant Starch and Nonstarch Polysaccharides, DAVID L. TOPPING, PETER M. CLIFTON; Physiological Reviews: 1 July 2001 Vol. 81no. Pp 1031-1064.
3. Resistant starch—a review of the physical properties and biological impact of RS3,
S.G HARALAMPU; Carbohydrate Polymers: Volume 41, Issue 3, March 2000, pp 285–292.
4. Analysis of resistant starch: a method for foods and food products, I. GOÑI, L. GARCÍA-DIZ, E. MAÑAS, F. SAURA-CALIXTO; Food Chemistry: Volume 56, Issue 4, August 1996, pp 445–449.
5. Digestion and physiological properties of resistant starch in the human large bowel
JOHN H CUMMINGS, EMILY R BEATTY, SUSAN M KINGMAN, SHEILA A BINGHAM and HANS N ENGLYST; British Journal of Nutrition: Volume 75 Issue 05 May 1996, pp 733-747