Today, many people worry about what carbs can do to their waistline. But it’s important to bear in mind that there are unhealthy carbs and healthy carbs. Unhealthy carbs, such as refined grains found in white bread, pasta, rice, pastries and processed snacks, can cause blood sugar to rise, which can lead to weight gain and inflammation linked to many diseases. But healthy carbs, also known as “resistant carbs,” such as whole grains, legumes and starchy vegetables, are actually good for your overall health. In fact, Integrative Gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, MD views resistant carbs as “miracle cure-alls” that may even protect you against diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
What’s the difference between resistant carbs and “white” carbs?
Traditional refined carbs are completely broken down in the upper digestive tract, or small intestine, where they are converted into glucose, which causes a quick energy boost but can also trigger chronic inflammation and increase body fat storage. Resistant carbs, on the other hand, pass through the small intestine and enter the large intestine entirely intact, thus creating a sustained energy release and transporting important nutrients to the large bowel.
Protection against colon cancer, breast cancer and diabetes
Resistant carbs may help ward off serious disease. For instance, they may help prevent colon cancer by sweeping the colon and bulking up stools to eliminate toxins from the body. Resistant carbs also function as a type of pre-biotics, promoting healthy flora in the intestinal tract. They also produce short-chain fatty acids, the healthy energy source for cells that line the colon. By switching to a mainly plant-based diet rich in resistant carbs, you could help cut your risk of colon cancer by 50%.
Research also shows that resistant carbs may help reduce the risk of breast cancer, particularly breast cancer with tumors that are estrogen-receptor positive.
Resistant carbs help reduce the risk of diabetes since they do not convert directly into sugar, thus preventing dramatic blood sugar spikes and protecting the pancreas from wearing out from overproduction of insulin.
To help reap the benefits of resistant carbs, Dr. Chutkan recommends following these rules:
1. Eat Your Pasta Undercooked
When pasta is overcooked, the starch is more readily broken down into sugars and has a higher glycemic index. Don’t overcook your pasta. Cook whole-wheat or multi-grain pasta the Italian way: al dente, which literally means “to the tooth” and is firm to the bite. When pasta is firm, digestive enzymes in the gut take longer to break down the starch into sugars. Thus, the sugar is slowly released into the bloodstream, causing less insulin release and making it easier to prevent weight gain.
Cook your pasta 3 to 4 minutes less than what the package instructs so that it has a slight snap when you bite into it. To reap the resistant starch benefits of pasta, eat 1 to 2 whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta dishes every week.
2. The Cook-Then-Cool Technique
By cooling resistant starches, you can actually increase their nutritional value, making them even more resistant to be being broken down in the small intestine. Cool down your carbs before eating them. Make a habit of eating a bowl of cold brown rice and beans at least 2-3 times a week as a main dish or side dish.
3. Buy the Bs: Bread, Beans and Barley
These carbs – bread (whole-wheat or whole-grain), beans and barley – have more fiber than other types of starches and trigger less breakdown of glucose. They also keep you feeling full longer without spiking blood sugar to help control the pounds.
4. Eat Green Bananas
Green bananas contain less sugar, more fiber and healthful resistant starch than ripened yellow bananas. Prepare green bananas by boiling them in their skin so they are easier to peel. Mash, cool and season them with salt, pepper and a little butter. Serve as you would a side dish. Eat two servings of green bananas every week. If you regularly eat yellow bananas, eat no more than 1 or 2 of them a week.
Bonus Rule: Take Probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms in the intestines and promote digestive health. Resistant carbs act as pre-biotics, the food that probiotics, or healthy gut bacteria, feed off of. Pre-biotics and probiotics go hand in hand so make sure you are getting both. Eat probiotic-rich yogurt regularly or take probiotic supplements, available at drugstores and health stores.
A Note on Resistant-Starch Flour
To increase the amount of resistant starch in your diet, stock your pantry with resistant starch flour. Sorghum flour, corn or maize flour, and green banana flour fall in the resistant starch category. One cup of resistant starch flour contains 8 grams of fiber, more than twice the amount of fiber found in regular white flour. Resistant starch fiber also contains 50 calories less per cup than white flour. Try using it to make pizza crusts, muffins, or thicken soups and sauces.
In recipes that call for regular flour, replace 1/3 regular flour with starch resistant flour. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of regular flour, use 1/3 cup resistant starch flour and 2/3 cups regular flour. Look for sorghum and corn flour at supermarkets or health food stores. Green banana flour can be purchased online along with other resistant starch flours.