Carbohydrates get a bad rap these days, being vilified for a range of health conditions, from obesity to diabetes and heart disease, which are often complications of obesity. Yet carbohydrates aren’t all bad news. In fact, some carbohydrates are actually healthy and an integral part of a healthy diet. The main source of all types of carbohydrates comes from starchy foods. Starchy foods are broken into three different types: rapidly digesting starch, slowly digesting starch and resistant starch. The various types are broken down in relation to their nutritional properties, which is basically how the body processes them. Distinguishing your starches from one another can get pretty intense, so here is a rundown:
Rapidly Digesting Starch
Rapidly Digesting Starch is fairly easy to understand. Some starches are processed more quickly than others—that is, broken down into individual nutrients to be used by the body. Rapidly digesting starch is broken down quickly in the small intestine before entering the bloodstream as a nutrient. The body uses rapidly digesting starch in roughly 20 minutes, spiking blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for diabetics.
Rapidly digesting starch is what many people are concerned about when they avoid white sugar, candy and other products that spike blood sugar levels and are known as high-glycemic.
Sources of rapidly digesting starch include any carbohydrate products that have been processed such as sugars, sugar substitutes, sweeteners like agave, as well as natural sweets like honey and maple syrup. Fruit juices, instant grains and other processed flours are also rapidly digesting starches, as are any ingredients that include “starch.”
Slowly Digesting Starch
Slowly Digesting Starch takes longer to break down than rapidly digesting starch. Because it takes longer to digest, slowly digesting starch is considered low-glycemic. Low-glycemic starches provide energy, but without the spike in blood sugar.
Slowly digesting starch has been found to improve the health of mice with diabetes, allowing blood sugar levels to remain stable. Diabetes also leads to a lack of kidney function, so vital nutrients, such as vitamin D, are lost.
More research is needed, but adding slowly digesting starch in the diet looks to improve health, help body retain nutrients and possibly even battle cancer by helping healthy microbes in the gut.
Resistant Starch is the subject of the latest health studies. Unlike other forms of starch, the small intestine does not digest resistant starch. Instead, it passes through and gets metabolized by the large intestine. Skipping the digestive process means that resistant starch gets turned into fuel. The fuel is then burned off quickly as energy, while some resistant starch remains to become prebiotics, food for the healthy bacteria that live in the gut.
Research is ongoing into the benefits of resistant starch, but it looks like it greatly benefits adults with type-2 diabetes, as well as precursors to the disease. Resistant starch can be found in legumes, beans, whole grains and some seeds, uncooked potatoes and unripe bananas, as well as other foods that are sourced from these ingredients such as bean flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and brown rice flour. Further sources of resistant starch are foods that have been cooked and cooled, changing the structure of the starch. Even when reheated, the changed structure remains. These foods include leftovers such as white rice, pasta and potatoes.
Further studies indicate that while resistant starch may not help to lose weight, it can help to maintain and control weight thanks to the ability to increase feelings of satisfaction.