We hear so much hype about carbs, low carb diets and whether carbs or good for you or not. And what about sugar? Carbohydrates Explained Simply is a series of three articles outlining the key types of carbohydrates we eat, what the difference is, and what sorts of carbs might be right for you.
Very basically, carbohydrates are your brain’s primary fuel source and a major source of energy that keeps your body going….and fibrous carbs are required for healthy digestion and bowel movements.
In other words, we all need some form of carbohydrate each day just to function!
Let’s start by looking at
- the three main types of carbohydrates,
- what they do,
- the best dietary sources, and
- recommended intakes for each type of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates Explained Simply – The 3 Main Types of Carbs
The three main types of carbohydrates are:
- Starches (aka complex carbohydrates) (Part 1 – this article)
- Sugars (aka simple carbohydrates) (Part 2)
- Fibre (Part 3)
These three types of carbohydrates are found in plant foods – grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
There are no carbohydrates in meat, fish, poultry, fats or oils. There is an exception – sugars, which are also found in dairy foods (milk products).
Carbohydrates Explained Simply Part 1
Starches are found mostly in grains (think wheat, oats, barley etc) and legumes (think kidney beans, chick peas, lentils etc), potatoes and corn.
Starch is a main energy source for the body and it provides bulk in your stools (feces). That’s why people on a low carb diet tend to produce fewer, smaller stools – they’re eating less starch.
If you’re cutting down on sugar, it’s important to make sure you get enough starch or natural sugars – around one handful per main meal.
Because your body needs SOME carbohydrate and if you cut out all sugars and starches, you will probably get insatiable cravings for carbs.
Resistant starch (RS) is a type of starch which isn’t easily digested and absorbed. RS is important for a healthy digestive system (more below). There are four types of ‘resistant’ starch (RS), of which three can be broken down by the body:
As you can probably guess, Types 1 – 3 are important for various reasons, and Type 4 should be avoided because it’s synthetic (3).
Why Resistant Starch is Important
Recent studies show that resistant starch is important for (1, 2)
- feeding gut bacteria (acting as a ‘pre-biotic’) and improving the gut biome
- improving colon health
- increasing metabolism
- decreasing inflammation
- improving stress resistance
- improving insulin sensitivity (which is important for weight loss)
- decreasing appetite
- decreasing fat storage in cells.
How does starch provide all these benefits?
Your intestinal bacteria break down RS to make several short chain fatty acids, including butyrate. Butyrate is a key energy source for your gut and it also provides many of the benefits listed above.
Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, some people don’t cope with starch very well.
People with any sort of gut flora imbalances or digestive issues might not tolerate RS very well, and could suffer from bloating, pain or other symptoms.
And some people have real challenges eating grains, legumes and/or other carb-rich foods.
What happens then? How do you get enough resistant starch?
The Best Way to Consume Resistant Starch
Here are 4 scenarios for special needs:
- If you’re sensitive to grains/gluten intolerant, get your RS from Types 2 and 3.
- If you’re sensitive to legumes, get your RS from Type 2, and Type 3 (rice and potatoes).
- If you’re on a low carb diet, get your RS from Type 1 Seeds and Type 3 legumes. A potato starch like Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch can be used to supplement RS intake. You can use it to thicken sauces, add to soups, or mix with eggs.
- If you have a disrupted gut that’s sensitive to starch, look to using bananas, butter oil (for butyrate – see more below) and potato starch. Experiment to see what sits comfortably in your stomach.
In any case, RS seems to be best tolerated:
- in solid food (rather than liquid e.g. a supplement)
- consumed with other foods (not alone) (3).
If you have trouble with carb-rich foods, there is another way to get butyrate – from BUTTER – following a method used by Weston A Price where butter oil and cod liver oil are combined (2).
Recommended Intake of Resistant Starch
The ideal intake seems to be 6 – 20g per day of resistant starch, with >40g potentially causing digestive problems (3).
In one day, that looks something like this:
- a serve of baked beans (10.76g), or
- a serve of hummus (4.1g) and 10 cashews (10g), or
- a serve of rolled oats (8.5g), or
- a serve of real soba noodles (buckwheat flour) (16g).
Get the idea?
Here is a list of foods and their resistant starch content, to help you get started.
What would be the easiest way for you to get resistant starch in your diet?
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I'm a quirky scientist and a Health and Wellness Coach who helps 35+ women to understand and eat right for their body type.