Think carbohydrates are the enemy? You’ve not met the new class of super-carb which promises anti-ageing benefits, weight loss and better health, says Jayney Goddard
There’s so much confusion around carbohydrates these days. Some experts tell us to avoid them and follow an Atkins-type of programme while others advise us to ‘carb up’, and both sides of the argument are equally compelling – at first glance.
However, all carbohydrates are not created equal, and my general rule of thumb is to try to make life as easy as possible by simplifying things. We are all so busy that we need quick and effective nutrition and lifestyle solutions that really work.
My position on the debate is that carbs are not the evil things that they are made out to be – if you are eating the right type.
We all know that refined, processed sugars are lethal for our health and looks. In fact, it is one of the most devastatingly ageing things we can have. Eating simple, refined sugars dramatically promotes the formation of advanced glycation end-products – appropriately called AGEs. These molecules make us age rapidly by causing proteins in our bodies, such as the collagen we need for structure, to stiffen. This causes untold damage to us internally as it compromises many of our organs’ ability to function and even leads to their total failure. AGEs also affect our skin – causing it to wrinkle as the collagen stiffens, breaks and collapses. So simple, processed, refined carbohydrates – such as sugar – must be avoided. Conversely, complex carbohydrates found in their natural state in plant-based whole foods have huge benefits in that they are wrapped up in hugely beneficial phyto-chemicals (including vitamins and minerals) that are intensely health-enhancing.
In this article, we are going to look at a fascinating group of carbohydrates which provide us with far greater health benefits than just energy. These are the resistant starches (RS) and are currently one of the most intensely researched foods.
This starch – as the name suggests – is not digested in the small intestine as it ‘resists’ digestion. Instead, your gut bacteria process it, and this creates beneficial molecules that promote balanced blood sugar and healthy gut flora.
Resistant starch has many helpful functions and one of these is that it is a prebiotic. Prebiotics are a form of food that our healthy gut bacteria feed on and when we have an abundance of healthy bacteria, nasty ones are crowded out. Our healthy microbiome is connected to virtually every aspect of our wellbeing – mentally, emotionally and physically. When your good bacteria flourish, they can then get on with the job of vitamin production, hormone regulation, toxin excretion and the creation of healing compounds that keep your gut – and you - healthy and functioning properly.
Imbalances of healthy and unhealthy bacteria (known as gut dysbiosis) are implicated in obesity, heart disease, autoimmune illness, diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and many cancers.
Furthermore, due to the gut-brain axis and the way that our guts produce important neuro-transmitters, including gut serotonin, bacterial imbalance is also connected with emotional and cognitive disorders including anxiety, autism and depression.
When our gut bacteria levels are well balanced, there’s optimal production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which provide your colon cells with fuel. One of these – butyrate – can prevent cancer, speed up your metabolism and reduce inflammation. It also heals your gut and prevents leaky gut syndrome, which promotes food allergies, autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation and weight gain.
Resistant starch improves your metabolism and blood sugar levels while enhancing your gut flora, and this helps to support weight loss. It can also improve insulin sensitivity and reduces your blood sugar following meals. This means that it can help reverse type 2 diabetes – if a healthy diet is also followed. For example, in one study, just 15 to 30 grams of potato starch improved insulin sensitivity and fat loss in obese men. Studies also show resistant starch provides cardiovascular benefits. Researchers found adding it to your diet improves your blood fats (triglyceride and cholesterol levels) while also decreasing fat mass.
Add resistant starch to your diet:
1) Cook, then cool your starches. This process changes starches and how your body digests them, decreasing insulin spikes and feeding good bacteria. For example, cool pasta or potatoes after cooking, and place in the fridge for a few hours before eating, or reheat them for an extra hit.
2) Eat plenty of complex, unrefined carbohydrates. Healthy guts thrive on a wholefood, plant-based diet which provides plenty of nutrient-dense, fibrerich foods. Try to increase your intake of broccoli, aubergine, courgettes, green beans and asparagus.
3) Eat prebiotic-rich foods to feed your gut bacteria. Add raw chicory and dandelion leaves into salads. Try to incorporate bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic and leeks into your diet daily.
4) Mix potato starch (easily and cheaply available online or in health shops) into a glass of water or a glass of cold or room temperature almond milk. It gives a pleasant potato taste and is the easiest way to start adding resistant starch to your diet. I also sprinkle it to my smoothies or coconut milk yoghurt. You can do the same with inulin, another powdered starch that’s easily available.
A word about bloating
Resistant starch can alter the bacteria balance in your gut and cause gas, known as the ‘die-off effect’. Once good bacteria enter, they fight it out with the bad bacteria. As a result, you may experience gas and bloating. Once your system adjusts, this improves – so stick with it. I recommend beginning with adding about two dessert spoonfuls of resistant starch to your diet each day. Add one dessert spoonful into a smoothie at breakfast and another before bed. As the good bacteria crowd out the bad ones, the die-off will decrease and eventually go away.
Jayney is an anti-ageing guru, and a world-leading expert in complementary medicine. See more of Jayney’s anti-ageing tips at JayneyGoddard.org
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