Resistant Starch and IBS

Resistant starch is a part of our diet that has been receiving attention recently in the research world due to its potential for enhancing health. Let's take a look at what resistant starch is, what role it may play in our overall health, and whether it is friend or foe to a person who has IBS.

Bunch of green bananas
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What Is Resistant Starch?

Resistant starch "resists" digestion and absorption in the stomach and small intestine. This means that it arrives in your large intestine in an intact state. In the large intestine, it is thus available for fermentation by gut bacteria.

Health Benefits of Resistant Starch

One of the main reasons that resistant starch is gaining some attention is due to its potential benefits in addressing our current obesity, diabetes, and heart disease crises. Since resistant starch is not digested, its consumption does not cause blood sugar or insulin levels to rise. This puts it in sharp contrast to many of the high-carbohydrate foods that make up a large portion of the standard American diet.

Another reason resistant starch is seen as having possible health-enhancing qualities has to do with what happens to it when it reaches the large intestine. In the large intestine, resistant starch is fermented by gut bacteria. One result of this fermentation is the release of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), most notably one called butyrate. SCFAs, and especially butyrate, are thought to play an important role in colon health, cancer prevention, and reduction of inflammation.

Lastly, resistant starch is thought to play a prebiotic role, increasing the number of helpful bacteria in the gut.

Given this, researchers are beginning to find evidence that resistant starch may have benefits for the following conditions:

Foods That Contain Resistant Starch

As you will see, foods that contain resistant starch are those that you might typically describe as being "starchy":

  • Bananas (unripe)
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Plantains
  • Potatoes (raw)
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

For some foods, resistant starch content goes up when foods are cooked and then cooled, such as rice and potatoes.

Resistant Starch and FODMAPs

For those of you who are versed in the low-FODMAP diet, you know that FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates. This raises the question: what is the relationship between resistant starch and FODMAPs?

The science is complex, but it is safe to say that FODMAPs are certain kinds of carbohydrates that differ from resistant starch, although both may be present in the same foods. Resistant starch, as we have already discussed, is fermentable, but its gas output is much smaller than that of the FODMAPs. FODMAP researchers actually suggest that people on the low-FODMAP diet make it a point to consume resistant starch for its beneficial effects on gut bacteria. This recommendation comes from the concern that it is unknown what the long-term effect of FODMAP restriction is on the bacterial balance within the gut.

Resistant Starch and IBS

There does not appear to be any direct research on the relationship between resistant starch and IBS. However, given its potential for enhancing a favorable balance of gut bacteria and reducing inflammation, it would seem that resistant starch holds the promise of being helpful. Given its additional overall health benefits, you may want to consider increasing your intake. However, because it is a fermentable substance, it may be safest to try to add more resistant starch to your diet slowly to ensure that your body can tolerate it without exacerbating your IBS symptoms.

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