Can a starch save your life? Resistant starches—complex carbs found in foods like beans—can help you fight colon cancer, lose weight, and improve digestion, according to a new study review in Current Opinion in Gastroenterology.
If you haven’t heard of them before, resistant starches fit somewhere in between fibers and starches, says registered dietitian Toby Amidor, founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition in New York City. Because they don’t get digested by your small intestine, they escape to your large intestine (a.k.a. your colon) intact.
That’s where the magic happens: “Resistant starches ferment to produce good-for-you bacteria,” says Amidor. And since they’ve been found to lower inflammation, intake is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.
Another benefit: These starches stick around in your lower gut for longer, helping to boost satiety after meals so you won’t feel hungry 5 minutes after cleaning your plate. That’s likely why they’ve been associated with weight control. Since you don’t digest resistant starches, your body probably doesn’t absorb all of the food’s calories.
So how much should you eat? While there’s no official recommendation, Amidor says 15 to 20 grams a day is a good goal. Right now, you’re most likely under the mark—research suggests guys on average eat only about 6 grams a day. Two slices of pumpernickel bread contain about 2 grams of resistant starches, one cup of uncooked oats provides about 9 grams, and a half cup of white beans offers more than 5 grams.
But you’re more likely to hit that goal by aiming to get enough fiber. Guys need 38 grams a day, so focus on heart-healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—all of which contain resistant starches.