Gut Microbiology, Resistant Starch, and Green Plantain Chips

“You are only 10% of who you think you are.” – Richard Nikoley

“Jac, you should write a quick blog about this. Honestly, it’s awesome.” said Nat over a cloudy beverage this morning. 

“Totally!” Mom agreed, holding a similarly cloudy beverage, “I think people would find it really interesting.” 

The contents of the cloudy beverage, and the subject of this quick article, is a little something that has been taking the Paleo world by storm = resistant starch. 

Resistant starch is something of a revelation for me, rivalling the first food revelation I had about 5 years ago that low fat diets were stupid (thanks again and always Sean Croxton). I say revelation because resistant starch pretty well knocked me on my ass for two reasons:

  • It totally overthrew my belief that all carbs should be eaten in moderation, and starches most especially.
  • It immediately brought the concept of gut microbe ecology to its rightful, central place in my own understanding of health.

What’s more, it was a total “duh, why didn’t I think of that?” moment, and it has yielded some interesting new ingestibles. 

What is resistant starch?
Resistant starch is a group of 3 starches of the 50 or so structures of starch that we now know of. These resistant starches are unique from the other starches because they are “resistant” to our human digestion abilities. This means that these special starches make their way to our large intestines intact and feed the little critters who can break them down (and benefit us, but more on this in a second). They’re found in a few foods, but in large quantity in starchy tubers, plantains, green bananas, grains, legumes, and a few other foods you can read about here.  

Why should we care?
Well, because we are more bacteria than we are human – about 10 to 1 if we’re talking in terms of cell number. 10 to 1! What’s more, a great number of these non-human cells live in our guts and we depend on them to break down our food, balance some of our hormones and neurotransmitters, and provide (ahem) bulk to our #2’s. In return for these services we provide those critters with food and a stable, safe place to live. 

Pretty cool right? 

Something that comes to mind for me when I first started to learn about resistant starch and gut ecology is how plants and fungi evolved together. According to present understanding, plants as we know them actually wouldn’t have been able to colonize land like they did without the micorrhizal fungi that increase the surface area of their roots, enabling them to take up more nutrients and water, among other things – and vice versa. (It’s really fascinating to note how such great feats in nature are dependent on these types of symbiotic relationships.)

mycorrhiza image

(Photo credit: http://soil-environment.blogspot.ca/2010/08/role-of-mycorrhiza-in-mineral-nutrition.html)

For me, with this in mind, it clicked that humans owe a large part of our success to these tiny microbes. What’s more, we can also increase our understandings of health (and our actual health) in accepting this fact, and devote some time and care to how we treat these little guys in a modern world.

That brings us to my next point: the unfortunate fact that us modern humans are much cleaner, eat much more processed food, and take things like antibiotics – all of which aren’t friendly at all to our gut ecology. This means that nowadays, the gut bacteria that the average person is home to is very different from that of our ancestors in both diversity and population numbers

What’s the best way to deal with this?
That’s the good news! Based on about 30 years worth of research and a lot of recent citizen-science, one of the best ways we’ve found to deal with this is easy and cheap. 

The solution: feed our gut friends! 

I mentioned before that resistant starches are found in many places, but the easiest way to get a lot of it in your diet without having to chew on things like tiger nuts (even though they are apparently delicious) all day, is to add 2-4 tablespoons of Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch (I found it at Planet Organic for a whopping $4). Just add it in divided doses or all at once to a cup or two of water, and drink it. Many people take it mixed in juice, milk, or fermented foods too, so there’s a lot of wiggle room here. The only thing to careful of there is to ensure that you don’t bring the starch above 140 degrees Fahrenheit lest you want to turn your resistant starch into tiny, non-resistant starch popcorns.  

Here’s how I take mine:

Gut Lovin' Cocktail

2 tbs with a tsp of psyllium husk in water, and I take my probiotic along with it (and on an empty stomach when I’m on the ball).

Beware: You will fart more, but this is a good sign! This means our gut bacteria is partying as loads of perfect food falls from the sky. Aw. Don’t worry, there are a lot of reports of people’s fartage dying down after a few weeks (also, some say taking the starch away from meals equals less farts), and really the farts aren’t particularly odorous. 

What you should expect other than that immediately is a lot of health plusses: better, bulkier #2’s that ensure good colon health and detoxification, sounder sleep (healthy gut bugs create a healthy gut, which effects our brain chemistry), and better blood glucose regulation (diabetics are getting amazing results). In the long term, you can expect a more robust immune system, improved body composition, and improved mood. 

Goodies
Here’s a list of some foods that have resistant starch in them if you want to tinker on your own.
The American Gut Project: here’s where you can sign up in a research project to get your gut biome surveyed to see what strains of bacteria you have, and in what amounts and ratios.
Here’s Richard Nikoley’s blog, a treasure trove of resistant starch writing, research, experiments, and anecdotes. 

Lastly, here’s my recipe for a tasty way to get some resistant starch in your diet (alongside potato starch, or on its own). Dehydrated green plantain chips. I know, they sound questionable, but they’ve gotten the Mom, Hunt, and Nat seals of approval.

Green Plantain Chips

Prep Time: 15 Mins Cooking Time: 6 Hours Total Time: 6 Hours 15 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 4 Green Plantains (the greenest you can find!)
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil, melted
  • 2 tbs Himalayan Sea Salt
  • 2 tbs Herbes de Provence

Directions:

  1. Peel plantains. I find the easiest way to do this is to take a knife and draw it down the length of the plantain, and then peel it horizontally from the slit.
  2. Use a mandolin on it’s second-thinnest setting (1/8th of an inch on mine) to slice plantains into a large bowl, or cut them as thinly as you can. Dehydrating is a forgiving thing, so don’t worry if they aren’t uniformly sliced!
  3. Add 1 tbs of the salt to the plantains, and toss until they are evenly coated.
  4. Spread out plantains on your dehydrator shelves, or on thin baking sheets.
  5. Let dry in the dehydrator at 100° F for 5-6 hours, or in an oven on the lowest setting. Remove when crisp.
  6. Tip dried chips into a bowl and pour melted coconut oil, the remainder of the salt, and the Herbes de Provence (or any spice/herb that you’d like! Plain salt and pepper is really good too), and toss.

“You are only 10% of who you think you are.” – Richard Nikoley

“Jac, you should write a quick blog about this. Honestly, it’s awesome.” said Nat over a cloudy beverage this morning. 

“Totally!” Mom agreed, holding a similarly cloudy beverage, “I think people would find it really interesting.” 

The contents of the cloudy beverage, and the subject of this quick article, is a little something that has been taking the Paleo world by storm = resistant starch. 

Resistant starch is something of a revelation for me, rivalling the first food revelation I had about 5 years ago that low fat diets were stupid (thanks again and always Sean Croxton). I say revelation because resistant starch pretty well knocked me on my ass for two reasons:

  • It totally overthrew my belief that all carbs should be eaten in moderation, and starches most especially.
  • It immediately brought the concept of gut microbe ecology to its rightful, central place in my own understanding of health.

What’s more, it was a total “duh, why didn’t I think of that?” moment, and it has yielded some interesting new ingestibles. 

What is resistant starch?
Resistant starch is a group of 3 starches of the 50 or so structures of starch that we now know of. These resistant starches are unique from the other starches because they are “resistant” to our human digestion abilities. This means that these special starches make their way to our large intestines intact and feed the little critters who can break them down (and benefit us, but more on this in a second). They’re found in a few foods, but in large quantity in starchy tubers, plantains, green bananas, grains, legumes, and a few other foods you can read about here.  

Why should we care?
Well, because we are more bacteria than we are human – about 10 to 1 if we’re talking in terms of cell number. 10 to 1! What’s more, a great number of these non-human cells live in our guts and we depend on them to break down our food, balance some of our hormones and neurotransmitters, and provide (ahem) bulk to our #2’s. In return for these services we provide those critters with food and a stable, safe place to live. 

Pretty cool right? 

Something that comes to mind for me when I first started to learn about resistant starch and gut ecology is how plants and fungi evolved together. According to present understanding, plants as we know them actually wouldn’t have been able to colonize land like they did without the micorrhizal fungi that increase the surface area of their roots, enabling them to take up more nutrients and water, among other things – and vice versa. (It’s really fascinating to note how such great feats in nature are dependent on these types of symbiotic relationships.)

mycorrhiza image

(Photo credit: http://soil-environment.blogspot.ca/2010/08/role-of-mycorrhiza-in-mineral-nutrition.html)

For me, with this in mind, it clicked that humans owe a large part of our success to these tiny microbes. What’s more, we can also increase our understandings of health (and our actual health) in accepting this fact, and devote some time and care to how we treat these little guys in a modern world.

That brings us to my next point: the unfortunate fact that us modern humans are much cleaner, eat much more processed food, and take things like antibiotics – all of which aren’t friendly at all to our gut ecology. This means that nowadays, the gut bacteria that the average person is home to is very different from that of our ancestors in both diversity and population numbers

What’s the best way to deal with this?
That’s the good news! Based on about 30 years worth of research and a lot of recent citizen-science, one of the best ways we’ve found to deal with this is easy and cheap. 

The solution: feed our gut friends! 

I mentioned before that resistant starches are found in many places, but the easiest way to get a lot of it in your diet without having to chew on things like tiger nuts (even though they are apparently delicious) all day, is to add 2-4 tablespoons of Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch (I found it at Planet Organic for a whopping $4). Just add it in divided doses or all at once to a cup or two of water, and drink it. Many people take it mixed in juice, milk, or fermented foods too, so there’s a lot of wiggle room here. The only thing to careful of there is to ensure that you don’t bring the starch above 140 degrees Fahrenheit lest you want to turn your resistant starch into tiny, non-resistant starch popcorns.  

Here’s how I take mine:

Gut Lovin' Cocktail

2 tbs with a tsp of psyllium husk in water, and I take my probiotic along with it (and on an empty stomach when I’m on the ball).

Beware: You will fart more, but this is a good sign! This means our gut bacteria is partying as loads of perfect food falls from the sky. Aw. Don’t worry, there are a lot of reports of people’s fartage dying down after a few weeks (also, some say taking the starch away from meals equals less farts), and really the farts aren’t particularly odorous. 

What you should expect other than that immediately is a lot of health plusses: better, bulkier #2’s that ensure good colon health and detoxification, sounder sleep (healthy gut bugs create a healthy gut, which effects our brain chemistry), and better blood glucose regulation (diabetics are getting amazing results). In the long term, you can expect a more robust immune system, improved body composition, and improved mood. 

Goodies
Here’s a list of some foods that have resistant starch in them if you want to tinker on your own.
The American Gut Project: here’s where you can sign up in a research project to get your gut biome surveyed to see what strains of bacteria you have, and in what amounts and ratios.
Here’s Richard Nikoley’s blog, a treasure trove of resistant starch writing, research, experiments, and anecdotes. 

Lastly, here’s my recipe for a tasty way to get some resistant starch in your diet (alongside potato starch, or on its own). Dehydrated green plantain chips. I know, they sound questionable, but they’ve gotten the Mom, Hunt, and Nat seals of approval.

Green Plantain Chips

Prep Time: 15 Mins Cooking Time: 6 Hours Total Time: 6 Hours 15 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 4 Green Plantains (the greenest you can find!)
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil, melted
  • 2 tbs Himalayan Sea Salt
  • 2 tbs Herbes de Provence

Directions:

  1. Peel plantains. I find the easiest way to do this is to take a knife and draw it down the length of the plantain, and then peel it horizontally from the slit.
  2. Use a mandolin on it’s second-thinnest setting (1/8th of an inch on mine) to slice plantains into a large bowl, or cut them as thinly as you can. Dehydrating is a forgiving thing, so don’t worry if they aren’t uniformly sliced!
  3. Add 1 tbs of the salt to the plantains, and toss until they are evenly coated.
  4. Spread out plantains on your dehydrator shelves, or on thin baking sheets.
  5. Let dry in the dehydrator at 100° F for 5-6 hours, or in an oven on the lowest setting. Remove when crisp.
  6. Tip dried chips into a bowl and pour melted coconut oil, the remainder of the salt, and the Herbes de Provence (or any spice/herb that you’d like! Plain salt and pepper is really good too), and toss.

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About the author

Jacqui

Jacqui Cardinal is a writer and eater at the elevenses blog with the rest of the Cardinal family. Her column is "Epistéme" and explores the relationships of biology, food, and culture. When she's not blogging and eating, she's finishing her Bio and Sociology degree at the University of Alberta, you can reach her on Google+.

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6 Comments on “Gut Microbiology, Resistant Starch, and Green Plantain Chips

  1. Really cool, Jacqui

    You really nailed all the really important stuff. Thanks for the shouts out too. I popped this up on FB, Twitter and G+. Guess I’ll got hit Pinterest too, now.

    🙂

    Reply
    1. Thanks so much for the plugs and the comment! Way too cool, totally made my week.

      I really appreciate the work you (and Tim!) have put into bringing this stuff to light and can’t wait for your book!

      Cheers

      Reply
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  4. Or you can just use a potato peeler to get the skin off of the plantain.

    Oh yeah, and try putting the dehydrated bananas in a BlendTec (blender) and then you can grind them down to a very fine powder. -Mine turns into a very soft fine powder that just melts in water.

    I even made pancakes out of the flour. – egg, milk, butter, etc..

    Reply
    1. A blender! That’s a brilliant idea! I haven’t tried that just yet, but I think I will definitely give it a whirl.

      Thanks so much for commenting 🙂

      Reply

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