Dr Janine Higgins, based at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Centre, will tell health professionals in Australia this week that the fibre may have an important role in weight management.
A small study by the researcher, published in the October 2004 issue of Nutrition and Metabolism, demonstrated that replacing 5.4 per cent of the carbohydrate content in a meal with resistant starch significantly increased lipid oxidation in adult subjects.
Dr Higgins, carrying out further work on a resistant starch marketed by National Starch, believes it could therefore decrease fat accumulation in the long-term.
"Our research has shown just by eating a meal containing resistant starch, you can burn 20-25 per cent more fat and this increase is sustained throughout the day, even if only one meal contains resistant starch," she said. "Also, we have just shown that this effect is sustained if you keep eating resistant starch on a daily basis."
Resistant starch is any starch that is not digested in the upper digestive tract but passes to the large bowel where it is an available substrate for fermentation.
"The resistant starch actually changes the order in which the body burns food. Usually carbohydrates are used first, but resistant starch seems to move fat to the top of the list to be burned for energy before it has a chance to be stored," said Dr Higgins.
The researcher believes that over time, this effect could cause an increase in lean body mass and a decrease in fat stores. An increase in lean body mass could help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
"Having more lean mass can provide metabolic benefits on a continuing basis as it is lean body mass that drives your metabolism. Also, burning more fat spares carbohydrate which means more energy for us to use in exercise or just day-to-day life," Dr Higgins explained.
Resistant starch can be found naturally in cold cooked potatoes, pasta and rice as well as baked beans and lentils.
National Starch markets Hi-maize brand resistant starch, developed by Penford Australia using specially bred corn. The colourless and flavourless ingredient is currently being used in some bread and cereal products on the market.
The company claims that it is easy to add resistant starch to the diet, making it an easier weight loss regime than other diets that are too difficult to stick to in the long-term.