Whether it’s ingesting tapeworms, enduring ear stapling or tolerating temporary mummification in mineral-soaked body wraps, Americans will try just about anything to lose weight. As bathing suit season approaches, one LSU researcher is advocating a more sensible strategy to fighting the battle of the bulge.

LSU AgCenter Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences Michael Keenan’s research demonstrates resistant starch found in peas, beans, lentils, some plant starches and whole grains could help lower body fat.

For more than a decade, Keenan’s lab work with rodents has focused on how resistant starch affects body fat.

“The scientific work with rodents seems to indicate that if you meet the fiber requirement for humans … that may have an effect to reduce body fat,” Keenan says.

Starches are long chains of glucose found in grains and other foods. They are broken down in the small intestine and release energy to the body. But not all starches are digested. Small parts can pass through the digestive tract unchanged. In other words, they are resistant to digestion.

These starches help lower fat levels because they have less energy — and consequently fewer calories — than other starches. They also promote the fermentation by bacteria that can affect hormones, body fat, glucose and glycemic index levels in a way that encourages weight loss, Keenan says.

Bacteria in the large intestine ferment the resistant starch. That process creates short fatty acids, which bolster immune, gastrointestinal and kidney health.

Furthermore, Keenan speculates that people don’t need to eat very much to receive the benefit. Men can meet their requirement by consuming 1.34 ounces (about eight tablespoons) of resistant starches daily. Women need even less — 0.88 ounces, or a little less than 5½ tablespoons.

The natural weight-loss potential of foods high in resistant starches is underutilized because people “are just not eating enough whole food,” Keenan concludes. “We’re eating too much processed food.

“Processed is not a bad word because most everything has to be processed to make it edible,” he continues. “When we overprocess and overrefine, we lose valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber.”

Unfortunately, not everyone responds to resistant starch. So, scientists are now trying to explain that discrepancy and improve individuals’ chances of exploiting the natural compound’s potential. But, either way, there is good reason to incorporate resistant starch foods into a healthy diet, the researcher says.

Keenan says it’s important to consume more whole foods and high-fiber foods with starches that digest at various speeds because each category offers unique health benefits.

“It’s going to have a positive impact on overall health and, if we eat enough fermentable fiber, it may lead to reduced body fat,” he says.

Keenan was recently awarded $499,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has received a $114,000 grant from Ingredion, an Illinois-based business that, according to its website, turns corn, tapioca, wheat, potatoes and other raw materials into ingredients used in the food, beverage, brewing and pharmaceutical sectors. In collaboration with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and University of California Davis, he and LSU Animal Sciences colleague Kai Aryana are also participating in human resistant-starch studies funded by a total of $1.6 million in grants.