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JUN 12, 2024

Boost Your Gut Health with Leftover Carbs

Discover how leftover carbs like pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes can improve digestion and support gut bacteria with our simple tips and recipes.

Read time: 12 minutes

When we think about improving our gut health, the word ‘carbs’ doesn’t exactly come off as inspirational. In fact, for many people, carbs is a bad word. But you may not be aware that there’s a super simple, incredibly effective way to support your gut. And the secret can actually be found in your leftovers. Specifically, leftover carbs like pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes. Alright, now we’ve piqued your interest, let's explore why these leftovers are so beneficial and how you can easily incorporate them into your diet.

The Magic of Resistant Starch

So, what makes these leftover carbs so special? The answer is resistant starch.

Resistant starch is a type of starch that resists digestion in the small intestine and reaches the colon intact. This resistance to digestion is what gives it its name.

Meaning, when you cook carbs like pasta, rice, or potatoes, the starch granules absorb water and swell up, losing their crystalline structure. And, if you let these foods cool after cooking, the starch chains realign and form a new structure that is resistant to digestion. This process is known as retrogradation. Essentially, the carbs have transformed into resistant starch, which behaves very differently in your body compared to freshly cooked carbs.

Benefits of Resistant Starch

Feeds Your Gut Bacteria

One of the most significant benefits of resistant starch is that it acts as a prebiotic. Instead of being digested and absorbed in the small intestine, resistant starch travels to the large intestine, where it becomes food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This process helps maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which is essential for overall digestive health.

Improves Digestion and Regularity

Because resistant starch isn't fully digested, it acts like a plough, moving through your intestines, helping to keep things moving smoothly. This can improve digestion and reduce constipation, making your trips to the bathroom more regular and comfortable.

Reduces Caloric Density

Resistant starch is also less likely to be absorbed by your body, which means it has fewer calories than regular starch. This can be beneficial if you're looking to manage your weight without giving up your favorite carb-heavy foods.

Lowers Glycemic Load

Eating carbs that have been cooked and cooled can also help manage your blood sugar levels. Resistant starch has a lower glycemic load, meaning it takes longer for your blood sugar to rise after eating. This can be especially helpful for people with diabetes or those looking to avoid blood sugar spikes.

Easy Tips to Incorporate Resistant Starch into Your Diet

Enjoy Leftover Pasta, Rice, and Potatoes

Next time you cook pasta, rice, or potatoes, why not make a little extra and save the leftovers in the fridge? Eating them cold or reheated (just once to avoid food poisoning) can provide you with a good dose of resistant starch. Think pasta salads, cold potato salads, or reheated rice as part of a stir-fry.

Freeze and Toast Your Bread

You can increase the resistant starch content of your bread by freezing it, then thawing and toasting it. This simple trick can make your morning toast or sandwich a bit healthier for your gut.

Include Other Sources of Resistant Starch

Don't forget that other foods are naturally high in resistant starch. Oats, beans, and legumes are excellent sources. Try overnight oats for breakfast, bean salads for lunch, or lentil soups for dinner to boost your intake.

Avoid Reheating Multiple Times

While reheating leftovers can increase resistant starch, it's important not to reheat them multiple times. Repeated reheating can increase the risk of food poisoning. Stick to reheating your leftovers just once.

Simple Recipes to Get You Started

Cold Pasta Salad


  • 2 cups cooked pasta (fusilli, penne, or farfalle work well)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup cucumber, diced
  • 1 cup bell peppers (red, yellow, or green), diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup black olives, sliced (optional)
  • 1 cup grilled chicken breast, diced (or chickpeas for a vegetarian option)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and let it cool completely.
  2. While the pasta is cooling, chop the vegetables (cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, red onion) and any additional ingredients like black olives.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the cooled pasta, chopped vegetables, and protein (grilled chicken or chickpeas).
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, dried oregano, salt, and pepper.
  5. Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture and toss until everything is well coated.

Potato Salad


  • 4 large potatoes (Yukon Gold or Russet), peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt (or a mix of both)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (optional)


  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together mayonnaise or Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, and apple cider vinegar.
  3. Add the cooled potatoes, celery, green onions, and hard-boiled eggs (if using) to the bowl with the dressing. Mix gently to combine.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Overnight Oats


  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup milk or milk alternative (almond milk, soy milk, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/2 cup mixed fruits (berries, banana slices, or chopped apple)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
  • Nuts or seeds for topping (optional)


  1. In a jar or bowl, combine the rolled oats, milk, Greek yogurt, honey or maple syrup, and vanilla extract (if using).
  2. Stir in the mixed fruits and chia seeds (if using).
  3. Mix everything together until well combined.
  4. Cover the jar or bowl and place it in the fridge overnight.
  5. In the morning, give the oats a good stir and top with additional fruits, nuts, or seeds if desired.

Better Gut Health Has Never Been Easier

See, improving your gut health doesn't have to be complicated or costly. By simply eating leftover carbs like pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes, you can harness the power of resistant starch to feed your beneficial gut bacteria, improve digestion, reduce the caloric density of your meals, and manage your blood sugar levels. So, next time you cook, make a little extra and enjoy the benefits of those leftovers. Your gut will thank you!

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.


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