Australian scientists now think a type of starch - which for decades has been considered next to useless - may be more important than fibre in protecting against bowel cancer. "We are now discovering that resistant starch, which has long-been considered "empty calories", has an important role to play in bowel health," senior CSIROscientist David Topping said on Tuesday. Its importance was realised once scientists discovered not all starch is digested in the small intestine. Resistant starch, the significant amount which escapes into the large bowel, is now known to be a key protector against bowel cancer. "This kind of starch has the potential to become even more important than dietary fibre," Dr Topping continued. "Resistant starch is found in undercooked vegetables, partly-cooked pasta, baked beans, white and brown bread, and brown rice, so long as they're not chewed too much." "Undercooked starch foods which have not been "broken open'' by cooking, escape digestion and pass into the colon where they release substances which protect against colorectal cancer," he added. Dr Topping, who works at CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition in Adelaide, says scientists started to understand the importance of resistant starch after noting populations in Africa, Japan and China had low rates of bowel cancer but ate less fibre than Westerners. However, they did eat significantly more starch. "Increasing our starch consumption may well prove important in the fight to lower the levels of bowel cancer in Australia,'' Topping said in a statement. According to the CSIRO scientist Australia has one of the world's highest bowel cancer rates but the lowest starch intakes. By doubling Australian consumption of starch to 800,000 tonnes a year, Topping maintained that it could significantly decrease the risk of colon cancer and disease of the large bowel, including constipation and diverticular disease. Dr Topping says scientists have known about resistant starch for more than a decade but have found it very hard to measure. However, technological progress has made its measurement less difficult and the CSIRO is now working with industry to develop suitable methodologies.