The digestibility of the starch in plant foods is highly variable, and is dependent on a number of factors, including the physical structure of both the starch and the food matrix. An in vitro technique has been developed to categorize starch in plant foods according to its likely rate and extent of digestion in the human small intestine. The in vitro method provides values for rapidly digestible starch, slowly digestible starch and resistant starch (RS). In the present study values for the RS content of foods, as measured by the analytical technique, were compared with the recovery of starch from these foods when fed to healthy ileostomates. Nine ileostomy subjects were given a polysaccharide-free diet with a breakfast supplement, on each of 2 d (two subjects) or 3 d (seven subjects), of biscuits made from wheat, potato or banana flours or from moist-heat-processed wheat or maize flours. RS intakes measured in vifro ranged from 8·5 to 15·0 g/d for the test biscuits, and mean starch recoveries in ileostomy effluent were 100·4 (n5, range 91−106)% of those values, but there was substantial variation between individuals. It is proposed that RS is defined as ‘the sum of starch and starch-degradation products that, on average, reach the human large intestine’. The analytical method for the measurement of RS in vitro based on this definition is shown to provide an accurate prediction of the average amount of starch that is likely to escape complete digestion and absorption in the human small intestine.