Ask EN

July 2015 Issue

Quick-Cooking Grains Make Healthful Choices; GABA Supplements for Anxiety

Q. Is there a difference between whole grains and quick-cooking whole grains?
AEating whole grains, like oatmeal or brown rice, is good for your health but they can take a long time to prepare from scratch. The time it takes to cook whole grains, such as brown rice or farro, from scratch is more than many people are willing to spend for a busy weeknight meal. Many food companies offer parboiled rice, or quick-cooking cereal grains. The manufacturing processes that make these otherwise long-cooking foods more convenient to cook may involve steaming, grinding, or actually pre-cooking to completion and then freezing, canning or vacuum packing. There may be a loss of some nutrients during this process, especially water-soluble ones such as the B vitamins, but the losses are usually minimal. Fiber, one of the benefits of eating whole grain foods, is maintained during these processes. And, there is an added benefit from pre-cooking whole grains for people with diabetes: Brown rice (or even white rice) which has been parboiled has a lower glycemic index than conventional rice, which means that it will not raise blood sugar as much as the same rice cooked from scratch.  
—Sharon Salomon, MS, RD

Q. Do GABA supplements really help anxiety?
AYour brain produces gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA,) a chemical which helps calm nervous activity and relieve anxiety. In fact, anxiety disorders and panic attacks may result from insufficient levels of GABA in the brain. So, it’s not surprising that a supplemental form of this chemical was developed, with hopes that it might work as a natural tranquilizer or anti-anxiety treatment. Indeed, GABA supplements are widely promoted for their supposed anxiety, mood, and sleep benefits by supplement makers. However, when GABA is taken orally, levels in the brain do not increase, so it does not appear to be effective in the treatment of anxiety, though it may have some effects on the peripheral nervous system. Interestingly, GABA supplements have shown some blood pressure benefits, though more research is needed to support these findings. As with any dietary supplement, it’s important to discuss the use of GABA with your health care practitioner, as it may interact with other medications.
—Diana Cullum Dugan, RDN, LDN

Write to us if you have a question. We’ll answer those of most interest to our readers. We regret, however, that we cannot personally respond. Send to: Environmental Nutrition, P.O. Box 5656, Norwalk, CT 06856-5656. Phone: 800-829 5384 Fax: 203-857-3103