By Sean Zucker –
Every now and then there comes some news that simply seems too good to be true. A study out of Japan, for example, that claims eating ice cream for breakfast can make people smarter.
Not convinced? Well, perhaps it would be wise to consider the potential health benefits of having a scoop or two of Rocky Road alongside that espresso in the morning. An earlier and separate British research project reported that eating a sumptuous bowl of ice cream makes an individual happier.
The Japanese extremely cool findings are the result of work by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Tokyo’s Kyorin University. His research involved having participants eat ice cream immediately after waking up. They were then assigned a series of digital mental exercises to be performed on a computer. When compared to a control group that did not dip into ice cream for breakfast, Koga found that these participants exhibited faster reaction times and superior information-processing capabilities, according to The Telegraph.
Koga attributed the testing disparity to a mental boost provided by enhanced alertness thanks to the morning dessert. He added that eating the ice cream seemingly reduced mental irritation, making the participants appear less cranky and, well, apparently smarter. While the Kyorin University study was small and far from definitive, it followed similar research prompting the health benefits of eating cream, albeit not for breakfast.
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London sought to prove that ice cream indisputably makes people happy. They tested their position by having eight graduate and postgraduate students receive fMRI brain scans while eating ice cream. A fMRI works by detecting local changes in blood flow in areas of the brain that are engaged in some form of mental activity. The eight students involved in the study were chosen due to their formality with the device, which hopefully prevented them from being especially nervous or curious during the scans.
As the students enjoyed their desserts, the fMRI showed positive changes in parts of the brain known to be activated when someone is really enjoying themselves, aka the pleasure areas. This included the orbitofrontal cortex, a major processing area at the front of the brain. However, one major caveat to the results is that it was overseen by Unilever Ice Cream in Europe. This was the only ice cream used in the trials. Despite this, Unilever and the researchers celebrated the results.
“We all know that eating an ice cream is one of life’s pleasures. It’s fun to eat and has very positive memory associations with childhood, holidays, sunshine and good times,” reported Don Darling, then vice-president of development for Unilever. “However, this is the first time that we’ve been able to show that ice cream makes you happy. Just one spoonful of Carte D’Or lights up the happy zones of the brain in clinical trials.”
These two studies inspired some outlets, such as Food & Wine, to detail the best ways to consume the treat first thing in the morning. The culinary magazine recommends either coffee or black tea-infused ice cream, to essentially double dip with a morning stable of caffeine. Food & Wine also suggests ice cream made with fruits, vegetables or granola just to add some nutritional value to the otherwise tasty portion.
Of course, these results and recommendations shouldn’t inspire anyone to inhale a carton of Ben and Jerry’s for breakfast. Ice cream is filled with no-no’s and littered with sugar. Additionally, the sweet treat is high in calories, cholesterol and carbs, while being exceedingly low in nutrients. Due to this, eating ice cream regularly can substantially increase one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, PBS reports. The organization adds that ice cream also is considered an ultra-processed food and has even been linked with non-alcoholic fatty liver caused by a build-up of fat in the organ. This is typically only seen in people who are overweight or obese.
Now, no one ever said being happy and being unhealthy were mutually exclusive so there’s no need to swear off ice cream entirely. While it might not be great for the body, it may help the brain. And anyone who’s ever had it can confirm it has the ability to create joy.