Eating ice cream first thing in the morning makes people more mentally alert, according to a study by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Kyorin Univeristy in Tokyo, and published on the Japanese website Excite News. At least, that's the story reported in several publications large and small, most notably The Telegraph. The study itself does not appear to have been published in English, so it's tough to verify or review. But the concept is intriguing because it does make some kind of sense.
According to the Telegraph story, subjects were told to eat ice cream upon first awakening, and then had their mental acuity tested by performing tasks on a computer. Those who'd eaten ice cream performed better and had faster reaction times, researchers found. To test whether ice cream shocks people into alertness just because it's cold, the researchers repeated the experiment with cold water. The cold water subjects did also demonstrate improved mental performance, but not as much as those who'd eaten ice cream.
Breakfast vs. no breakfast.
Why does this make sense? In general, people who eat something early in the day may be more alert than those who eat nothing, Katie Barfoot, a nutritional psychology researcher at Reading University told The Telegraph. In addition, she says, high glucose (sugar) foods will indeed aid mental capacity significantly compared to not eating. She suggested a study to compare the effects of high glucose food, low glucose food, and eating nothing first thing in the morning in order to get a better understanding of the phenomenon.
Then there's the fact that ice cream has been scientifically proven to make people happy. In 2005, researchers at the Institute of Psychology in London scanned people's brains as they were eating vanilla ice cream and found that just a spoonful activated the same pleasure centers in the brain as winning money or listening to a favorite piece of music. Scientist have long known that happiness improves brain function in itself.
Sugar just isn't good for you.
But there's another side to this story, and it's one raised eloquently by Business Insider's Rafi Letzter in his plea to fellow journalists to stop advising people to eat ice cream for breakfast: It's a really bad idea. Research has shown that sugar is harmful in many ways. Ironically, in the long run it will increase your risk of depression, reduce your brain function, and make you more susceptible to Alzheimer's. If you want to be smart (or have a long, healthy life), eating sweets every morning for breakfast is the last thing you should do.
What should you make of all this? First, there are dozens if not hundreds of new studies published each day on the Internet. It's smart to look closely at the research, consider the organization that published the studies, and ask yourself if it is reputable, seems to have highly qualified scientists on board, and whether it has a stake in the study's results. For instance, the Council for Tobacco Research might have an agenda when it conducts research into whether cigarettes cause lung cancer. In this case, both the researcher and the institution seem to be legit, but the lack of available information on the study, at least in English, or any comments from Kago, make it hard to evaluate properly.
As far as making ice cream your a regular breakfast goes, don't do it. In fact, the less sugar you eat, the better brain function you'll have in the long term. But on a rare day when you're headed to a job interview or have to make an important presentation? Perhaps just a spoonful wouldn't hurt.