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First, before I get slammed by everyone for this seemingly "outrageous" question -- I have to say, I am highly doubtful and leery of this claim, which is why I'm asking. Actually, I am fairly certain this claim is wrong just based on all the recent studies done on sugar recently and the lack of data in this supposed study, but I would welcome being "wrong" in this case. haha. (like I need another excuse to eat ice cream?)

My friend is currently in a nutritionist course while at college (though it's a 100 level course), and she very briefly reiterated to me a lecture her prof gave wherein he talked about how eating ice cream could actually improve mental concentration if eaten in the morning? I pressed for more details, but she had finals and was in a hurry... but she very quickly dished out this "study": International Business Times: Eating Ice-Cream for Breakfast May Improve Mental Alertness...But, as you can see, there really isn't an explanation or much details.

So, let's say if this study were to be true, how does this ice cream improve mental performance? And what are alpha waves, and how do they relate to this discussion?

Also, does anyone have more details on this study?

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That study does indeed exist, and several outlets (1, 2, 3, 4) refer to it. It was conducted by Yoshihiko Koga, a japanese psychiatrist and professor at Kyorin University. It was originally cited, but not linked to, in the japanese website Excite.co.jp. I could not, however, find a link to the paper itself. The abovementioned outlets link to the supposed publication that mentions that study, but the link is broken. So while we cannot discuss the contents of the paper itself, we can look at the claims made by the media outlets that referred to it.

According to this page:

(...) participants were mandated to eat three spoonfuls of ice cream first thing in the morning.

You should not eat that amount of ice cream in the morning, especially not on a regular basis:

  • It may cause temporary hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. Among the possible short term symptoms are fatigue, blurred vision, and headaches.
  • Ice cream has a high glycemic index, which can lead to an increase of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, overweight
  • There is contradicting evidence in the literature on whether high-glycemic index carbohydrates are associated with insulin resistance (1, 2, 3, 4). However, ice cream is very dense on calories and... Not much else that is useful (cf. "empty calories"). Consequently, it will be harder to attain your daily micronutrient necessities without exceeding the amount of calories you should consume.
  • To piggyback on the point above, long-term excessive energy intake is associated with an increase in fatty body mass, which comes with possible health detriments ranging from diabetes to the early onset of neurodegenerative diseases.

The better results achieved by the control group that had ice cream for breakfast are mots likely explained by a temporarily higher amount of available brain glucose.

Alpha waves are neural oscillations (or brainwaves) in the frequency band 8-12Hz. While we know that they are central in covert spatial attention, without the paper itself at hand, I fear there is not much else to discuss in that regard.

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  • 1
    The study seemed to be about 3 spoonfuls of ice cream. It's hard to believe there would be any significant effect from such a small amount.
    – Armand
    Aug 18 at 17:14
  • Assuming they meant 3 tablespoons, or 45ml, then that volume of this Ben & Jerry's ice cream would equate to around 3.1g of saturated fat and 9.4g of sugar. The daily recommended amount of both (for adults), according to the UK's NHS, should be no more than 30g.
    – Saucy Goat
    Aug 18 at 17:37
  • I would think tsp rather than the 3x larger tbsp (but I'm sure the study has that info), which is why I'm skeptical of any significant effect.
    – Armand
    Aug 19 at 4:05

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