Q. We just saw a news flash about a study that reported eating three scoops of ice cream first thing in the morning increased alertness in the research participants. My kids now want it for breakfast instead of oatmeal and fruit. What do you think?
A. I think this may be an example of misinformation that may be circulated when conclusions are not carefully analyzed and compared with other known information. If you’re referring to the same study I read, the researchers compared brain alertness in two groups of participants: one group who had only ice cold water to drink first thing in the morning and one group who ate three scoops of ice cream. The brain works best when it is cooler. Both ice cream and water cool down the body and brain slightly—at least initially, until the body turns up the heat to warm ice-cold to body temperature. While your brain and body definitely need nutrition, and water is a nutrient, it does not provide calories for energy, so naturally it would not increase alertness beyond making sure that the brain was well hydrated.
Your brain needs nutrition first thing in the morning in order to boot up because it’s been on a ‘fast’ while you slept. That’s what the term breakfast means: you break your fast. There are high quality nutrients, however, and poor quality nutrients.
Nutritional data on ice cream for typical one-scoop show that on average a 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla ice cream contains 125 calories, 7 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar. (At 4-5 grams of sugar in one teaspoon, that would be 8-10 teaspoons of sugar). Three scoops would provide 375 calories, 21 grams of fat, and 42 grams of sugar. Even though ice cream is considered poor quality nutrition, some is better than none. However, sugar is a toxin to the brain and tends to spike blood sugar levels, which is not good for brain function. Both the sugar and fat tend to increase your risk of gaining weight. Therefore, while ice cream did increase alertness because it contained calories—and ice water did not—the ice cream failed to provide high quality nutrition. On the other hand, old-fashioned oatmeal and fresh fruit would provide high quality nutrition.