Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Tokyo’s Kyorin University, has carried out a series of clinical trials in which test subjects were required to eat ice cream immediately after waking up.
They were then put through a series of mental exercises on a computer.
Compared to a group that had not eaten ice cream, Prof Koga’s subjects exhibited faster reaction times and better information-processing capabilities, the Excite News web site reported.
Monitoring of the subjects’ brain activity revealed an increase in high-frequency alpha waves, which are linked to elevated levels of alertness and reduced mental irritation.
To examine the possibility that the test subjects’ reactions were simply the result of the brain being shocked into higher levels of alertness by the low temperature of the ice cream, Prof Koga repeated the experiment with cold water instead of ice cream.
Prof Koga is a specialist in psychophysiology, with his studies including looking into links between certain types of food and reduced stress.
Another area of study is the connection between different foods and their impact on the ageing process.
Prof Koga is continuing his research and has yet to determine a firm connection between the mental boost delivered by ice cream and a specific ingredient, while another explanation may lie in the sense that ice cream is a treat that triggers positive emotions and added energy.
British nutritionists have reacted with some skepticism to Dr Koga’s findings.
“A possible explanation [for increased alertness[… is the simple presence of consuming breakfast vs. not consuming breakfast,” said Katie Barfoot, a Nutritional Psychology Doctoral Researcher at Reading University.
“Our brain needs glucose to function, and a high glucose meal will aid mental capacity considerably compared to a fasted brain.
“This, however, does not condone eating dessert for breakfast. A study which explores the interaction between consumption of low and high GI foods, whilst including a fasted group, would establish a better understanding of this increased mental capacity.”
There has already been some scientific research into why ice cream may have a positive mental effect on those who eat it.
In 2005, neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned the brains of test subjects as they ate vanilla ice cream and saw immediate results.
The study found that eating ice cream activated the same “pleasure spots” of the brain that are lit up by winning money, or listening to a favourite piece of music.
“This is the first time that we’ve been able to show that ice cream makes you happy,” Unilever spokesman Don Darling said at the time.
“Just one spoonful lights up the happy zones of the brain in clinical trials.”
It’s not the first time a study has suggested a high-calorie “dessert” could be better eaten in the morning, either – a 2012 study found that eating chocolate cake for breakfast could help you lose weight.