Columns

2017.08.23 Doughnuts, ice cream the new “superfoods”

By RICH FOLEY

That strange sound in the background may be everything you’ve heard about smart food choices being turned on its ear. I keep running across articles in the news refuting what we’ve heard for years about some of our favorite foods. Remember, I’m not a doctor. I don’t even pretend to write a medical column. But what if some of this new information is actually right?

For instance, a Japanese professor is saying that you may be able to improve the alertness and mental performance of your children by serving them ice cream for breakfast. Yes, I said ice cream. My cardiologist is probably cringing at that news while executives at Dairy Queen are most likely throwing a party, serving up every ice cream concoction they make.

Professor Yoshihiko Koga at Kyorin University compared the brain activity of test subjects who ate ice cream right after waking up with those who weren’t so lucky. The ice cream eaters had quicker reaction times and processed  information better than the subjects who didn’t get the tasty treat. 

The ice cream eaters also had an increase in high frequency alpha waves. Those waves are associated with both higher alertness levels and lower mental irritation. Professor Koga plans to discover if ice cream is a trigger for higher energy levels and positive emotion, as well as finding what ingredient in ice cream is responsible for the mental boost.

As you’ve probably guessed, most people have been happy to hear good news about ice cream. Even former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted about having ice cream for breakfast after he learned of the research. It sounds like a good idea to me, although I’m going to stick with rocky road, my all-time favorite flavor. Healthy cashews and possibly healthy ice cream, all in one snack? How can I lose?

Meanwhile, a recent article in Outside magazine is turning diets for athletes into a free-for-all. Renee Tomlin and Kirsten Kasper were teammates on Georgetown University’s track and cross-country teams. Both of the women had dreams of competing in the Olympics and in 2015, they qualified to join the U.S. triathlon team. 

Each did well last year, with Kasper earning several medals and Tomlin scoring a World Cup win. But if they have a secret for their success, it sure isn’t their diet. Kasper fuels up with oatmeal, yogurt, tofu, turkey and quinoa. For a snack, she eats a rice cake. Sounds about right for an athlete, doesn’t it?

Tomlin, on the other hand, lives on hot dogs, doughnuts, milkshakes and beer. She also says “Chips are an excellent recovery food.” And so far, she’s the more successful of the two women. Maybe it’s time to hit the junk food aisle.

Almost any trainer will tell you that Tomlin would do even better if her diet was more like that of Kasper. But recent research disagrees with that assessment, claiming that foods have different effects on different people. Tomlin might do worse if she switched to Kasper’s diet, while Kasper might do worse trying to eat like Tomlin. Or, she could also perform better.

Researchers in Israel monitored 1,000 people in a study of blood-glucose levels and how they changed depending on diet. It’s long been generally accepted that carbohydrates will raise your blood-glucose level. But the results showed great differences among test subjects eating the same diet.

Researcher Eran Segal said, “Some individuals can eat a bowl of ice cream or a piece of pizza and have very low blood-glucose responses.” He added that “We also found that foods like rice, in those same people, can significantly raise blood-glucose responses.” Hmm, which should I choose?

Segal and the rest of his team are working on an algorithm that can predict which foods will and which won’t cause blood-glucose spikes in a particular individual, allowing them to give specific meal suggestions based on the needs of each participant. Kirsten Kasper, for one, is hoping a change in her diet will be recommended.

“If it shows that the thing for me to eat to perform at my best is ice cream, that’d be great,”  Kasper said, adding “I love ice cream.”

You almost have to root for an Olympic athlete so willing to change her diet for her country. For someone that dedicated, I hope she ultimately is advised to have a few doughnuts, too.