Science Explains Why Gelato Makes You Happy

Cold, sweet, and churned into colorful flavors, all gelato-lovers know the dizzying delights of this frozen sweet treat. But now neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London have discovered eating just one spoonful of ice cream (a similar frozen sweet treat) has an immediate effect on the orbitofrontal cortex — the part of the brain known to activate when people enjoy themselves. This is the same pleasure centre that lights up when you win money or listen to your favorite music. At the same time, it’s important to avoid overindulging to stay healthy, happy, and satiated with a regular serving size.

Fat makes us happy 

And it’s not just gelato or ice cream that produces this happy response in our brains. More specifically, any high calorie fatty food boosts our mood. Even something like eskimo ice cream — a traditional Alaskan dessert — would elicit big pleasure responses. It’s packed with berries, sugar, vegetable shortening, and fresh snow. For example, in another study, dedicated participants had a gastric feeding tube fed into their stomachs. Sometimes a salt solution was fed through and other times a fatty solution. At the same time, the volunteers listened to sad or neutral classical music while viewing corresponding images of sad or neutral facial expressions. Brain scans revealed what all gelato fanatics already know: the brain’s responses to sadness significantly decreased when the fatty solution was fed into the stomach.

But there’s a catch… 

Frozen sweet treats like ice cream and gelato can make you happy, but only if you don’t indulge too often. A 2012 study looked at people who consumed ice cream-based chocolate milkshakes while researchers ran fMRIs on their brain responses. The results? The volunteers who were the most frequent consumers of chocolate ice cream experienced fewer reward-related brain responses compared to those who ate it less frequently. Essentially, this means the body builds up a tolerance to the ice cream. You eventually have to switch to eating a sweeter dessert or an even bigger serving to get the same pleasure response.

The benefits of gelato

Gelato is actually a healthier option to indulge in than ice cream. It tends to contain more milk than cream and therefore has a lower fat content. It’s also churned at a slower speed with less air in the mixture than ice cream — this results in smoother, creamier texture and a richer-tasting dessert. So, you’ll be just as happy and satisfied with a smaller portion of delicious gelato. Don’t be fooled by low-calorie ice cream options either. A whole pint should never be considered to be a single serving. Portion control is key.

Gelato is the perfect frozen sweet treat for everyone to enjoy — especially when you have a case of the blues. However, it’s important to be mindful and not overindulge too often. Enjoying your favorite gelato in moderation will protect your health and ensure you keep getting that ever-so-familiar pleasure response.

Written by: Katlyn Noble