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Why We All Scream When We Get Ice Cream Brain Freeze

Anyone who has eaten ice cream too fast is painfully aware of the phenomenon known as the brain freeze. But have you ever wondered about the science behind the ice cream-induced headache? NPR examined this painful reaction, which is viewed as a rite of summer by many despite the rather unpleasant effects. 

The medical term for the headaches caused by frozen foods is sphenopalatine ganglion neuralgia, also classified as a Cold Stimulus Headache (CSH). Brain freeze occurs when the numerous capillaries and nerve fibers on the roof of your mouth constrict in response to the sudden onslaught of cold. The nerve fibers, called nociceptors, respond to this cold as a painful stimulus. This response is directed to the major facial area nerve, the trigeminal nerve, which then fires off the message to your brain. 

The brain itself does not have pain receptors. It is the meninges, the brain’s sheath, which is blown up with inputs. This is why the pain occurs around the top of the head and not where the ice cream is in contact with your mouth. The researcher quoted by NPR pointed out that the phenomenon of pain registering far away from the source is also seen with heart attacks. In that case, the pain usually hits the left side of the body and shoulder. 

It makes sense that your body would view the onrush of frozen food as a painful stimulus. There are few scenarios, and almost all of them dire, where our paleo ancestors would have been scarfing down subfreezing foods. It goes without saying that ice cream cannot be incorporated into a paleo diet and that most store-bought ice cream should also be avoided. 

There are healthier options if you are willing to take a little extra time and make your own ice cream. Click here to view my healthy banana ice cream recipe. It is perfect for hot summer days and I have provided the recipe below. 

I recommend serving it during your backyard picnic or as an after-dinner dessert. Just make sure to freeze it long enough before you serve it. It may be delicious, but try not to eat it too fast. That is the best way to avoid brain freeze. 

Of course, even my healthy banana ice cream recipe should only be enjoyed in extreme moderation. My nutrition plan provides more information on how you can consume a nourishing, healthy and delicious diet. 


Banana Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 overripe bananas
  • 2 tablespoons non-GMO, non-soy lecithin granules (optional, but adds creamy texture)
  • 1 1/2 cups raw milk (or coconut milk or nut/rice milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Serving Size: 1 quart of ice cream

Procedure

  1. In a food processor, liquefy the bananas and the lecithin granules. While processor is still running add the remaining ingredients.
  2. Depending on the size of the bananas, this will make up to 4 cups liquid. Add more milk if necessary to make 1 quart of liquid. Pour the mixture into baking sheets or ice cube trays and freeze until solid.
  3. If using baking sheets, cut the frozen mixture into strips, if using ice cube trays just pop out the cubes. Place frozen pieces back into juicer or food processor and blend until homogenized. Serve immediately.

 

Variations:

  1. Chocolate-Banana: Add 1/2 cup cocoa or carob powder and an additional teaspoon of vanilla to the above recipe.
  2. Tropical:  Use two overripe bananas, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup finely cut pineapple, 1 1/2 cups milk, and 2 tablespoons lecithin granules (optional).
  3. Coconut: Use two eggs, 3 tablespoons lecithin granules, 3 cups coconut milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

 

Note: Ice cream will be thicker and creamier if the food processor and bowl are chilled in the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.

(Adapted from Healthy Recipes from Your Nutritional Type)

 

 

 

 

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