7 Facts About Sugar That May Surprise You

Sure, a spoonful helps the medicine go down, but what else can it do?

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Added sugars in foods should make up less than 10 percent of daily calories, said US government dietary guidelines issued Thursday that for the first time urged specific limits on sweets. The guidelines, which are released every five years by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, aim to address a widespread issue of obesity in the United States. More than one-third of adult Americans -- or nearly 79 million people -- are obese. While this is the first time the U.S. government has officially recommended limiting sugar intake, research on the ill effects of the sweet stuff have been out a while. Take a look at some of the more surprising facts about sugar in the slides ahead.

According to 2012 statistics compiled by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the keeper of the statistics on America's sweet tooth, the grand total amount of sugar consumed by the average American is 76.7 pounds every year. That breaks down to 22 teaspoons of sugar a day per person. Much of that comes from unexpected sources, such as in cranberries and Clamato juice, as "Last Week Tonight" host

John Oliver pointed out in a recent episode

. The total annual figure is down from previous studies that estimated we consume 95 to 100 pounds of sugar each year. Still, 75 pounds is a lot of sugar.

A May 2012 study showed that eating a diet high in fructose over a long period of time can impair your brain's ability to learn and then remember information. The research,

published in the Journal of Physiology

was done on rats, but our brains are similar enough to the rodents that the findings extend to humans. There is hope: the same research found that eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids (including salmon and flaxseed oil) can counteract the effect.

This is a tough one to believe if you've witnessed kids near the end of a cake and ice cream party. Sugar sure seems to have a buzzing effect on kids (and adults). But according a 1994

double-blind research study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a

sugary diet does not have an adverse effect on the behavior or cognitive skills of children. Sugar does, however, change one thing: parents' expectations. A

nother study

by the National Institutes of Health found that after hearing their children had just eaten a lot of sugar, parents were more likely to say their kid was hyperactive -- even when the supposed sugar fix was actually a placebo.

If it's brown, it's better for you than white, right? Maybe when it comes to rice and, in most cases, bread, but not so much when it comes to sugar. Brown sugar is actually just refined white sugar with molasses added. While molasses adds a touch more minerals to each spoonful (calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium), those amounts are so scarce they hardly justify the calories.

Speaking of brown, brown bread may not always be all that it's made out to be. Brown bread is, in general, more nutritious than white bread. Brown breads made from whole wheat usually contain more fiber than white bread, as well as higher amounts of important nutrients such as vitamins B-6 and E, magnesium, folic acid, copper, zinc and manganese. That said, an

analysis done by the English newspaper, The Telegraph

, found that five of 15 surveyed brown loaves contained a form of added sugar that was not present in white bread loaves. Bread manufacturers explained the added sugar was meant to counteract the "bitter" taste of wholemeal flour. They argued that the added sugar amounts was negligible. Nonetheless, the findings are food for thought.

This one is a little complicated -- and surprising. It's known that wildflowers generally don't stand a good chance of lasting in a given field of grasses. That's because most grasses grow so aggressively that they quickly outcompete the less hardy newcomers. One way to change the equation, found a

recent study in the Journal of Vegetation Science

, is to add sugar to the soil. The researchers (who were based in Estonia) added 1 kilogram of sugar per square meter every year for 10 years. The sugar, it turns out, lends microbes in the soil a boost, and since microbes, too are competing with the established plants for carbon, the established plants grow more slowly. Since it's generally easier to compete with microbes than with established grassy plants, the sugar treatment leaves room for pretty flowers to take root. So sprinkle sugar in a grassy field and more wildflowers will grow.

Eating high-sugar foods lights up your brain on an MRI in the same areas that are triggered by cocaine or heroin, according to research by Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital. His findings support earlier research on rats that showed how addictive the sweet stuff can be. A 2007

study in the journal PLOS1

that showed that 94 percent of rats that were allowed to choose between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar. Even rats who were addicted to cocaine switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice.