In my home, the holidays bring with them many opportunities to eat tasty, sugary treats. Cookies, chocolate coated toffee, chocolates—the caramel-covered options are endless. At least with those treats I know what I’m getting into: lots of sugar. But how do you cut down on sugar in the rest of your diet, during the rest of the year?

As the Mayo Clinic notes, eating too much sugar is linked to several health issues, including weight gain, poor nutrition and heart disease. Sugar can be naturally occurring, such as lactose in milk, or added later—this added sugar is what you want to try to cut down on. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day for most women (about 100 calories), and no more than nine teaspoons per day for men (150 calories). So how do we keep our sugar numbers down? Here are four tips.

Learn where sugar hides

Well known sources of added sugar include certain soft drinks, sugary cereals, and all the delicious holiday treats I noted above. But what we don’t always acknowledge is that sugar is hiding in plain sight in many other surprising foods, including condiments like ketchup and salad dressings, pasta sauce, granola bars, flavored yogurt and instant oatmeal. To figure out which items have more sugar than you expected, you simply have to read the labels. Fresh fruit and vegetables have naturally occurring sugars that don’t have the same negative effects as added sugars. Try a fruit salad!  Or choose better versions of your favourite condiments (or learn to make your own) or other foods at home—then you can control the amount of sugar they contain. If you don’t want to give up the convenience of store-bought condiments, get in the habit of reading food labels. Ingredients like honey, agave, cane syrup, brown rice syrup, and fruit juice concentrate (including apple juice concentrate, pear juice concentrate, etc.) are all code for added sugar. The source is less important than the quantity. Consider this: A teaspoon of added sugar is 4 g, so do you really want to pour a teaspoons’ worth of added sugar on your salad or is there an alternative that does the job?

Smaller portions

When you do feel the need for something special and sweet, start with a smaller portion. This sounds cliché but it’s surprisingly effective in my experience. Fill up on healthy foods, then for dessert, offer to be the cutter or slicer, and cut yourself a small slice of something sweet. Wait a bit—at least 10 minutes–after eating it and see if it doesn’t satisfy your craving. During your waiting period, commit to doing something else. Clean the kitchen. Do the laundry. Watch the news. Do a crossword puzzle. But most importantly, put the cake (or chocolate or cookies or ice cream) away so it’s not in plain sight. Chances are, the craving will pass. If not, it could signal that you’re eating too much added sugar in other foods, which can make sweet cravings hard to manage.

Never run out of healthy snacks

One of the reasons I go for a super sweet snack is simply because all my other healthier options aren’t around. Stock up on healthy foods you like to eat: apples, bananas, berries, carrots and celery with healthy hummus, plain yogurt, smoothies—as long as you have lots of nutritious options on hand, you’ll be less tempted to go for the stuff that isn’t as good for you.

Go for whole foods

Generally speaking, processed foods have more sugar than whole foods, such as whole grains, quality meats, vegetables and fruits. Food like Luvo’s entrées and breakfasts are great places to start, as they are based on healthy, whole foods that pack a lot of vitamins and minerals without a whole lot of added sugar. And that’s sweet.

Get yourself in a healthy mindset

I often find that one healthy choice leads to another. If I start the day with a yoga class, I want to follow up with a healthy breakfast. And so on. Sometimes, just recognizing and appreciating all the little things—like snacking on fruit, having a fridge full of veggies (and eating them), trying a delicious and wholesome new recipe—puts you in the zone to continue on the path. If you stay on the path long enough, these new behaviors become habits.

How do you reduce sugar in your diet? Let us know in the comments!

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