The traffic light eating method: Diet goldmine—or landmine?


Good vitamin isn’t about following the foundations.

The healthiest individuals we all know aren’t cardboard cut-outs of perfection.

In truth, you may be stunned how they eat.

That’s as a result of as a substitute of following another person’s weight loss plan recommendation, they’ve developed a private meals record primarily based on their very own dietary quirks.

You couldn’t predict their lists in case you tried.

They keep in mind not simply vitamin, but additionally their particular person style preferences and the way meals make them really feel.

This method leaves room for ice cream and tortilla chips and gummy bears—and doesn’t require them to eat “wholesome” meals they will’t stand (or aren’t capable of tolerate).

And you already know what? The tactic works actually nicely.

It permits these people to eat nutritiously, take pleasure in their meals, and really feel “in management” round meals—with out feeling restricted or disadvantaged.

The perfect half: Anybody can do that. (In truth, we’ve been efficiently utilizing it with our purchasers—over 100,000 individuals—for greater than a decade.)

Introducing the site visitors mild consuming methodology.

Earlier than we proceed: If seeing the title of this methodology makes you A) recoil in anger, B) roll your eyes, or C) search for the again button, hear us out.

Sure, it’s a bit controversial. The rationale: Some firms use a similarly-named method to offer a set of meals guidelines that apply to everybody.

This isn’t that.

Utilizing our system, you’ll outline your individual “inexperienced mild,” “yellow mild,” and “crimson mild” meals primarily based on how they be just right for you. (And spoiler alert: “Pink mild” doesn’t imply unhealthy.)

As you’ll see, nutrition-quality is a vital component in selecting meals—nevertheless it’s not the one one. Your likes and dislikes, habits, targets, and physiology all play a task, too.

Let’s stroll via it.

Inexperienced mild meals = anytime, wherever meals

These are meals you eat recurrently and with ease. You’ll be able to eat them usually, slowly, and in affordable quantities.

Complete meals normally make up most of this record, however it could additionally embody meals that you just take pleasure in purely for pleasure, in quantities that work nicely for you.

Nutrient density isn’t the one standards right here: Your “inexperienced lights” are meals that you just take pleasure in, align together with your tradition and way of life, and make your physique and/or thoughts really feel good.

And, whereas we encourage aware consuming, inexperienced mild meals are ones you don’t must suppose an excessive amount of about. You simply eat and revel in them: easy as that.

Yellow mild meals = “generally” / “perhaps” / “small doses” meals

Your “yellow lights” are meals you would possibly eat sometimes, with a level of warning or mindfulness.

Possibly they set off a little bit of indigestion (however not a full-scale emergency journey to the restroom).

Maybe you favor to take pleasure in them in small, bite-sized doses. Or solely on sure events, like out at a restaurant with pals.

It’s value noting that yellow mild meals don’t must be “drawback” meals.

They may be nutritious meals you incorporate into your weight loss plan, generally.

Possibly you’re “meh” about eggplant, however you’ll eat it when your associate cooks it, or it’s a part of a restaurant dish.

Otherwise you’ll eat tofu as soon as per week on “meatless Mondays.”

Otherwise you prepare dinner okra, however solely on the weekends when you’ve gotten time to make it excellent.

We’d contemplate these yellow mild meals.

As you may see, “yellows” might be any kind of meals. Alcohol and sure “junk meals” would possibly wind up on this class, however heck, so might kale.

Pink mild meals = meals you sometimes keep away from, reduce, or make much less obtainable

Pink mild meals aren’t unhealthy. They’re simply meals that you just select to not eat (a minimum of more often than not).

Pink mild meals might not be just right for you as a result of:

  • They don’t assist you obtain your targets
  • You all the time overeat them
  • You’re allergic to them
  • You’ll be able to’t simply digest them
  • You simply don’t like them

Extremely-processed meals typically fall into this class since many of us discover that, as soon as they begin consuming them, they will’t cease. Some individuals even name them “set off meals,” as a result of after taking a single chew, they blink, and the sofa is roofed in Cheeto mud and empty ice cream cartons.

Once more, this doesn’t imply you keep away from these meals on a regular basis.

For instance, you may not wish to preserve the freezer stocked with cheesecake, however maybe you’ll fortunately take pleasure in a beneficiant slice on an important day.

On the similar time, so-called “wholesome” meals can wind up on the crimson mild record too.

If broccoli makes you gag, put it on the crimson mild record. (As a result of who desires to eat meals they hate?)

If apples trigger you to interrupt out in hives, that’s a crimson mild.

If plain, baked hen breast makes you’re feeling like a disadvantaged dieter, you guessed it—crimson mild meals.

Price reiterating: Placing one thing in your crimson mild record doesn’t imply you may by no means eat it once more. In truth, until you’ve gotten extreme allergy symptoms, it may be value experimenting with every now and then.

You would possibly develop to like one thing you at the moment dislike. Or turn into higher at consuming it moderately.

Maintain up: Couldn’t the site visitors mild system promote disgrace, guilt, or disordered habits?

Our reply: It depends upon how you utilize it.

The thought behind the PN site visitors mild system isn’t to label meals or observe a specific system “completely.”

The aim, moderately, is to construct consciousness about which meals work finest for you, and which of them don’t. So you may make knowledgeable choices for your self.

However not all site visitors mild programs are created equal.

Some applications on the market use the site visitors mild system too, however they use it in another way than PN.

They use it primarily based purely on their interpretation of dietary worth, to point which meals ought to make up the majority of your weight loss plan (inexperienced), which meals it’s best to eat moderately (yellow), and which meals it’s best to eat occasionally and in small parts (crimson). And the record is the very same for everybody.

Our method is completely different, for a few causes:

First, we don’t wish to counsel that sure meals are “unhealthy” or off-limits.

The info we’ve seen (and our expertise working with purchasers) tells us that restriction typically results in extra problematic consuming behaviors, not much less.

And whereas we do supply tools to help people make more healthful choices, our massive intention is to assist purchasers make enhancements and changes that really feel proper for them.

What’s extra, when used as an awareness-building instrument, we’ve discovered the site visitors mild consuming methodology can really assist individuals transfer away from disordered habits, and expertise a higher sense of self-efficacy, flexibility, and delight with their meals decisions.

That may really feel life-changing.

When you already know which meals work nicely for you, which of them are “meh,” and which of them trigger undesirable points, meals decisions turn into simpler.

Plus, you may adapt your site visitors lights at any time. They evolve with you.

Higher nonetheless, you make choices primarily based on YOU. Your physique, your thoughts, your well being. Not another person’s weight loss plan, meal plan, factors, or guidelines.

Your dietary decisions turn into much less inflexible and extra versatile. Meals turns into much less demanding, no more.

A particular notice for coaches

In the event you’re a coach, we extremely encourage you to begin gathering details about your consumer’s meals preferences proper from the beginning.

In PN Teaching, we do that as a part of our consumer consumption. We study from the start about our purchasers’ likes, dislikes, allergy symptoms, intolerances, and so forth.

It’s vital to know your consumer’s place to begin earlier than making any dietary suggestions.

In spite of everything, there’d be no level in recommending meat to a vegetarian, or peanut butter to somebody who’s allergic to nuts, or seafood to somebody who lives within the desert, or one thing “soooo tasty” to somebody who’s present process chemotherapy and might’t style a darn factor.

Private preferences aren’t the one issue to contemplate.

In the event you’re a vitamin coach, you’ll nonetheless wish to educate your consumer which meals are most nutritious and shall be best suited for his or her targets.

(Our food spectrum infographic generally is a actually useful gizmo for that.)

Over time, your consumer might develop extra appreciation for healthful meals.

If their weight loss plan at the moment comprises a variety of highly-processed meals, they may not have many complete meals on their “inexperienced” record proper now. However tastes can change. Many individuals discover that as they begin to eat extra minimally-processed meals, they discover them extra palatable.

For instance, in case your consumer categorizes all greens as a “yuck / barf,” maybe you may assist discover a vegetable or two that matches their yellow mild (and perhaps ultimately inexperienced mild) record.

(To assist your consumer develop a style for veggies, take a look at: What to do when you don’t like vegetables.)

Need some examples? Right here’s what our site visitors lights appear to be.

Once more, there isn’t any set traffic-light record for each particular person. Whereas basically, complete meals akin to greens, fruit, and lean proteins are a good suggestion, with regards to particular meals, you may need a unique record.

That can assist you higher perceive how that works, listed below are a number of private examples from people at PN.

Let’s begin with the authors of this text.

Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, Director of Vitamin and Efficiency at PN

Image shows "Brian's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: Chicken thighs, salmon, Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, sirloin, shrimp, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, cauliflower, bananas, strawberries, apples, oranges, potatoes, pasta, whole grain breads, black beans, avocado, roasted almonds, peanut butter, dark chocolate, coffee Reasoning: Enjoys a diverse and omnivorous diet. Has no major eating restrictions, and is willing to try most anything! Yellow: Broccoli, blueberries, milk, wine, beer, guacamole, ice cream (especially french vanilla), chocolate chip cookies, green tea Reasoning: Enjoys broccoli, blueberries, and milk, but large portions cause digestive upset. Enjoys wine and beer with spouse and/or friends, but mindful of overall consumption. Likes guacamole (and french vanilla ice cream / chocolate chip cookies) too much, and can over-consume if not mindful. Drinks green tea for its health benefits, but much prefers coffee! Red: Reese’s peanut butter cups, potato chips (especially if combined with friends and alcohol), fresh brownies Reasoning: Will definitely overeat Reese’s and fresh, moist brownies (but not ones with cake-like texture)! Will mindlessly munch on chips.

Image shows "Brian's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: Chicken thighs, salmon, Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, sirloin, shrimp, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, cauliflower, bananas, strawberries, apples, oranges, potatoes, pasta, whole grain breads, black beans, avocado, roasted almonds, peanut butter, dark chocolate, coffee Reasoning: Enjoys a diverse and omnivorous diet. Has no major eating restrictions, and is willing to try most anything! Yellow: Broccoli, blueberries, milk, wine, beer, guacamole, ice cream (especially french vanilla), chocolate chip cookies, green tea Reasoning: Enjoys broccoli, blueberries, and milk, but large portions cause digestive upset. Enjoys wine and beer with spouse and/or friends, but mindful of overall consumption. Likes guacamole (and french vanilla ice cream / chocolate chip cookies) too much, and can over-consume if not mindful. Drinks green tea for its health benefits, but much prefers coffee! Red: Reese’s peanut butter cups, potato chips (especially if combined with friends and alcohol), fresh brownies Reasoning: Will definitely overeat Reese’s and fresh, moist brownies (but not ones with cake-like texture)! Will mindlessly munch on chips.

Camille DePutter, PN Coach and Adviser

Image shows "Cam's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: chicken, tofu, kale, broccoli, sweet potato fries, eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms, eggs, sashimi, berries, yogurt, ice cream, hot sauce, herbs, tomatoes, dark chocolate, coffee, whey protein powder, gefilte fish, brisket Reasoning: Appreciates a wide variety of foods and flavors. Feels best on an omnivorous diet; tolerates dairy well; likes spice; loves to eat from the garden. Enjoys foods from her partner’s Ashkenazi Jewish culture. Yellow: dried and canned beans, white bread, bagels, bagged chips, candy, cocktail, glass of wine, parsnips Reasoning: beans and white bread products cause digestive discomfort in large or regular doses. Enjoys processed treat foods and alcoholic beverages but easy to over-consume. Not a big fan of parsnips. Red: mussels, yellow lentils, red lentils, oreo cookies, cheesies, chips with dip. Reasoning: Allergic to mussels. Extreme digestive discomfort from lentils. Will over-consume certain treat foods (indulges, but more rarely).

Image shows "Cam's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: chicken, tofu, kale, broccoli, sweet potato fries, eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms, eggs, sashimi, berries, yogurt, ice cream, hot sauce, herbs, tomatoes, dark chocolate, coffee, whey protein powder, gefilte fish, brisket Reasoning: Appreciates a wide variety of foods and flavors. Feels best on an omnivorous diet; tolerates dairy well; likes spice; loves to eat from the garden. Enjoys foods from her partner’s Ashkenazi Jewish culture. Yellow: dried and canned beans, white bread, bagels, bagged chips, candy, cocktail, glass of wine, parsnips Reasoning: beans and white bread products cause digestive discomfort in large or regular doses. Enjoys processed treat foods and alcoholic beverages but easy to over-consume. Not a big fan of parsnips. Red: mussels, yellow lentils, red lentils, oreo cookies, cheesies, chips with dip. Reasoning: Allergic to mussels. Extreme digestive discomfort from lentils. Will over-consume certain treat foods (indulges, but more rarely).

Now right here’s a listing from Krista Scott Dixon, PhD, Director of Curriculum at Precision Vitamin.

Image shows "Krista's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: chicken, steak, bbq ribs, grasshoppers, snails, fish, assorted eggs, seaweed, kale, berries, coconut, avocado, white rice, oats, cob of corn, almonds, soybeans, tofu, dark chocolate, white potato, yam Reasoning: Appreciates a wide variety of foods and enjoys an omnivorous diet. (Will try anything once, especially while traveling.) Can digest/tolerate these foods well. Yellow: dried beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, popcorn, whole peaches, apples Reasoning: Can't tolerate beans or legumes well; intolerance to FODMAPs (okay in small doses); popcorn (triggers digestive issues in large doses); oral allergy to raw stone fruit and raw apples (okay if cooked). Red: Kimchi, wine bottle, milk carton, whole grain bread, watermelon, chips, milk chocolate, chili pepper, dried fruit, lobster Reasoning: Yeast and mold allergies, histamine intolerance, dairy intolerance, grain intolerance, intolerance to spice, dried fruit and melon, hates the taste of certain shellfish

Image shows "Krista's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: chicken, steak, bbq ribs, grasshoppers, snails, fish, assorted eggs, seaweed, kale, berries, coconut, avocado, white rice, oats, cob of corn, almonds, soybeans, tofu, dark chocolate, white potato, yam Reasoning: Appreciates a wide variety of foods and enjoys an omnivorous diet. (Will try anything once, especially while traveling.) Can digest/tolerate these foods well. Yellow: dried beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, popcorn, whole peaches, apples Reasoning: Can't tolerate beans or legumes well; intolerance to FODMAPs (okay in small doses); popcorn (triggers digestive issues in large doses); oral allergy to raw stone fruit and raw apples (okay if cooked). Red: Kimchi, wine bottle, milk carton, whole grain bread, watermelon, chips, milk chocolate, chili pepper, dried fruit, lobster Reasoning: Yeast and mold allergies, histamine intolerance, dairy intolerance, grain intolerance, intolerance to spice, dried fruit and melon, hates the taste of certain shellfish

What a few scientist? Right here’s the record of Helen Kollias, PhD, Science Advisor at Precision Vitamin.

Image shows "Helen's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: Cup of coffee, green super shake, steak, trout filet, quinoa, wild rice, oranges, navy beans, spinach, oregano, feta cheese, broccoli, sweet potato, edamame, carrots, chickpeas, string beans, chicken breast, pork ribs, brussels sprouts, berries Reasoning: Enjoys foods of her Greek heritage; no allergies or major intolerances; pretty easy-going eater; aims to eat a nutritionally balanced diet without too many rules or regulations. Yellow: gin and tonic in a nice cocktail glass with ice in it and a straw, Tortilla chips and salsa, milk carton, pasta, baguette Reasoning: enjoys an occasional cocktail with friends. (If drinking at home buys a single can of tonic as to not over-consume.) Enjoys tortilla chips and salsa; can digest corn chips better than potato chips. Dairy may cause congestion if over-consumed; white bread / pasta doesn’t sit well in large amounts Red: Large bottle of tonic water. Whole green pepper. Sour cream & onion chips, ketchup chips, fish crackers. Chili pepper. Lamb Reasoning: Will over-consume tonic water, potato chips and crackers, and doesn’t feel good after. Hates raw green pepper. Doesn’t do well with spice. Not a fan of lamb.

Image shows "Helen's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: Cup of coffee, green super shake, steak, trout filet, quinoa, wild rice, oranges, navy beans, spinach, oregano, feta cheese, broccoli, sweet potato, edamame, carrots, chickpeas, string beans, chicken breast, pork ribs, brussels sprouts, berries Reasoning: Enjoys foods of her Greek heritage; no allergies or major intolerances; pretty easy-going eater; aims to eat a nutritionally balanced diet without too many rules or regulations. Yellow: gin and tonic in a nice cocktail glass with ice in it and a straw, Tortilla chips and salsa, milk carton, pasta, baguette Reasoning: enjoys an occasional cocktail with friends. (If drinking at home buys a single can of tonic as to not over-consume.) Enjoys tortilla chips and salsa; can digest corn chips better than potato chips. Dairy may cause congestion if over-consumed; white bread / pasta doesn’t sit well in large amounts Red: Large bottle of tonic water. Whole green pepper. Sour cream & onion chips, ketchup chips, fish crackers. Chili pepper. Lamb Reasoning: Will over-consume tonic water, potato chips and crackers, and doesn’t feel good after. Hates raw green pepper. Doesn’t do well with spice. Not a fan of lamb.

Need to construct your individual record—or assist a consumer with theirs?

Begin by utilizing our Red-Yellow-Green Foods Worksheet.

To place your record into follow, right here’s a tip: Preserve primarily “inexperienced” meals useful and obtainable. You’ll naturally eat extra of them.

And, if you wish to eat fewer meals in your “yellow” or “crimson” mild record, you may make your life simpler by merely not shopping for them. (That means you need to train much less willpower whenever you get residence.)

That stated, you may also select to eat meals that DON’T be just right for you. Until you’re deathly allergic, consuming out of your “crimson mild” record is all the time an possibility.

Both means, you’re in management, and you already know what to anticipate. (Learn: “If I’m going forward and eat this red-light meals, I’d eat a complete lot of it versus selecting one thing from my green-light record. Proper now, I’m okay with that.”)

When used as a method to get to know your self higher and make aware decisions, this method isn’t restrictive. It’s liberating.

For extra perception into how this works, right here’s a have a look at how PN co-founder Dr. John Berardi chooses his foods, from lemon water (“inexperienced mild”) to crimson peppers (“crimson mild”).

Your relationship to sure meals will change over time—and that’s a great factor.

The one fixed in life, and human beings, is change.

Your tastes might change as you age. Your priorities might change, too. Typically new allergy symptoms and intolerances type. (And in case you’re actually fortunate, some might go away.)

Don’t let your “site visitors lights” outline you or preserve you caught.

As an alternative, contemplate them a chance to get to know your self higher as you evolve and develop.

As Alice stated whereas in Wonderland, “I knew who I used to be this morning, however I’ve modified a number of instances since then.”

We’re all a bit like Alice. Would possibly as nicely benefit from the experience.


In the event you’re a coach, otherwise you wish to be…

You’ll be able to assist individuals construct vitamin and way of life habits that enhance their bodily and psychological well being, bolster their immunity, assist them higher handle stress, and get sustainable outcomes. We’ll present you the way.

In the event you’d prefer to study extra, contemplate the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.

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