BY JOHN VANVORST   |   FBI National Academy Physical Training Unit

If you want to look, feel and perform at your best, you might need a system to increase nutritional awareness and help you make better food and drink choices.  This article will outline the Traffic Light method to classify different types of food based on their nutrition content. 

It works like this: Red-light foods are “no go” either because they don’t align with your goals, you struggle with eating them in controlled amounts, or they flat out make you feel terrible.  Ultra-processed foods like chips, candy, ice cream and pastries are pretty obvious red-light items, but you also need to consider any food allergies and intolerances as well.  Red-light foods need to be limited or restricted all together. At the very least, eliminate some of the multitude of choices.

Yellow-light foods mean “proceed with caution”.  These are not the best choices, but they’re not the worst either and can still be part of a high-performance nutrition plan.  Yellow-lights foods have some level of processing and usually have picked up some added sugar and/or fat while losing fiber or other nutrients.  You can eat yellow-light foods without feeling ill and control the portions consumed better than red-light items.

Green-lights are a “go”.  You like eating these foods because they are nutrient-dense and make you feel great, inside and out.  You’re able to eat green-light foods slowly, mindfully and in the proper amounts.  It’s harder to overeat cedar-plank salmon with Brussel sprouts.  For most people, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean animal proteins, beans and legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds will be your green-light cornerstones.

Use the Traffic Light Guide in Table 1 to create your own list of green-light, yellow-light and red-light foods.  Stock your pantry and fridge with better quality sources and use the Traffic Light method to help navigate when eating on the go.  Surround yourself with the foods that make you feel good and support your goals, and take a little pressure off of your willpower reserves.  


Human Performance Resource Center Go for Green®


Precision Nutrition What Should I Eat Infographic