Imagine you’re driving to a destination (near or far) and you’re on your way and get stopped at a traffic light. Granted, not the best interruption to your journey but you know it’ll be a brief interlude. Somewhere between stopping and zooming off at the green, you slowed down at the yellow light. Once that light turns green you’re off on your merry way again. This is the best time of your ride, cruising along fueled with energy and the wind blowing in your hair radiating health and wellness.
Now you have that image in your mind, try transferring the same approach to foods. What in the world do you mean, Coach Lisa? Well, think about categorizing foods according to the three traffic light colors — green, yellow, and red on the road to health with the 8fit meal plan.
- Eat Rarely: The foods that are in the red category are those to approach with caution. These are the ones that make your motor slow or even stop.
- Eat Occasionally: The foods in here are those to include but approach with caution. Just as you would slow down at a yellow stoplight, yellow foods can part of your ride are a short detour in your overall journey. The key here is to eat them in moderation.
- Enjoy Often: The green foods are those that give you that extra pep in your engine, energizing you on and keeping you on track towards your destination full speed ahead.
Printable list of traffic light foods
Foods are categorized according to the traffic light analogy: green, yellow, and red. Rather than sticking to strict food rules, which tend to backfire, use this as your roadmap. The ‘green’ foods are the ones you should have the most of in your diet, while ‘yellow’ ones are best enjoyed in moderation, and the ‘reds’ can make an occasional appearance here and there.
Print this list and put it on your fridge, as seeing it on a daily basis can help you reroute your journey to a happier, healthier destination. Each section gives examples of foods for each group. You can find a more extensive list below. Still not seeing your favorite foods? Try substituting comparable ingredients.
You’ll notice some vegetarian options on there, but if you’re 100% plant-based or vegan, we have another list for you. Remember to eat a variety of protein sources throughout the day to ensure you get all the amino acids and nutrients your body needs.
Enjoy often: Green means GO!
Foods in this category are the healthiest options. They provide you with optimal nutrition, so you feel great, look your best, and perform at the highest level. They’re lower in sugar and unhealthy fats and are the ambassadors of each foods group. Include as many of these as you can — aim for to have them be 80% of your diet — keeping in mind that just because these are healthy, doesn’t mean its a green light to overeat. Listen to your body and eat these foods mindfully to keep your engine purring.
If possible aim for free-range, wild and organic meat.
- Fish: Whitefish, salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines, anchovies, tilapia, catfish, swordfish, halibut, herring
- Shellfish: Shrimps, prawns, crab, lobster, oysters, mussels
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey
- Lean or organic meat: Pork, goat, lamb, veal, rabbit, deer
- Eggs: Preferably organic
- Dairy: Minimally processed cheese, cottage cheese, unsweetened yogurt, greek yogurt
Aim for a variety of plant-based proteins. Avoid processed soy products that include too many ingredients.
- Tofu: Fermented and plain are best
- Seitan: Minimal ingredients
- Tempeh: Minimal ingredients
- Peas: Green peas, split peas, chickpeas
- Lentils: Red, yellow, brown, green
- Beans: Lima, black, white, kidney, mung
- Edamame (soybeans): Fresh and organic whenever possible
- Dairy alternatives: Unsweetened milk, yogurt, or cheese (almond, oat, soy, etc.)
Don’t be afraid of fats, they are an essential part of your diet but proceed with caution if you’re watching your weight.
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts
- Seeds: Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds
- Oil: Olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil, avocado oil, sesame oil
- Fish: Salmon, mackerel, herring (also high in protein)
- Nut butter: Unsweetened and trans-fat free peanut, almond, cashew
- Hummus: Also high in protein and carb content
- Coconut milk
Aim for complex carbs whenever possible, as they’ll keep your blood sugar levels stable and contain fiber and nutrients.
- Whole grains: Quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, spelt, rye, brown rice, oats
- Semi-processed grains: Whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, whole grain pita, whole grain tortilla
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, white beans, black beans (also high in protein)
- Starchy vegetables: Sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, beets
- Non-starchy vegetables: The more the merrier of non-starchy veggies like leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus
Eat occasionally: Mellow yellow
These foods should be selected more carefully and eaten in moderation. They may be healthy but not as healthy as the ones in the green section. These foods provide nutrients but can be a bit more calorie-dense. Just like a yellow traffic light, proceed with caution when eating these foods.
- Oiled and seasoned nuts and seeds: High in fat
- Fatty cuts of meat: Beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, goat, chicken with skin
- Bacon or ham: Preferably organic and without added sugar
- Nuts and seeds: Eat occasionally because they are also high in fat
- Whole grains: Also high in carbs
- Protein powder: Rice, pea, soy, almond
- Butter: Preferably organic
- Full-fat dairy: Preferably organic
- Semi-processed carbs: Rice cakes, crackers, couscous, white rice
- Fruits: Although healthy, best in moderation, especially if you are diabetic
- Smoothies: Make your own and add protein
- Corn: Fresh over canned
Eat rarely: Slow your roll at red
These foods are not essential but may bring you joy. They should be eaten very rarely but without thinking of them as “bad” or off-limits completely. If they’re consumed too often, or in large amounts, they can lead to weight gain and chronic diseases. They’re higher in unhealthy fat, sugar, salt, and calories while being low in fiber and nutrients.
- Very processed meat: Bacon, ham, chorizo, sausage
- Protein bars: Typically contain sweetener and artificial ingredients
- Deep fried foods: French fries, fried chicken, tempura, doughnut, falafel
- Low-quality dairy: Coffee creamer, powdered milk
- Baked goods and packaged snacks: Cookies, pastries, chips (high carb content)
- Sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks: Fruit juice, soda, energy drinks, sweetened tea
- Sweets: Cookies, candy, chocolate, gummy bears, ice cream (some also contain fat)
- Sweetened low-fat yogurt: Fruit flavours typically mean sugar added
- Dried fruits: Sweetened versions
- White bread or crackers
Tune-up with these extra tips
If you want to sprint to the finish line with zeal and vigor, then incorporate the following into your eating routine:
- Water and unsweetened herbal tea: The go-to drink anytime, anywhere; enjoy with slices of fruit or fresh herbs
- Coffee and tea: Preferably without any milk and sugar, maximum three cups a day
- Herbs and spices: All natural varieties allowed
- Chocolate: Occasionally as a dessert, but always dark chocolate that contains a minimum of 70% cacao
- Alcohol: As little as possible, and choose red wine and distilled liquors
- Salt: Feel free to use a dash of salt if you select plain and unprocessed ingredients
Beware of these bumps in the road ahead
There are a few strategies you can implement to make sure your progress is smooth and bump-free, as well as ways to avoid those hidden obstacles ahead:
- Avoid “diet” foods and products: They are packed with artificial ingredients that your body has difficulty processing; natural, whole foods should always be your first choice
- Limit baked goods, sugar, and ice cream: Try and limit consumption as much as possible but, at the same time, don’t deprive yourself — allow for the occasional cheat meal
- Fast food and processed foods: Avoid like the plague!
- Artificial sweeteners: Cut out completely
- Artificial ingredients: Cut out and use natural and organic instead
In it for the long haul
The 8fit meal plan is an excellent guide to help you navigate what foods to focus on. In general, balance your macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs), so you can experience the best results for your body and mind. Aim to have protein with every meal and combine it with some healthy carbs and good fats.
Sample 8it recipes that give you guidance without traffic light school. Sign up now!