Pesto is a classic Italian sauce that originated in Genoa. The traditional ingredients are basil, crushed garlic, grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil.

It’s traditionally prepared with a mortar and pestle (thus the name), but we use a food processor. We also vary the ingredients from time to time.

The nice thing about pesto is its versatility: it can flavor a lot of Perfect Health Diet foods. Like a good poet, pesto makes the familiar new.

Pesto with Rice Cakes and Shrimp

Here are the ingredients for a traditional pesto: grated cheese, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and basil.

Pine nuts will usually taste better toasted. You can buy them pre-roasted, but if you buy raw pine nuts it’s not hard to toast them yourself. Heat a dry pan, then turn the heat off and add the pine nuts. Stir until done. Careful, they can burn quickly.

The basil takes up too much space for our food processor, so we put the basil and garlic in first for pre-shredding:

Then add the other dry ingredients, with some pepper:

Mix, adding olive oil to the food processor until it has the desired consistency. The finished product:

The sauce is now ready. Here we put it on some rice cakes and shrimp. Rice cakes are usually found in the frozen foods section of Asian supermarkets. Look for rice cakes that have no wheat (which is sometimes added to help the cakes stick together). Remember that rice cakes cook very quickly – 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water. When they float, they’re done; be sure to quench them in cold water to stop them from overcooking.

Spreading the sauce:

Ready to eat:

Macadamia Pesto with Buttered Potato or Liver

This one is similar but we used macadamia nuts in place of pine nuts, and included a bit of lemon juice. Macadamia nuts are lower in omega-6 than pine nuts:

Here it is in the food processor with most of the oil in:

Here it is with boiled potatoes and butter, for a sort of pesto potato salad:

Here it is with boiled liver:

Boiling liver removes a lot of the flavor, and adding substantial amounts of a pesto may make it palatable to those who dislike the taste of liver.


Any traditional food can be made Perfect Health Diet-compliant by swapping out ingredients. Pesto is pretty healthy to begin with, but replacing pine nuts with a low-omega-6 nut can make it even better.

Staple foods like rice, potatoes, and beef liver can get tiresome if they’re always eaten the same way. Luckily, traditional cookbooks are full of good sauces that vary the flavor of familiar foods. Be a poet in the kitchen, and look for flavors that can make the new familiar and the familiar new.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Does boiling the liver remove any of the nutrient value?

  2. Hi Jon,

    It typically removes blood which presumably reduces iron levels. I doubt it touches fat-soluble nutrients, and most of the minerals should be retained. We add liver slices to already-boiling water and cook only 3-5 minutes, so it’s not in water long.

  3. Hmm.

    Pesto and liverwurst? Might work if you throw some spice in there. I did some great liverwurst and canarian mojo verde which was popular.

    Pesto, green bean, potatoes, and a few pasta is also a nice, traditional salad for those willing to sample the forbidden cereal. Of course, keep the quantity down and quality up! I think it would ok without the pasta.

    Still waiting for you all to hit risotto.

    Suggestions on other nuts? Pine nuts have a unique flavor, but there is room to play around there.

  4. Nice call,

    didn’t make pesto in a long time. The traditional salad I know goes like: green beans, potatoes, tomatos, it seems very apppropriate for pesto with some lemon added. Maybe some additional olive oil to not make it too sticky.
    Pesto goes well with beef and chicken too.
    For liver I prefer fried with some “sweet” topping (onions already do it) or in white wine.

    I think risotto is already THE italian PHD-food, I cook it quite often. The traditional recipies don’t need much modification if any at all.

  5. Robert,

    walnuts go well with pesto too. And albeit they have a bit too much PUFA you don’t need big quantities because they’re intense.

  6. Great recipes. I know that you consider buckwheat as a safe starch. Can you maybe do a post about how to cook/prepare it properly in the future? that would be great.
    Also I was wondering whether it is safe to eat the skin of potatoes and sweet potatoes.


  7. Author: Sally Fallon
    Book: Nourishing Traditions

    A popular “health food” snack we must warn you about is rice cakes, made from puffed or extruded rice. Although theoretically nutritious, because made from whole grains, they are grains that have been subjected to high heat and pressure to cause them to puff. Diets of puffed grains cause rapid death in test animals…

    …results like these suggested that there was something actually toxic about the Puffed Wheat itself. Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the puffing process of putting the grain under 1500 pounds per square inch of pressure and then releasing it may produce chemical changes which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance…

  8. Hi Susan,

    Actually we’re agnostic about buckwheat; it can cause allergies ( and presumably has some toxic proteins; but is probably considerably safer than wheat.

    We’ll have to consider a buckwheat recipe. Soba noodles are big in Asia. I’m not sure what else buckwheat is used for.

    The skin of potatoes and sweet potatoes and the underlying millimeter or two of flesh is where toxins are most abundant. I think peeling potatoes is prudent for most varieties. Also, I would cut away any flesh near a discolored area. However, we do eat sweet potato skins often and potato skins occasionally. Small doses of potato toxin are cleared fairly easily I believe.

    Hi Clood,

    The rice cakes used here, Asian or Korean rice cakes, are not from puffed rice.

    I would like to see evidence that puffed rice is toxic. I have trouble believing the dead animal claim. Millions of people eat puffed rice cereals without any apparent harm. I’m sure millions of pets do also.

    Puffed wheat, I can see that would be harmful.

    I’d be more concerned about toasted pine nuts than rice cakes.

    Best, Paul

  9. Thanks Paul.

    Quaker Rice Cakes list the ingredients as whole grain brown rice and salt. They’re crunchy, only 35 calories each and I savor two of them every day with various toppings mostly a smear of softened Brie.

    I’d be hard pressed to give them up.

  10. I’ve never heard of the rice cakes in the recipe. They look like dumplings.

  11. Hi Michelle,

    It’s this stuff:

    Think of the long white cylinders in the first photo, sliced diagonally into thin oval wafers.

  12. Okay, I think a field trip to a local Asian market is in order!

  13. Love pesto! this post has inspired me to go and recreate my old fave pasta + pesto meal, but with rice noodles instead!

    slightly off topic, but what do you think of carob powder? I believe it’s a legume, and high in tannins (though i;m not sure if tannins can be considered toxins?), and relatively high in sugar, so it’s preobably not great. Would you say cocoa is better?

  14. Hi remo,

    It is a legume, but since the powder comes from the pod, not the seeds, as with green beans and peas, it’s probably OK.

    Of course I would say cocoa is better! Nothing is as good as cocoa!

  15. I really love pesto but I never knew how to make it before, this looks delicious. Thanks 🙂

  16. Hey Paul,

    Just wondering what your thoughts were on Life Extensions Sea-Iodine supplement.

    It does not say what type of Iodine this is… but I am guessing most of it is Potassium Iodide.

    I already take 1 kelp cap a day that has a 400mcg of Iodine, but I am thinking I need to go up in dosage, but very gradually.

    I tried Iosol this summer, and I broke out pretty bad on my forehead. Ashame, because the rest of my skin looked great on it. I was probably doing over 1 drop a day… but when I tried again in October at just a drop a day, within a week I had the acne again.

    The life extension supplement is 1mg, just a little under Iosol’s 1.8, but I was looking at it as a stepping stone.

    I dont really have thyroid issues perse, my labs for thyroid were pretty good especially considering I was VLC, eating only about 1600-1700 calories a day without realizing it (VLC destroyed my hunger), lifting 3 times a week and s

    TSH was 1.27,
    free t3 3.5, and
    free t4 1.1

    tested for antibodies 4 times and got nothing. TSH went up a bit to 1.91 with Iodine supplementation… is there a reason for this?

    Ideally, I want that TSH below 1. I don’t have many thyroid symptoms. SKin gets a little dry sometimes but not sure if that is weather related… it is mostly just my elbows and some areas of the face where I had folliculitis (taken care of, finally) so the skin is very weak and damaged there.

    I just want the dewy, super moist skin I had on Iosol, minus the acne. So this is vanity driven. Sleep was also perfect with Iosol.

    Sorry, rambled a bit. I have yet to master the art of writing clear and to the point personal comments.

  17. Oh yeah… and just to calify I am no longer VLC and I am eating waaay more than 1700 calories a day.

  18. Hi Bill,

    The acne when taking iodine is probably due to bromine and indicates that you need the iodine. So definitely I would try to start at 1 mg or something in that vicinity.

    The Life Extension is an algae extract so it has the potential for contaminants. However, it’s cheap, and it will also have some other nutrients along with the iodine. If you react badly to it, you might consider an elemental iodine alternative. There’s a discussion on the “recommended supplements” page comment thread.

    The acne will go away once the bromine is driven out. Depending on how much you have, it can take a while – sometimes, a year at 12 mg/day. Drink lots of water and take salt to help excrete the bromine faster.

    Glad to hear the folliculitis is gone and your appetite is up! Sounds like you’ve come a long way since October.

  19. Yeah I definitely feel 100% better with a more appropriate caloric intake and some starch. I am actually pondering going a bit higher carb, with a 15/55/30 protein, carb, fat ratio… read a few studies that showed higher testosterone with such a diet. I am just having trouble wrapping my mind around 350 carbs…

    Do you have any ideas as to why the higher carb promotes testosterone? Low protein makes sense, but I would think higher fat would be better for T… but looking t the Kitvans they are very well muscled.

  20. Hi Bill,

    I’m a little confused about your macronutrient ratio. Is that 55% carbs? What’s 350 carbs — g or calorie?

    As I understand the literature on testosterone, high total calorie intake, high carb+protein intake, lean body composition, and intermittent fasting all promote testosterone levels. Ketosis and fasting reduce it.

    So, if you want to maximize testosterone, try intermittent fasting, but eat maybe 600 carb calories plus adequate protein during the 8 hour feeding window.

    Best, Paul

  21. Yeah 55% carbs… not PHD or even paleo ratios but I am giving it a go for a bit.

    Heres the study…

    Not sure about the source.. but I have read some good anecdotal about guys who were VLC or ZC and their testosterone shot up well over 100% (one guy went from 235 to 700 something in less than a year) when they went higher carb… perhaps once my levels stable (if this works out) I can go back to PHD athlete ratios.

  22. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for the article. However, its conclusion doesn’t match its discussion. They note that higher (saturated) fat intake increases testosterone, higher carb intake reduces free testosterone, and shifting from carb to fat intake with constant protein raises testosterone.

    So I would expect the testosterone-maximizing ratios would be more like the PHD ratios of 20-30% carbs, 15% protein, 55-65% fat, with high saturated and monounsaturated fat and low PUFA.

  23. Bill,

    Paul is correct, SAFA + protein do much more for testosterone then any carb. But some carb is better then no carb for sure.
    Additionally you can try 50mg zinc (not PHD but found it helpfull) for a few weeks.
    I’m 42 and feel definetely more “testosteronized” since going with my version of “athlete’s PHD”.
    I’m sure you know what’s the best marker for that every morning when you wake up. 😉

  24. I definitely agree that SF does great stuff for testosterone… I am just thinking that perhaps a temporary high carb approach might get my body out of some kind of starvation mode that could be preventing my T from maximizing.

    At 21 years old with no pituatary or testicular tumors, no “real” stressors besides last years serious undereating, you owuld think my T levels might recoup a bit faster? Especially since I seem to be progressing in the gym very nicely.

    My levels hoover at 400 when they should be 700++. Estrogen was a little high at 69pg/ml … but I was drinking a gallon a milk a day and was probably 15% body fat there . My SHBG is very low… at 9. FSH is 2.1 and LH 3.5.

    These are the levels of maybe an 80 year old man… I understand the very determinal effects of poor nourishment.. but I wondering if I am missing something? Could this be a nutrient defiencey?

    I am currently correcting poor sleep habits… maybe that is a missing piece.

  25. Great- I bought those “rice cakes” at a korean grocery a while back, and now I have an idea on how to use them and how long to cook them.

  26. Hi Bill,

    You might give yourself some time. Low SHBG means your testosterone is not as low as it seems. Sleep is important.

  27. Hi Paul and all,

    I was just going to ask a question about testosterone today – what variant of the PHD would you recommend for an underweight, low testosterone male? Any tweaks to the basic guidlines?

    Also, I was curious about your thoughts on male pattern baldness (I’m female, but wondering) – any thoughts on links to diet? Your posts in recent weeks on conditions that I used to assume were irreversible got me wondering. I’ve been trying to think if I’ve ever seen a picture of a bald HG, and can’t say that I have….


  28. Hi BC,

    I think the normal PHD or PHD for athletes (high end of carb+protein) is pretty close to the optimum for testosterone. Be well-nourished, eat a lot of fats, be active, sleep well, get sun in the day. I think intermittent fasting is beneficial. There’s definitely a circadian rhythm to testosterone.

    I do believe that baldness should be preventable and maybe curable. I’ll put that on my to-do list for things to research. I’m already planning something on how to stop or reverse hair graying, so it won’t be too far afield to look into baldness too.

    I haven’t seen a bald HG either, but I’ve seen only half a dozen, so not much of a sample!


    • Hi Paul,

      I’d love to give your thoughts a go for reversing grayness/hair loss.

      Is there a post still in the works?


  29. Paul, I continue to be impressed at how you respond to readers’ comments. It’s not something you have to do, and yet you do it quickly, helpfully, and always graciously. Your book is amazing and your blog is a daily read for me. Thank you.

    Yes, would love to hear your thoughts on hair loss both in men and women – and I suspect it may be a topic of considerable interest for readers. There are many men and women in my life who are quite glum (and worse) about the rapidly diminishing number of hairs on their heads, but just assume that nothing can be done about it other than using Rogaine forever with side effects and marginal results at best.

  30. Here’s another anecdote for a Zero Carb diet increasing risk of GI cancer. Bear Stanley (of LSD fame) ate a meat and dairy diet for a few decades and wound up with throat cancer.

  31. Thanks, Kiran. I put a link to your comment on the mucus deficiency and GI cancer thread:

  32. Very good article, will likely be putting this to use.

  33. Hey Paul,

    With Dairy being in the “pleasure foods” category I am curious if you have a cap on calories that should be consumed from dairy in a day? I could eat cheese/cream/butter pretty much all day…. so curious about what are the detriments of high dairy? The only dairy that ever bothers my system is pasteurized milk which gives me farts… everything else seems fine.

    • Hi BS,

      Normally I say pleasure foods should be limited to 20% of energy, but dairy is sort of an exception as it can substitute for meat to some extent, and does in lacto-ovo vegetarian versions of PHD.

  34. Hi Paul,
    I see, you don’t think puffed rice would be harmful.
    Is extruded rice/grain the same as puffed rice/grain, how do you know?
    What is your opinion about this article?

    Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry – Weston A Price Foundation

    I am thinking of stopping to eat puffed rice and extruded millets 😥
    What do you think?

  35. Could you direct me specifically in regard to rhumetoid arthritis and low thyroid

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