About the Food Plate

Thanks to everyone who gave us advice on the Perfect Health Diet food plate:

It’s very helpful to hear your thoughts. I thought I’d respond here.


Garymar asks “where are the supplements?” Perhaps this was tongue in cheek, but it’s a fair question. To be honest it never occurred to us to put supplements in, as the graphic was meant to address the question “How do I construct a meal [or a day’s food]?”

That said, I notice the Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid features a multivitamin plus vitamin D. Moreover the base of their pyramid has “Daily Exercise & Weight Control” sections! So there is a precedent.

On the other hand, they consider beef, rice, and potatoes foods to “Eat Sparingly,” and wheat as foundational, so I’m not sure they’re a good model.


Kirk thought our diet is unbalanced toward fat, and so a symbol indicating balance was inappropriate. However, foods and macronutrients are different things; fat can come from plants (coconut oil, olive oil) as well as animals. Moreover, the plate is oriented toward meal construction, ie food, not nutrients.

Michelle, for one, was unsure how to relate macronutrients to food:

I am a reader who never quite caught on to how much of every macronutrient I should be eating in order to be PHD compliant.

Upon reading the book, I could not picture how much “400-600 carb calories” were, or “200 protein calories”.

One purpose of the food plate is to help solve this problem. Kirk himself took the correct inference from the diagram:

To my eye, the proposed diagram insinuates there should be equal servings of meat/fish/eggs/sauces/soups as balanced with servings of vegs/herbs/spices/safe-starches.

Yes! Because the plant foods we recommend have 100 to 600 calories per pound, while the animal foods and fats have 600 to 3,500 calories per pound, a diet that obtains most calories from animal foods can still get most of its matter from plant foods. As Gary pointed out:

On a high fat diet, the quantity of fat looks small compared to the quantity of vegetables.

Our diet really is fairly balanced between the food groups.

Our thanks to those who stuck up for the symbol, including Pam (“I like the yin-yang symbol a lot! i believe this is meant for portion (volume) right?”) and especially Ellen, who is an authority:

I like the use of the Taiji symbol…. I did not think it was meant to convey equal amounts of each food group as much as the *concept* of balance (and change) over all. This, in spite of having studied (with Master Jou among others) and taught Taji.


Beth had a number of great suggestions. One was to merge the “Do Not Eat” foods into the apple by putting them in the apple’s shadow. In fact, we do have an apple with a shadow, and that might work well.

Erp suggested a snake (carrying the apple as in Genesis) or a worm coming out of the apple to represent forbidden foods. Sorry, erp, doesn’t sound appetizing!

Howard suggested we use the Zone Diet plate as a model. This is interesting because it actually has 3 plates, showing a 3-part strategy for constructing a meal. This “dynamic” imagery is something to consider.

Paul A had an excellent suggestion:

Nitpicky comment: wouldn’t it be more intuitive to have meats in the red section and plants in the green?

Yes. Another aspect we hadn’t thought of: in Chinese theory, most plant foods are considered “yin” (thus belonging on the left) and meat, fish and eggs as “yang” (on the right).

Next question: If we’re moving Safe Starches to the left and Meats to the right, would this be interpreted as a “farewell to Paleo”?

Are the “Pleasure Foods” too small?

Bethany asked if dairy was such a small part of the diet? The same could be asked for fruits and berries. (Mallory said, “I like fruits more than your plate does.” So do we, Mallory!) Or even for the “fructose-free sweeteners,” such as rice syrup, which are as fundamentally benign as the safe starches they are derived from.

Maybe we need to add more leaves to the apple stem. Especially if we take up erp’s suggestion to devote the stem to the chocolate food group!

On a related matter, Dale asked why sugar was excluded:

I like it … except for the no sugar part. People are going to eat it anyway so why not be sensible and suggest it in moderation?

Well, we support fruit, berries, and starch-derived sweeteners such as rice syrup. We’ve got ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. Is there really a rationale for including table sugar in a diet? I’m sure everyone will eat sucrose from time to time, but why should we endorse it?

Right Amount and Kind of Information?

Ellen thought we could include more information:

This might be too wordy, but perhaps you could indicate the range under the sections, i.e. meat, eggs, fish (1/2 to 1 lb/day).

MarkES (“a simple visual of food proportions when people look at their own plates”) and Erik (“I also agree with some of the other posters that there are too many words”) wanted less information. Mike Gruber was in the same camp:

Just a quick visual comparison between your chart and the competition leaves me with the impression that yours has too many words … will people read them? A chart is supposed to summarize something, and the more briefly the better.

This is an issue with no perfect solution. I don’t think we can put all information in the apple, and there will usually be some companion text that provides deeper explanations. But I don’t think we need to go quite so kindergartenish as the USDA Food Plate.

Michelle thought we might have missed the most important point of all:

[O]ur message at home is Eat Real Food, & Avoid Food Toxins. I’m not sure a glance at the PHD food plate would help them make sense of what to eat, in practical terms.

Hmmm. I had hoped the text made clear what desirable “Real Foods” and forbidden “Toxin-Rich Foods” were. Is there a better way to communicate the use of real foods? Perhaps little food images would work better than text.

A possible defect of including representative foods in text is that someone might mistakenly infer that un-named foods are forbidden. Hilary asks:

Should lime juice be included? Should yams be included on the list of safe starches?

Those are fine foods, but I don’t want the apple-plate to contain a laundry list of foods. The listed foods are representative — similar foods may also be eaten.


You’ve certainly given us food for thought — and ideas for desirable revisions. Thanks much!

Leave a comment ?


  1. Awesome! I’m a little late, but what I’d like to see:
    – A more traditional apple shape. I think the yin yang will still work.
    – Group titles a little bit larger. Or maybe even dropped all together if they can somehow be self explanatory.
    – Yin yang dots smaller.
    – “Dark chocolate” sideways on the stem!
    – Lighter maroon (pink?) for Vegetables for consistent color palette.
    – Some way to make the “don’t eat” items blend in better but still be off limits

    Some of these might require a bit of text overlapping it’s container, or maybe some would fit better diagonal? Looking forward to the PHD food plate.

  2. Dr. Jaminet, I’ve been following the Perfect Health Diet for several months but recently my therapist warned me that such a low macro nutrient ratio of carbohydrates could have an adverse effect on my serotonin levels, especially for those who are prone to depression. Is this true? She recommended 65% carbohydrates.

  3. My question was a little tongue in cheek, but the supplementation does seem a distinctive part of this regimen. And I am now on the magnesium bandwagon!

  4. Hi Paul and Shou Ching. I like the chart exactly as is! I’m red-green color blind, so I didn’t even notice the meat vs. veggie color scheme issue. I guess you could change that to please the trichromats, but other than that don’t change a thing! And if I remember correctly, the ever lovable luminary Emily Deans once remarked that chocolate was a vegetable, so that takes care of that!

  5. About the Food Plate | Low Carb Daily - pingback on August 17, 2011 at 12:25 am
  6. Hi Erik,

    High carbohydrates increase serotonin levels temporarily because insulin triggers removal of competing amino acids from the blood which enables tryptophan to enter the brain more easily.

    But is this short-term mood improvement really desirable?

    Tryptophan promotes bacterial and viral infections which may be the cause of depression.

    Elevation of serotonin tends to downregulate serotonin receptors so the mood improvement is not lasting.

    Overall, I think there are more risks than benefits to promoting tryptophan levels (either through 5-HTP supplementation, tryptophan intake, or high-carb dieting).

    But, you can experiment with different carb levels and judge for yourself. I doubt the improvement on high carbs will be lasting.

    Best, Paul

  7. I know this is a late response, but I wanted to share my vision of a food diagram *just as fair warning, I come from a slightly lower starch train of thought). I imagine a tree. The roots of the tree represent meats and fat, which should be the base and supporting structure of our diets. The trunk of the tree represents vegetables, which should be the bulk of our diets. The leaves are starches, a way to round out the picture. A sun in the sky reminds us to go outside and get regular Vitamin D production, while a swing hanging from a branch represents play (exercise and destressing). I think it’s simple and gets the point across well.

  8. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for asking for our opinions. Definitively a tricky balance of summary vs. details.

    Another thing I was wondering was if it was possible to show that fruit shouldn’t be eaten with (on the same plate as) meats/PUFA?

    One thought is to label a leaf as “Snack” with “Fruit & Dairy”. Sort of a subtle message to eat fruit separately.

    There’s still something missing for me for amount of fat. I could imagine a new person looks at the PHD Food Plate and will choose to eat low-fat meats with no added fat to starches/veggies (~15% fat calories). Was there a suggestion to use “Fatty Meats…”? Perhaps “Safe Starches w/ Fat”. I’m just thinking the average person wouldn’t naturally construct the 65% fat calorie plate PHD recommends.

    Similarly with 20% lower-carb PHD recommendation. A new person could interpret the PHD plate as “most of my plate should be meat and starches” … and that this would result in more than 20% carb calories.

    Thanks for your consideration,

  9. Erp suggested a snake (carrying the apple as in Genesis) or a worm coming out of the apple to represent forbidden foods. Sorry, erp, doesn’t sound appetizing

    Paul, making those food unappetizing was the point!

  10. it just makes no sense to me to superiorize rice(has nothing in it beneficial to the body) to fruit(chock full of vita/min and antioxidants…)

  11. “High carbohydrates increase serotonin levels temporarily because insulin triggers removal of competing amino acids from the blood which enables tryptophan to enter the brain more easily.”

    I get my seratonin from reading this blog!! Well maybe it’s not the seratonin. I dunno. But it certainly elevates my mood to read the wealth of information and insight that you share so generously with us all. Not to even mention the open minded, inclusive attitude that will help us all find our true truth.

    I think this everytime I open the PHD page. And today I just had to put it in words.

  12. For me, the best thing about your plate is that it uses the symbol already associated with PHD…and it makes sense within the context of your food philosophy.

  13. Hi erp,

    As long as it doesn’t transfer to the diet … of course, medicine has done well with its Rod of Asclepius.

    Hi Mallory,

    Many fruits are pretty minimal in vitamins and minerals, save for vitamin C which I supplement. If you compare rice with apples, rice does pretty well for manganese and selenium, apples for vitamin C, otherwise both are pretty minimal.

    The value of plant antioxidants isn’t well established.

    I think both are fine. The reason fruit is a “pleasure food” whereas rice is a “body of the apple” food is that rice combines well with all foods, whereas apples don’t mix well with PUFA. So apples are better separated from a meal – as a snack for instance.

    Hi Ellen,

    Thank you!

  14. Oops, I see a few of my suggestions don’t fit the existing PHD apple. Sorry 🙂

  15. This is awesome! I took a birds-eye view with my suggestions.
    1. Big red part: meat, fish, eggs, fermented dairy
    2. Big green part: starches, fibrous veggies, fruits/berries, fermented veggies (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc)
    3. Small green circle: herbs, spices
    4. Small red circle: sauces, soup
    5. Pleasure: nuts, chocolate, alcohol
    6. Green leaf: coffee, tea, etc

  16. Hi Paul and Shou-Ching,

    I have just finished your book Perfect Health Diet. I really enjoyed the book especially the parts about how food is transformed by digestion in a similar manner in Omnivores, Herbivores and Carnivores. I found the practical information about Ketogenic dieting for brain disorders, solid tumor cancers, blood sugar issues, and bacterial infections that cause chronic conditions, particularly interesting. I will be digesting your book for some time.

    I was also pleased to find you are presenting at the Weston A Price Foundation Conference in Dallas, TX this November. I look forward to hearing your presentation at that time.

    I do have a question about safe starches. I have been on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet or the GAPS program for over four years. The diet has really helped me recover from my chronic health problems. I have noticed that my resting body temperature is low and I have read that my low carbohydrate version of the SCD/GAPS may be the cause. I have been trying to increase my “safe” carbohydrate load but I can eat very few starches safely. I cannot eat any grains, beans or legumes. I can safely eat any vegetable matter, whole fruits, and raw dairy. I can eat some root vegetables such as: carrots, turnips, parsnips and rutabagas. I cannot tolerate potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes. I have never tried taro, sago, or plantain.

    What do you think? Are those root vegetables good enough choice of “safe starch” or do you have another suggestion for me to try?

    In advance, thank you for your help and enjoyable book.

    Caroline Cooper

  17. I have a question about actually tracking the composition of my plate.

    Until now I have more or less eyeballed everything. Occasionally weighing to get about 4 oz of meat, and using a half cup measure to keep me honest with amounts potatoes or rice, since I need to stick to the low end of the starches to control BG.

    Since I now want to work on losing some weight I needed to look at my intake of fat in a more accurate manner, so I finally decided to over come my aversion to Fitday and logged in. But then I realized that if I added all my vegs that would give me more carbs than I am “supposed” to count according to PHD and not adding them would skew the percentage in another way. I am confused. I am mathematically challenged, so perhaps I am missing something obvious.

  18. Hi Caroline,

    The root vegetables you can eat have sugars and are quick digesting (in the small intestine); the starches you don’t tolerate are slower digesting and have considerable fiber or slow-digesting starch that may reach farther into the intestine or the colon. So that suggests some sort of dysbiosis in the colon.

    I would try to work very small quantities of starches in and take heavy doses of probiotics and fermented vegetables. The goal is to build up some good species that can digest the starches. Once you have a working population of beneficial flora you should be able to add more starches.

    In the worst case you might need antibiotics as well as probiotics/fermented foods to re-shape the gut flora. But usually the slow approach works.

    Hi Ellen,

    We don’t count vegetable calories. The calories you gain from vegetable sugars may be lost in digestion. Just count the safe starches and fruit, and ignore the rest.

  19. But vegetables are included in the “by weight” percentages,right?

  20. Yes … but eat as much as you like. Good proportions are ~1 lb safe starches, 1 lb vegetables, 1/2 to 1 lb meat fish eggs, plus oils and broth and sauces and dressings.

  21. 8/19/11 – Push/Pull Friday - pingback on August 18, 2011 at 8:01 pm
  22. The Precision Nutrition guys have released their version of the Food Plate.


    They actually have 3; anytime food, after training food, and plant-based diet.

    Kind of like-it, but of course there could be more fat 😉

    BTW, when I click on the plate image in your post it returns a 404 error (http://perfecthealthdiet.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/PHD-Food-Plate.jpg).

  23. Hi Paul,

    Could you expand on what you think mind be happening in the lower gut that might make starch difficult to digest for some people, or could you refer me to some reading material on this topic? Have you done any reading and thinking about endotoxins, neurotoxins or auto-intoxication?

    Yes, I likely have dysbiosis in my gut after all those years of antibiotics for chronic sinus infections and high dose corticosteriods for asthma and allergies. (All of these problems are now gone.) My last course of antibiotics gave me an nasty overgrowth of campylobactor, likely from my own gut flora. I would only consider antibiotics again if my life depended on it. I have taken probiotics before (Custom Probiotics) and I eat fermented food regularly.

    I am a bit concerned about what is going on in my lower gut. I did a test with potatoes last winter. I stated with very small amounts which I thought was okay. But after a month, I started waking up in the morning with numb, pins-and-needles in both hands. I would have to flex my hands over and over again to get feeling back into my hands. The sensation started with the little finger and side of the hand and after a few days included the ring and middle fingers. I stopped the potatoes and the problem disappeared.

    It has me wondering if I have a strain of bacteria in my lower gut that is under control right now, but if I start eating starches, the bacteria will start producing some sort of endotoxin or neurotoxin. (Just so you know why I am concerned about endotoxins. I do have epilepsy, but I have been off all medications for over two years without seizures. The SCD/GAPS program made that possible.)

    Caroline Cooper

  24. Hi Caroline,

    Well, the gut pathogens will be producing endotoxins, probably other toxins too, and these often produce neurological symptoms.

    SCD/GAPS are pretty good at finding problem foods, so I think that’s a good start. Reshaping the gut flora is a long-term project; in 5 years fecal transplants may be more readily available and could become a good solution for someone like you, but they’re hard to get right now.

    I would suggest getting carb calories from rice syrup or another glucose source that is easily digestible and doesn’t reach the colon. Vegetables provide a good fiber source and because you’re eating fermented vegetables, you should have beneficial species to digest those. But I would regularly make homemade fermented vegetables of most of the types of vegetables you eat frequently.

    Then after ~6 months you could try testing small amounts of safe starches to see if the situation has improved.

    Another possibility is enzyme and chelation therapy to help remove biofilms, which tend to get established with antibiotic treatments, but I’m not sure if that would be more likely to help or hurt. If you have a lot of metals they would be more likely to help.

    Best, Paul

  25. Hi Paul and Shou Ching,

    I love your plate! Love the use of yin/yang symbol.
    I do agree with others that proposed to place veggies on the green side, I think visually it make more sense.
    Thank you!

  26. Hello,

    My name is Paul, I´m 24 and I’m a medicine student from germany.
    I had my blood analyses done a week ago and an ultrasound and this is what they detected :

    – a lactose intolerance
    – a histamine intolerance
    – I was positivly tested for Gilbert syndr.
    – they detected small kidney stones.
    – they detected an inflammation over my
    whole intestine and stomach

    I followed your diet for 3 months before of this analyses and i felt really good. The only bad thing i did was eating to much protein, because of heavy training. I think thats where the Kidney stones came from.
    Ok, so my question is:
    Since “Gilbert Syndrome” is a genetic disease of the liver is it ok to eat like you tell in the book or do you think there might be problems with that amounts of fat?

    Thank you very much ,

  27. Hi Paul,

    I’m not aware that Gilbert’s syndrome requires much change in the diet. You might eat a bit less fat, less protein, and more carbs, and also supplement for more glutathione (eg NAC).

    Check out our kidney stone post, it’s in the Zero-Carb Dangers series.

    Jamie Scott did a thorough overview of histamine intolerance, http://thatpaleoguy.blogspot.com/2011/04/histamine-intolerance.html. Fermented foods and alcohol contribute to the problem; high protein diets probably also.

    Best, Paul

  28. Thanks for the fast reply,

    The thing is that since I almost stopped eating saturated fats because of the advice of my doctor i feel really bad, lacking energy and i have more trouble with my stomach.


  29. Hi Paul,

    Don’t stop eating saturated fats! They’re good for you.

    I was thinking more like 30% carbs 15% protein 55% fats, almost all saturated and monounsaturated, when I said more carbs and less protein. Compared to 20% carbs 15% protein 65% fats as a low-carb recommendation. I’m guessing you were much higher in protein and lower in carbs.

  30. Ok I definetly will start eating saturated fats again. As i told i feel horrible eating this vegetable oils. The only thing i didn´t quite understand is if you recommend in my case eating lean meat supplemented with saturated fats or if i should go for the fatter meats.

    Thanks again

  31. Hi Paul,

    I think as far as quantity of fats vs quantity of carbs you have to experiment a little to see what works best for you. But in terms of types of fat, you absolutely have to minimize vegetable oils and get fats as saturated and monounsaturated fats.

    Go for fattier meats – beef, salmon, organ meats, eggs. If you do eat lean meats, get some fat with them (butter, coconut milk, etc.).

  32. Seven Billion Humans – The Future of Food - pingback on October 30, 2011 at 11:50 am
  33. I really need more information on ACTUAL foods instead of colorful ….. are butternut squashes and reg. squashes colorful? What about cucumbers? onions? Im feeling like the only one that does not know what foods I can ACTUALLY eat. Please help!!

    • they’re all good. If they’re not grains or legumes, and they don’t have a large amount of calories (eg some of the grain substitutes like quinoa), then go ahead and eat!

  34. rats I forgot to tag that so I can see comments!

  35. Feeding a Healthy Body | Healing Haven Acupuncture Clinic - pingback on January 25, 2013 at 1:23 pm
  36. Hello Paul!

    One question regarding Gilberts Syndrome:

    I read that the supplementation of high doses Vitamin K in infants can lead to hemolysis because of their not fully developed Glucuronidierungs-Mechanism (sorry, I don’t know the english word for it). This leads to an dysfunction of the excretion of Bilirubin. So may the supplementation of Vitamin K2 be a problem for people with Gilberts?

    Thanks for the great book and the blog!
    Greetings from Germany

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