The PHD Food Plate

We thought we’d skip our usual food post today and instead ask for your opinion on the first draft of our Perfect Health Diet Food Plate.

But first, a few links. At the Ancestral Health Symposium Shou-Ching and I were delighted to meet Josephine and Henry Svendblad, who run the excellent Nutty Kitchen. We’ve been fans of Josephine and Henry since we first discovered their blog a year ago, and the respect is mutual. They told us that they’ve been tagging some of their recipes with a “Perfect Health Diet” tag. (Also their “Paleo 2.0” tagged dishes are PHD-compliant. Actually, everything at their site is PHD-compliant as far as I can tell.) It’s a great source for recipe ideas.

Also, our regular commenter Gary has created a site with easy, quick Perfect Health Diet recipes at his site, 10 Minute Meal. He explained in a recent comment:

I get enthusiastic about PHD and tell my friends about it, but the most frequent response I’d get was that it may be great, but it means home cooking everything. I’d counter that home cooking isn’t hard. So finally I set up a small website that shows how I’ve done my own interpretation of a PHD meal plan and the home cooking that make it possible to do it during the week, working 50-hour weeks and making 2 or 3 meals a day for me and my spouse.

If ten minute meals are what you’re looking for, check out Gary’s site.

Our Food Plate

The US government introduced its food plate earlier this year:

It seems a little simple, even for the US government.

We wanted to see if we could do better. Here’s our first draft (click to enlarge):

We’re very interested in your reaction. Does it give an accurate idea of the diet? How would you improve it?

Leave a comment ?


  1. The PHD Food Plate | Low Carb Daily - pingback on August 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm
  2. Good first try, but where are the supplements?

  3. It makes sense to those of us who are familiar with the PHD, but I’m not sure that someone who sees it for the first time, will “get it.”

    I love the jin/jang design with the circles within each side and the apples leaves w/stem, but simplify it with just the four major categories: safe carbs, protein, vegetables, fats with additional info in a legend on the side.

    Use the stem for dark chocolate. 🙂

    The pictures of plates of food you’ve cooked were very helpful to me because I neither weigh nor measure portions, but can eyeball the quantity from your picture and translate that into whatever I’m cooking.

    One of the things I’ve found is that substituting rice noodles for pasta doesn’t work. I love rice, but it doesn’t taste like wheat and trying to force it by making rice lasagna or linguini is bound to disappoint. I think this is a large part of my hubby’s problem with the diet.

    Today we had Italian sausages with sautéed onions and Cubanelle peppers over Asian rice with an Italian style tomato onion salad. It was fabulous. In an earlier life this would have been served over pasta or on Italian bread. Using rice as the base is neither better nor worse, just a bit different.

    I continue to be awed not only by the excellence of your (pl.) work, but the mind-boggling amount of it and thank my lucky stars that I caught up with you.

  4. @garymar – “Good first try, but where are the supplements?”

    They would be the stem

  5. I dislike the use of the Taijiquan symbol. From The Tao of Taijiquan (by Tsung Hwa Jou): ‘The equally large black and white areas inside a taiji diagram represent yin and yang respectively. The key is balance — equal portions of yin and yang.’

    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. That’s not my reading of the PHD, which argues 65% fat, 20% carb, and 15% protein. I think the visual should show that ratio, although it is complicated in that the fat/protein ratio is often already present in fatty meats.

  6. I like it lots!!! Here are a few suggestions for your consideration (I do info design for my day job ;).

    1) “Pleasure Foods” seems a slightly odd label to me. What about “Occasionally” or “Sparingly” or something similar instead?

    2) In the same vein, I found “Sauce & Soup Ingredients” also a tad confusing. If it were me, I’d relabel this category “Flavorings & Oils,” move herbs and spices up, and relabel the other simply “Vegetables.”

    Minor nit: remove the upper case “V” in fermented Vegetables.

    3) Is it worth specifying “pastured eggs”?

    4) Similarly, is it worth specifying “white rice”?

    5) Re the “do not eat” ingredients, if it were me, I’d perhaps have the PHD apple casting a shadow to the right with a label like “No” or “Do Not Eat” or some such with those items to make it sync nicely with the rest.

  7. I agree with Kirk. The visual should show the macronutrient ratio.

    It may be clearer if you used the Zone Diet plate as a template for how one would construct an individual meal, of course substituting the PHD macronutrient ratio.

    Zone version

    Divide the plate into 3rds.

    A serving of protein the size and thickness of your palm in 1/3 of the plate

    The other 2/3 get filled with fruits and vegetables.

    A splash of healthy fat on top

    PHD version would look exactly like the meal on page 117 of your book.

  8. It just occurred to me that for the forbidden foods, a smaller apple with either a snake around it or a worm coming out of the middle of it.

  9. Sheep Counteress

    I don’t have Beth’s design expertise, but it looks like an aesthetic home run to me!

    To people uncomfortable with the ratios, I’d say that the suggestion is one of volume rather than calories. A small bowl of rice looks a lot bigger than two pats of butter, no? 😉

    Will be sharing this. A (PHD food plate-) apple a day keeps the doctor away. Thanks for this!

  10. Is dairy such a small part of the PHD? This is a very interesting graph, and I like how detailed it is.

  11. Sheep Counteress

    ^Will be sharing with my father, too.


    Posting this here because I’m not currently finding the cholesterol+infection thread where I’d originally posted re: my father’s condition. So we finally definitively determined that his skin condition is extremely severe ichthyosis vulgaris ( and not the manifestation of some eukaryotic pathogen. But his extremely low LDL and HDL, as well as generally poor health (don’t think I previously mentioned asthma and idiopathic coughing), makes me suspect that he DOES have something lurking. Do you think it’s possible that he’s picked up infections through his completely scaly and very cracked skin, even though he almost always wears long sleeves and pants in public?

    He insists he has no infection, and after this last trip to the dermatologist, refuses to get any more tests done. He also passionately mistrusts antibiotics, so getting him to persuade a doctor to prescribe antibiotics (as you suggest for Candida, etc.) would be a no-go.

    Given this old man’s endearing obstinacy, what would you suggest on the supplement front? He currently takes vitamin B1, fish oil capsules (I know, I know, they’re vastly inferior to fish–but he absolutely will not eat oily fish), lecithin granules, and nutritional yeast. A question on the yeast, actually–a while back, I used it myself as a condiment, and found that it greatly exacerbated my IBS. Do you think it’s likely that while nutritional yeast = dead fungi, they nevertheless become active within the body and wreak havoc with our internal microbe populations?

    I loved your recent quip on how your only meditation has been on your backlog of work (priceless and all too relatable!), so can understand if it’ll be a while till you can get around to answering.

    Much thanks!

  12. 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 ?

    Besides, a recent study shows no weight gain and no atherogenic effects on blood lipids, on a eucaloric diet, even when sugar was consumed at four times higher than the AHA recommendation.

  13. Although I suggested it, I’m not thrilled about the idea of dividing a plate into macro nutrient ratios. I find the PHD exceptional because of the three initiatives you promote:

    (1) Increase nutrients
    (2) Eliminate toxins
    (3) Battle pathogens

    I know that doesn’t fit onto a plate. I just don’t think the world need another visual plate, when Adam Fields ‘Choose Real Food’ does that task so brilliantly. I’d like to see a simple, clear design which communicates your main initiatives.

  14. Paul, I’ve read your book, and enjoyed it. 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”. I haven’t used a program like FitDay, and although I know what the macronutrients are in various foods, I’m largely ignorant of them in terms of grams or calories.

    At one point, using online nutrition data, I took pencil and paper and jotted down how much rice per day & how many potatoes per day would equal the carb calorie goals. But that never really did transfer into useful, practical info for me.

    What I did take away from the book is the more general idea about what not to eat, and what kinds of foods to favor, ala Kurt Harris’ 12 steps.

    I still have no clue if I’m eating too much or too little—in total calories or in macronutrients. I try to eat to appetite, and I try to choose real, nutritious foods. Plugging my food choices into FitDay is not going to happen anytime soon, and I imagine the average person would feel the same. I think it’s MUCH easier for people to grasp general rules like Kurt outlines (no measuring, no weighing..favor this, avoid that).

    The PHD food plate is an attractive design, but I find it’s similar to the book—I’m not easily picturing whether a day’s meals that I typically eat fit the guidelines or not.

  15. Definitely lovelier to look at!

  16. Generally speaking, I like it a lot!

    I think Beth has some good suggestions. Especially about the sauce and soup label.
    I think the “do not eat” items are really clear the way they are, though.

    ERP, not sure it’s important for the food plate, but I find rice noodles are fine when you incorporate them with a dish that has oriental flavours – soy sauce, a little sesame oil etc. When you try to put a tomato based sause on it, it falls flat, taste-wise.

    That said, I made a bolognese sauce last night – more meat than sauce (I asked my butcher to make it 1/5 beef liver, so I snuck some liver into our diet). It was pretty good with rice noodles because the sauce overpowered the taste of the noodles.

  17. Hey, if dark chocolate goes on erp’s stem, I want macadamia nuts there too — lest they be lumped in with all the other nuts. I committed to memory “eat in abundance” and have done so over the past 9 months!

  18. It’s beautiful Paul! I don’t think it needs much changing at all– just a couple tweaks if you feel it necessary.

  19. very beautiful! It’s perfect as it is.

  20. Hi Paul,

    Good idea! I think the USDA MyPlate is intended to be a simple visual of food proportions when people look at their own plates. More details of each is found clicking each item on the plate.

    It’s a neat idea to use the PHD apple. Although, since so many people will be familiar with the USDA MyPlate, I think it would be easier for most people to understand PHD at glance how it compares by using the same simple plate graphic and supplement with details – not sure if you’d need permission.

    I also like the idea of making Fat more obvious, since PHD is mostly fat calories and a major difference from USDA.

    So a suggestion for PHD MyPlate changes might be:
    Safe Starches instead of Grains
    Fat instead of Fruit (maybe reduce the size)
    Soup/Broth instead of Dairy


  21. Ruth, I agree that rice noodles taste great and are good in many combinations. My point is that rice noodles aren’t a substitute for wheat pasta even if they are shaped similarly and people like my husband who are addicted to pasta, will be disappointed when they try to do so. Since we like white rice and it’s so simple to make, I use it rather than the hit or miss mushiness of rice noodles.

    John, welcome. There’s plenty of room on the stem, but if we’re adding nuts, I’d like to add pistachio’s too.

    Michelle, I had the same problem trying to figure out portions, but solved it by looking at the pictures of the sample meals Paul posted.

  22. Unlike Kirk, 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.

    But that’s just me and my mind works in generalities. So I checked with hubby who isn’t all that familiar with details of PHD principles ( he eats what I feed him and is happy as long as it tastes good and is satisfied) and whose mind is very precise in regard to visuals and the written word…. some might say anal.

    His responses were:

    *Not sure about the use of “colorful” vegs. Where are “leafy” vegs? ( I agree that leafy would be better in this list than colorful since they are all colorful)

    *It isn’t clear how much of each category….guess I will have to read more if I want to know. (In other words he didn’t think you were saying equal amount of each side of the yin yang, but wanted to be sure)

    *He got hung up on the fructose free sweeteners, then decided that he would have to read more if he wanted to know what you meant.


  23. Looks like a good first effort. I would recommend fruits with a strong glucose/fructose ration graduate from part of a leaf of the apple. Alcohol and fructose-free sweeteners belong there, though — low volume is a large impact. Perhaps replace ‘Plantains’ with ‘Safe Fruits (Plantains, Bananas, Cherries’ (I don’t remember what the best fruits are but maybe the top 3)

  24. Gary,

    I like your site! I already saw a few I needed and was a little timid to make a homemade version of it like the cheese sauce and mayonnaise. So thanks!

  25. Oh and Gary…add some pictures! Mayonnaise video link really helped.

    Will you be adding more?

  26. i like fruit a lot more than your plate does…

  27. Adding to my comment above that I’m mostly ignorant of the macronutrient grams or calories in common food items….I’m also looking at it as the parent of teens who are not yet doing as much cooking as I’d like them to, and are under pressure to take quick meals out of the home. School, then sports, then homework, and socializing.

    They are not reading health blogs, and so far our 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. (like Ellen’s husband).

    I imagine it is similar to the challenge you faced when writing the book—how do you make the subject accessible to different types of readers?

  28. Hi, about rice noodle,

    there’s “rice sticks”
    (very skinny rice noodles). that i think goes very well with Asian flavoring.

    there’s another type “rice cakes” that are bigger. it’s made with glutinous or sweet rice (but has no gluten) you have to slice it. i don’t know if it works better with other flavoring because it’s dense & chewier.

    I like the yin-yang symbol a lot! i believe this is meant for portion (volume) right?
    (i also agree that “white rice” is better in the safe starch). i think “colorful veg” is better than “leafy”
    (alas, dairy is pleasure food. then i have had too much pleasure in my life ….)


  29. Since the PHD is not monolithic in that there are various ranges within each plateau, it might be either misleading, or impossible to do a visual of one plate with precise ratios that purports to be the PHD diet for everyone. That’s why I still think the design you came up with is a good one. And it also makes a great logo without words, simply as an apple/taiji .

    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).

    then in your next book or on the blog you could go into more detail with different plates, having the visuals (photo and diagram) and then breaking each one down in according to weight, calories, grams alongside the recipes. That would help address the problem of different types of readers/learners.

    I also agree with Kirk about the beauty and utility of the three initiatives. Perhaps they could somehow be worked into another yin/yang apple. So that you would always have the apple as your logo and have various versions.

    I think getting into the game of competing with the USDA with a single “plate” may be going down the wrong road. Getting into the sound bite type of contest which can lead to more confusion than clarity.

  30. Paul,

    I like it and agree with those commenters who prefer the current version without precise macro-nutrient ratios.

    My only quibble is with the toxins. It is not clear that beans are in the same category as the other three; on the other hand, soy should be stressed. One possibility is to say: “beans (especially soy)”, similarly with grains, one might say, “grains (especially wheat)”.


  31. 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.

  32. I love it, and I follow it.

    A couple of ideas I ran into recently made me wonder, though. One is Dr. William Davis’s view that low carb is good for the 3/4 of the population that doesn’t have APO E4, but causes heart disease for the other quarter. Do I need a genetic test to keep following the PHD? (July 31 on his Heartscan blog.)

    The other is in Volek and Phinney’s new book, where they say insulin resistance increases as you increase the amount of fat you eat, until you get to pretty extreme levels, when it starts to go down .(pg 86 of The Art and Science of Low Carboydrate Living.)

    What do you think about those ideas?

  33. This is great. I will show it to my sister, who is working on a handout for her medical patients. Should lime juice be included? Should yams be included on the list of safe starches? Should there be some sort of footnote on the safe starches to indicate caution or avoidance for those who are dealing with advanced obesity or metabolic syndrome issues? Someone else mentioned how the layout seems to promote using equal amounts of starches and meats. What if you put the starches in the smaller orange circle, and put the vegetables in the larger red space?

  34. I think it describes the diet well to those who are familiar with PHD. I like it it a lot and it could be a nice illustration in part of the book or the blog. However, I don’t think it can stand alone to someone who isn’t familiar with the PHD book. It gives a good sense of what kind of foods are consumed. However, I think it could be confusing in terms of how much or what proportions should be consumed. I also agree with some of the other posters that there are too many words. This has great potential with a few tweaks. I wish I could be of more help.

  35. >Jaybird

    >Oh and Gary…add some pictures! Mayonnaise video link really helped.

    >Will you be adding more?

    Thanks Jaybird. Pictures and more recipes to come.


    The PHD Food Plate is a terrific visualization of your diet recommendations. It helps refine what’s in the book. As others have said, it is probably most informative for those familiar with PHD. I don’t think it is directly comparable to the USDA food plate and probably shouldn’t be presented that way. What to east is about the quality of what’s on the plate, not the quantity. And the USDA plate appears to emphasize quantities. On a high fat diet, the quantity of fat looks small compared to the quantity of vegetables. I’d say that the PHD Food Chart is an excellent aid to a perfect health diet.

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

  37. I think you need to come up with broad food categories in order to simplify this better. For instance, you could divide the plate into “fatty meats,” “safe starches,” “vegetables,” and “fruits” plus “sweets” and “dairy” somewhere.

  38. Looks like how I eat!

  39. wow it is perfect! I loved the beauty of the design, the comprehensive food “groups”, the detailed information they contained, and especially, the pleasure food label.

  40. About the Food Plate | Perfect Health Diet - pingback on August 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm
  41. Don’t like it. I see no viable reason to mimic an idiotic government precedent. To try to reduce all the informative and detailed info of PHD into a one-size-fits-all cartoon seems…well…thoroughly misguided.

    Yes, I’ll agree that you made a better one-size-fits-all cartoon than the government did, but so what? I just think it goes in entirely the wrong direction.

    Sorry, I just think PHD is better than that.

  42. Hi Sheep Counteress,

    I think he very likely does have an infection, I don’t see any other likely explanation for the low cholesterol, and I don’t think you can rule out an infectious origin to the ichthyosis unless he’s had genetic testing for the genetic causes.

    Dead yeast is toxic and stimulates the immune system in many of the ways live yeast does, so I’m not a fan of it as a supplement. I’d rather take a multivitamin and other supplements.

    My top recommendations for additional supplements would be minerals: magnesium, zinc/copper, selenium, iodine.

    Best, Paul

  43. Hi Peter,

    I don’t agree that ApoE4 forces a different diet, and I don’t understand Dr. Davis’s reasoning. His advice to people with ApoE4 is: “people with apo E4 have to 1) go wheat-free, low-carb, then 2) not overdo fats, especially saturated fat.” If you’re cutting carbs and fat, there’s not much left to eat. He seems to think ApoE4 types are fragile flowers who are threatened by food itself.

    I think Dr Davis is overly focused on engineering blood lipids to fit his conception of optimal. It’s more likely that the blood lipid optimum is different in ApoE4 folks, than that the diet optimum is different.

    The Volek and Phinney claim I haven’t heard before and would have to investigate. I’m not sure if there would be any implications even if it is true. The anomaly would be the claim that insulin resistance falls at very high fat intakes.

    Best, Paul

  44. Hi T,

    The book has a “The Diet in One Page” page. I think a summary graphic is a useful accompaniment, even if one still has to go to the book for details.

  45. Jen, re your comment that you like the pleasure food label, does that imply you don’t find the foods in the other groups pleasurable?

  46. Sheep Counteress

    Hi Paul,

    Eek. Thanks for the heads-up about the toxicity of nutritional yeast. As you can probably imagine, most “informational” websites on yeast also sell it, and describe it as a marvelously benign source of B vitamins (which is why my father decided to supplement it).

    He eats a very “white” diet and is rather indoctrinated against red meat, so I think your mineral recommendations will indeed have to be supplemented. Thanks to you and many other commenters for an accessible source of supplement Q&A – though I may pop back with some more questions about forms/dosages!

  47. Paul,

    I’m just catching up on this post… It was such a pleasure to meet you and Shou-Ching in person! I am sorry we did not get more time to connect during the conference. As I sat through the presentations and all of the debate about low carb vs. high carb, high fat vs. “lean”, dairy, fructose, etc; I could not stop thinking of your most balanced and logical approach to this Ancestral lifestyle we live… The PERFECT HEALTH DIET is the answer for us and what we recommend to our friends and family! We will continue posting PHD compliant recipes that include some yogurt, cheese, safe starches, etc. Enjoy and thanks for the link love!!


  48. It looks nice, but isn’t very user friendly! I found the PHD version pretty confusing to be able to understand without background info compared to the government version. It’s kind of tricky to see what proportion of the diet each component should be when it isn’t split into slices. If you are wanting to draw new people in, I recommend a similar idea with more straight lines dividing up the chart so people don’t get confused/intimidated and scared away.

  49. What are the portion sizes?? Make a sample menu of what to eat for a week would be a lot nicer and easier for people to understand what to eat.

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