The Foodist’s Plate

by | May 13, 2013

Foodist Plate


Few things annoy me more than rules about eating. Rules remind me of restriction, which reminds me of deprivation, which smells an awful lot like dieting. And as every foodist knows, dieting does more harm than good toward your health and weight loss efforts, and saps the fun out of life. Thanks, but no thanks.

Unfortunately, “eat whatever you want” isn’t the best health advice either, especially in 2013 when food-like products are easier to find than real food most of the time. This is a problem I’ve been dealing with for years here at Summer Tomato, and tackled head on in my new book Foodist.

Focusing on real food is a good start. I describe real food as anything that looks like it came from the land, air or sea, and not from a lab or factory. But with so much confusing and seemingly contradictory dieting advice out there, it can be helpful to have more tangible guidelines about what a healthy meal actually looks like.

To help with this I designed the Foodist’s Plate, created roughly in the same format as the USDA’s MyPlate. I think the MyPlate is a huge improvement over the antiquated Food Pyramid of yore, but there are still enough flaws in its design to warrant a do-over.


The Foodist’s Plate differs from MyPlate in several ways. First, I moved fruit off the dinner plate altogether and indicate that approximately half of your plate should be filled with vegetables.

I have nothing against fruit, and think it makes a wonderful snack or dessert, so I placed it to the side. The reason I did this is because research has shown that when you tell people to “eat more fruits and vegetables” they tend to ignore the vegetable part and just eat more fruit. For optimal health, however, vegetables should be the focus and the Foodist’s Plate reflects this. Enjoy fruit whenever you like, but when making dinner emphasize the veggies.

I also specify that the vegetables should be cooked in natural, minimally processed oils. It is completely baffling to me that the USDA spent decades telling us that fats and oils are public enemy No.1 for health, then completely ignore it on their latest recommendations (unless you dig through 20 pages of literature––you all did that, right?). It’s no wonder people are confused about dietary fat.

The latest research shows that while processed oils (e.g. trans fats) are unhealthy, natural oils do not contribute to heart disease, while making food more satisfying and improving the absorption of some nutrients by the body. Cooking with oils improves the nutrition of your food.

Another big difference between the Foodist’s Plate and MyPlate is my take on grains and “protein.” Since protein is a nutrient, and not an actual food, I instead encourage choosing wild fish or pastured (grass-fed) meats, if possible. I emphasize wild, natural meats because the antibiotics, hormones and unsanitary living standards (think E. coli) of industrially produced meats are far more worrisome than animal fats, in terms of health.

For the starchy section of the plate, I reduced the portion size and emphasize beans (or lentils) and intact grains, which I distinguish from the confusing term “whole grains.” Briefly, intact grains still look like grains and include things like rice, oats, quinoa and farro. Because of the FDA’s legal definition of “whole grain,” things like wheat and corn can still be processed into oblivion and still qualify as “whole.” This is why things like Cheerios can still be called “whole grain,” and I call BS.

I removed dairy from the Foodist’s Plate altogether not because I think it is dangerous, but because I consider it optional, like nuts and seeds. I enjoy cheeses, yogurt and other dairy products (though I always choose non-industrial dairy to avoid artificial hormones––my skin does not react well to these at all), but with up to 70% of the globe being lactose intolerant, it’s hard to consider milk and dairy essential to health.

For liquids, water is what you should be drinking most of the time. Coffee and tea (without added sugar) as well as moderate amounts of alcohol may be uniquely healthy and can be enjoyed in reasonable quantities.

To give you a sense of appropriate portions I include a measurement for the Foodist’s Plate of 10 inches. Dinner plates have become enormous, and since a clean plate is a powerful psychological indicator that a meal is over, it can be helpful to use smaller plates if you’re looking for a painless way to cut down on your daily calories without noticing.

Keep in mind that the Foodist’s Plate is intended only to be a helpful guide, not a rigid eating plan. There are thousands of ways to have a healthy meal, even if you leave off entire sections of the plate. There’s no need to freak out about any one meal or ingredient. Similarly, don’t be discouraged even if your average meal falls outside the range of what the Foodist’s Plate suggests. It is intended as an aspirational goal for when everything is going right.

If you do not have regular access to local, organic foods, do the best with what you have. Eating vegetables and fruits from any source (organic, local, or not) is better than not eating them at all. If wild-caught fish or grass-fed meats are unavailable in your area or are too expensive to be a regular part of your diet, that doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of disease and excess belly fat. Maybe you’ll need to rely a little  more on beans and lentils, or have to eat farmed or canned fish every now and then (I did all this and more through college and grad school). You can still eat healthier than the vast majority of Americans and continue to eat the foods you love by simply making an effort to eat more fresh vegetables and fewer processed foods.

Upgrading your healthstyle is about figuring out what works for you, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.

For more on how to get healthy and lose weight without dieting check out my book Foodist.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
You deserve to feel great, look great and LOVE your body
Let me show you how with my FREE starter kit for getting healthy
and losing weight without dieting.

Where should I send your free information?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

20 Responses to “The Foodist’s Plate”

  1. Adriana says:

    Great post Darya thank you! What are the best oils for cooking? Does smoke point matter or should we more generally pay attention to the types of fats they contain (eg saturated vs unsaturated, omega -3’s etc)?

  2. Julia says:

    What do you recommend to fill the fish/meat section for vegetarians? Should we just expand the other sections proportionally? Do eggs make the most sense as a substitute? Thanks in advance!

  3. zhenia says:

    what about diary? should we eat or drink it? how much of it per day

  4. Wow! 70% of people lactose intolerant? Really?

    • Darya Rose says:

      I’ve seen lots of different estimates, but they are usually 60-70%. This is largely due to Asia, where lactose intolerance is prevalent. In Western cultures the numbers are far lower, but I think my point still stands.

  5. Steve Kline says:

    I agree with the lactose intolerance figure, but I’m part Mongolian. Your plate sounds better to me than the government plate, but they have to cave to the food lobbyists that own the FDA.

  6. Kristie says:

    You refer to this as a dinner plate. What about other meals? Should you eat the same proportions of foods? And how big of a plate?

    • Dava says:

      I’m with Kristie–breakfast is usually where I get my fruit and dairy for the day. A typical start is 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, about a 1/4 cup of unsalted dry roasted almonds, frozen berries and a banana. Because I don’t eat non or low fat yogurt, I wonder if my fat intake is high because of the nuts and what I eat throughout the day (mostly salads with oil and vinegar and rice and beans with lots of cheese!).

      BTW, I think it’s brilliant that you point out the size of the plate!

  7. Grug says:

    Hey Darya – Are potatoes and sweet potatoes reasonable substitutes for intact grains?

  8. Yes! A great improvement to the government My Plate. Thanks Darya!

  9. Pam says:

    I really like your term “intact grains.” That paragraph was eye-opening for me. I hadn’t previously thought of “whole grain” as actually being a very sketchy term. Thanks for the insight, as well as the whole article. Very helpful.

  10. Nick says:

    Brilliant. Cheers.

  11. julie says:

    Hi Darya

    I really enjoyed listened to you and David discuss your book on Dead to the World (KPFA) last night. I’ve been reading your website sporadically for years, but was still surprised how much sense you made. I made a pledge and will soon have your book, though I’ve lost my weight and figured this stuff out for the most part already, sometimes it’s nice to hear/read another voice of sanity in a field of crazy.

  12. Megan says:

    Just found your blog, and I love your interpretation of the plate concept! Thanks for sharing.

  13. AJ says:

    Hi, Darya! What are your thoughts on grass-fed, grain-finished meats?

    • Darya Rose says:

      You really need to look into the farm. That’s a really easy catch-all term, since most baby cows are raised on grass, so it could go either way. There’s a great post on Mark’s Daily Apple that explains.

What do you think?

Want a picture next to your comment? Click here to register your email address for a Gravatar you can use on most websites.

Please be respectful. Thoughtful critiques are welcome, but rudeness is not. Please help keep this community awesome.