Changes to the food pyramid

You have been meaning to ask for years, so finally, here’s your chance – what exactly is the Food Pyramid?

The pyramid is simply a visual guide for understanding which foods we should eat, and in what proportions. It’s a guide for the whole population from age 5 years and upwards in the Republic of Ireland.

Because what we typically eat has changed over time and new research has improved our knowledge, the Department of Health review our national healthy eating guidelines and these are then updated to take into account all of the above. They’ve just launched a new version and let’s see what’s changed.

Pic of new food pyramid side by side with old

1. The "top shelf" foods have been split  from the lower shelves

"Top shelf" foods are those high in fat, sugar and salt that we eat too many of. The split of the top shelf of the pyramid from the lower shelves is to make clear that these foods are not needed for good health. The advice remains that these foods should not be eaten every day, but limited to a maximum of once or twice a week. At the moment, about 20% of the calories in a child’s diet comes from top shelf foods.

2. The vegetables, salad and fruit shelf is now the base of the pyramid

The number of servings of fruits and vegetables has increased from 5+ a day up to 5-7 a day. This means that the vegetables, salad and fruit shelf is the largest and moves to the bottom of the pyramid. These foods should be central to our meals. At the moment, only 1 in 4 of us are meeting the guideline and as a population, on average we only eat 2 portions a day

3. The wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice shelf has been moved up

The wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice shelf moves up from the bottom because the number of servings has been reduced.

4. The serving size for the wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice shelf has been increased

The serving size from this shelf has increased to approximately 150 calories per serving. For example two thin slices of regular pan bread is about 150 calories. Previously, it was about half of this. It changes because people often ate two of the old servings at once, e.g. two slices of bread in a sandwich.

5. The range of servings from the wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice shelf has changed

The range of servings for this shelf reduces to 3 to 5 servings/day for everyone except for active teenage boys and men aged 19-50 who may use up more energy (calories) each day and need up to 7 portions from this shelf. The reduction in the number of servings from this shelf is due to the increased serving size. The range of servings for teenage boys and men aged 19-50 depends on their activity levels.

So, for most of us, the key take outs are:

  • Keep an eye the amount of top shelf, or ‘treat’ foods you eat
  • Increase the amount of fruit and veg you eat. Ideally, half your plate should be made up of fruit or vegetables. Start by aiming for one extra per day, preferably as a swap for a "top shelf" food.
  • Make a note of the amount of cereals, breads, pasta, rice and potato you should be eating and choose wholemeal where possible. The amount you can eat depends on how active you are.
  • Drink at least 8 cups of fluid per day to stay hydrated. Water is the best drink.

Check out these sample meal plans:

Jakub, an active boy aged 5, loves being outdoors playing with his friends. Jakub needs 3 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf.

Niamh is a very active 10 year old, plays GAA and loves to dance. Niamh needs 4 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf. As a child between 9 and 18 years, she needs 5 servings from the Milk, Cheese and Yogurt shelf.

Matthew, a 21 year old student living away from home. Matthew needs 7 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf.

Siobhan, aged 30, is a stay at home mum who is breastfeeding her 6 month old baby. Since it’s possible she could become pregnant, she is taking a folic acid supplement. Siobhan needs 5 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf.

Michael is a 52 year old office worker who is overweight. He needs 4 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf. When he starts losing weight he could have 5 servings and should aim to lose 1–2lbs a week.

Tom is 67 years and has recently retired. He has started his retirement plan of walking for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week and he needs to lose the weight he’s put on over the last 10 years. He needs 4 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf.

Mary, aged 70, enjoys looking after her 2 young grandchildren, so she is kept active. Mary needs 5 servings from the Wholemeal Cereals and Breads, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice shelf.

 

Posted: 05/12/2016 15:19:35 by Aileen McGloin
Filed under: The food pyramid


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About Me

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Aileen McGloin
Hi, my name is Aileen McGloin and I am the Communications Manager, Digital & Health, at safefood. I’m a public health nutritionist with a particular interest in food related behaviour. I write many of the scientific reports produced by safefood, look after the work of our Advisory Committee, manage our work on social media and am an occasional blogger. I love books, especially recipe books, fashion, walking, swimming and TV that is so bad it’s good. I live in Co. Wicklow with my husband and 7 year old daughter, from whom I am taking assertiveness lessons :).