Healthy eating guidelines suggest a way to eat that will help you get the correct amount of nutrients (like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) from your food to maintain good health. There’s a lot of debate around the best way to show this; in the U.S. they have recently switched from a pyramid to a plate, while Great Britain and Northern Ireland use the eatwell plate model
. In Japan, they use an inverted spinning top. Regardless of the image used, the messages are broadly similar around the world. For good health, people should eat:
Starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and cereals – choosing wholegrain varieties whenever you can, eating just enough to meet your energy needs
Lots of fruit and vegetables, ideally more than five portions a day
Some milk, cheese and yoghurt, preferably low fat
Some meat, poultry, eggs, beans and nuts
A very small amount of fats and oils
And a very small amount or no food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt
In the Republic of Ireland, the food pyramid has been around for almost 20 years now. When developing new guidelines (PDF, 0.5MB)
, research by the Dept. of Health showed that in general it was well understood, so the new version uses that same format with some changes.
So what happened over the last 20 years and why the changes?
In the years since the pyramid was first published, the food environment on the island of Ireland changed considerably. Fast food outlets outnumber places of worship, supermarkets stay open 24/7 and 24% of our energy is from food eaten outside the home. The proportion of women who work has increased considerably and the time spent cooking at home has decreased drastically. During the same period, our opportunities to be physically active have diminished. Less of us are active as part of our working day, car ownership levels have increased and being outdoors is often perceived as being less safe than it was when we were growing up.
All this has led to major increases in our weight status. For example, 70% of men, over 50% of women and 25% of children are now overweight or obese. While the dietary guidelines are not a prescription for weight loss, there is a greater emphasis on eating the right portion sizes to maintain a healthy weight. The guidelines have a particular focus on this and reducing ‘treat foods’.
Your shelf by shelf guide
Breads Cereals Potatoes Pasta and Rice
Choose any 6 or more servings each day for all ages and up to 12 servings if you are active. Most women need about 6 portions and men about 8. Body size matters so small children may need less.
Fruit and Vegetables
We like this one - choose any 5 or more servings each day - more is better!
Milk, yoghurt and cheese
Choose 3 servings a day, low fat where possible. Children and teenagers (aged 9-18) need more.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts
Choose two servings a day to meet your protein needs.
Reduced fat spreads and oils
This is a new group, with fats and oils now on its own shelf. This is to acknowledge that these are needed in small amounts for good health. Choose two servings of low fat and reduced fat spreads and oils per day instead of hard margarine, lard or butter.
Foods and drinks high in fat salt and sugar
No recommended servings because they are not essential, with a big emphasis on keeping portions small (around 100 calories, for example four squares of chocolate). Alcohol has been added because of its calorie content.
If you wanted a challenge for the week ahead, try eating as recommended by the food pyramid for seven days. Will you have to make many changes?
For more information on the new dietary guidelines for the Republic of Ireland and the dietary guidelines for Northern Ireland check out the links below.