New dietary guidelines in the Republic of Ireland

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

food pyramid

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.


Posted: 06/07/2012 09:45:41 by Aileen McGloin | with 12 comments
Filed under: Eatwell plate, Food pyramid, Fruit, Vegetables

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@ Mary

The advice given in the food pyramid and by health professionals is based on the general healthy adult population. You probably agree that advice to cut down on sugar, salt and fat is very appropriate. However, this advice does not apply to individuals with medical conditions or as in your case low blood pressure. People with such conditions or concerns should follow their GP and health professionals advise to address this as in many cases the advice is different to that of the food pyramid.

If your weight is healthy and if you have no health concerns, then there is likely no need for you to change your eating habits, however there is no harm in being aware of what you are eating and it is important that the population understands what is in food, what to keep an eye on and how to read food labels

On your query about alcohol, there is some research looking at the link between alcohol and health. While some associations have been made in some small studies there as yet is not enough robust evidence to be able to suggest it can reduce the risk of certain conditions. Alcohol, in moderation and in conjunction with a healthy diet is ok. The advice states: “For low risk drinking the weekly limits are:

- Up to 11 standard drinks a week for women (112 grams of pure alcohol)
- Up to 17 standard drinks a week for men (168 grams of pure alcohol)”

We unfortunately don’t have a legislative role and so can only educate consumers as to what to look for when trying to make decisions on what food to purchase. We continue along with other organisations to try and influence food manufacturers and supermarkets.

27/04/2016 15:06:30

I am reading this blog/Safefood website hoping to find some inspiration for healthy eating. My questions are fairly simple, but I can never find answers to them from a good source.

1. The universal advise seems to be to cut sugar, salt and fat. Yet my blood sodium was below normal in a recent test and I have low blood pressure. Do I still need to cut salt? Could other people be like me, and why is the advise to cut salt intake so universal? Does one size fit all?
2. My BMI is 22.5. Do I need to concern myself with my sugar intake?
3. Why are food companies allowed to add excess salt and sugar to foods - especially those we think are good for us. Eg Dolmio sauce - I was utterly shocked to hear them say it should only be eaten once a week. I genuinely thought it was a healthy option - we are always told to go for tomato based sauces...
4. Can you tell us the honest story on alcohol consumption. Those who drink moderately are less likely to get Alzhimers? Heart disease? So why has it no place in a healthy diet?
5. I wish - honestly - I could believe what I read from scientific organisations. But somehow, what I read here in Safefood and other such organisations I find quite condescending. Give me the science. I don't need the stress of "being a good girl" and cutting out everything I enjoy. And since I have no health issues related to what I eat or drink, why should I change?

Perhaps the emphasis should be on changing food manufacturers attitude to adding sugar and salt in large quantities to everything instead of lecturing the public about their "unsafe" eating habits?
21/04/2016 18:38:03

@ Aaron

dietary guidelines are food-based and don’t cover specifics on nutrients, the Recommended Dietary Allowances do however. These were published by the FSAI in 1999.
12/04/2016 16:09:09

Hi could you tell me what the daily dietry reccomendations are for fats, carbohydrates and protien are...would be a great help thanks ...
11/04/2016 20:24:38

Would we not be better off investing our time teaching people what real good is and encouraging a diet with less pseudo food-like products? Encouraging low fat spreads over full fat butter is long out dated information. Choosing low fat products can have quite a damaging affect on the body and are not healthy for us just because they have less calories. Fat is not what made us obese. Bad foods (laden with toxins) are what made us obese and while margarine might fall under that category neither butter nor lard do. Fruits and vegetables should not be eaten in equal amounts. Vegetables are far more beneficial and they should be on separate columns if you ask me. Our obesity epidemic is going to be largely down to sugar consumption so surely the carbohydrate rich foods should be much higher on the pyramid? We should be looking at a diet that comes from real foods that is high in fats, proteins, dark green leafy veg and then small amounts of carbohydrate laden foods (fruits would be better grouped here). If people manage to stick to the above food pyramid guidelines they are going to need a lot of will power. Will power is not infinite and will run out! This food pyramid will not address any of the cravings obese people will have and this food pyramid will set people up for failure. Following a diet with less sugar and higher fat (all from real foods) could see these cravings decrease and give people a chance at following something sustainable.
24/09/2015 16:45:14

Aileen McGloin
Many thanks for your comment Loyola. You raise many important points, particularly about hidden sugars etc.

Regarding the food pyramid, the main problem is that very few people actually follow the pyramid in their eating. This was studied as part of the national SLAN study and as you can guess, there was a far higher intake from the top shelf of the pyramid than recommended. Another key issue is portion size, which affects all food groups.

Kind regards

08/05/2014 15:42:02

Loyola Meireles
Hi Aileen,

I read an excellent book recently published by John McKenna, Good Food, it's widely available. I'd be very interested to know what you think about the food pyramid he recommends which is very different to the one promoted by the HSE.

My personal opinion is that people need to cut down on the amount of food they are eating from the bottom shelf of the pyramid as many of these foods particularly breads/rolls/cereals have extremely high levels of sugar. For example a typical breakfast cereal from the local supermarket "whole grain cereal hoops" contains over 18grams of sugar per 100 grams.

Additionally, how many people are aware that a 170 ml pot of strawberry yoplait yoghurt contains 26grams of sugar, and we're being advised that eating one small carton of yoghurt (125 mls pot)a day is healthy. A four stick bar of kit kat has 28 grams of sugar, not much difference there ?

It is my opinion that the Irish food pyramid is part of the problem. I would take a guess and say that the average Irish child could be consuming a higher proportion of sugar on a daily basis from the bottom group of the pyramid and the dairy section, than from the top.

It is my observation that since the introduction of advice to remove fat from our diets; eat low fat foods; and the introduction of the food pyramid, obesity problems in Ireland have soared. In 1991, prior to the introduction of the food pyramid 8% of Irish men were suffering from obesity, that rate has now risen to 23% and is similarly rising for children and women.

I was horrified to read recently in the newspaper that our government is starting a pilot programme of weighing children in several schools around Ireland, as part of the plan to tackle the obesity crisis. Have they not thought of tackling the food companies, instead of inflicting such humiliation on young children.

We copied the pyramid from the United States, who already had an obesity epidemic in the 1990's and it's clearly not working for the US or Ireland.

It's increasingly obvious to me that it's the level of sugar (mainly from processed foods) in people's diets that needs addressing and the current food pyramid does not sufficiently address this.
28/04/2014 10:57:41

Aileen McGLoin
Hi Ciaran,

From our 'Review of the milk supply chain':

Calcium content per 100g

Broccoli (Raw): 56mg
Milk: 121mg
Cheddar cheese: 734mg
Low fat yoghurt: 140mg
24/01/2014 09:40:54

Hi, may I ask about the dairy section within the pyramid? I ask because it has it's own section but it's all about dairy nutrition yet broccoli has more calcium than any of the dairy provided, yet broccoli doesn't have it's own section?
13/11/2013 18:18:49

Deirdre Lawlor
Hi, as a home ec teacher is there a poster we can get to hang on the wall of the school kitchen (and better again trí gaeilge please?) Many thanks
07/10/2013 20:52:53

Aileen McGloin
Hi Leah, this comes from the North South Food Consumption Survey (IUNA).
03/12/2012 10:10:03

interesting article. Can I ask re your source of statistics, I'm not doubting them just interested that 24% food is eaten outside the home?
30/11/2012 17:37:23

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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 :).