HRB research keeps the Food Pyramid current for Ireland

Researchers: Dr Anne McCarthy, Dr Jean Long, HRB Evidence Centre

HRB research informed the
In Summary

The Food Pyramid hangs on school and clinic walls around the world and provides an easy-to-understand visual guide to the types and amounts of food to include in a healthy, balanced diet.

As science progresses and we understand more about human nutrition, updates are needed to the Food Pyramid, so that people are getting up-to-date evidence-based recommendations about the food types and portions that make up a healthy diet.

A HRB Evidence Review of the current international data analysis and findings underpinned the recent update to the Food Pyramid in Ireland, which put a greater emphasis on vegetables and grains and highlighted that many processed foods, especially those containing additions of sugar and salt are not necessary.

The Problem 

The Food Pyramid offers a simple way for people to broadly understand the food types and portions that make up a healthy, balanced diet. As our understanding of nutrition and health progresses, the Food Pyramid needs updates to ensure the guidelines are based on current evidence.

The Project

The Department of Health asked the HRB to gather evidence about the ideal breakdown of food types to include in the diet. Dr Anne McCarthy and Dr Jean Long carried out the review, which followed an internationally recognised seven‑stage framework. The study took into account the scientific evidence as well as the local economy and availability of foods and how to communicate the information to a general audience.

The Outcomes

The findings of the HRB report ‘Evidence review of the food contents on carbohydrate and fats shelves of the food pyramid’ directly informed the update of the Food Pyramid in Ireland in 2016.The HRB review meant the update of the Food Pyramid took into account advances in scientific knowledge, changes in food behaviours and food awareness and economics in Ireland, as well as the changes that manufacturing and processing can bring to foods.

The updated Food Pyramid places a greater  emphasis on fruit and vegetables in the diet  at the base of the pyramid, and reflects that  much protein can come from non‑animal  sources. It also acknowledges that processed  foods shown at the top of the food pyramid  are not essential for a healthy diet.

The new Food Pyramid has been incorporated  into text books for the Social Personal and  Health Education (SPHE) Curriculum used by  the Department of Education in Ireland.

Dr Anne McCarthy, Senior Researcher, HRB  Evidence Centre says:

'The science that feeds into determining  what micro‑ and macronutrients we need  is constantly being updated and changed. The information that goes into the Food Pyramid reflects the current scientific  evidence, which is important to ensure  recommendations are based on best evidence and because popular diets can  sometimes skew public perception of what constitutes a healty diet'.