OBJECTIVE: The first health and lifestyle survey of Irish adults was carried out in 1998 and aimed to describe the health-related lifestyle behaviours of a cross-section of various population strata residing in the Republic of Ireland. This paper reports on the social variation in nutrient intake. DESIGN: A self-administered postal questionnaire, including a 149 food item semiquantitative food frequency section, from which nutrient intakes were estimated based on McCance and Widdowson food composition tables. SETTING: Community-based adults aged 18 years and over residing in the Republic of Ireland on the Register of Electors. SUBJECTS: A stratified sample of adults on the Register of Electors received the questionnaire, of which 6539 (62%) were returned. RESULTS: The contribution of fat to total energy intake increased with decreasing socioeconomic grouping, a finding reflective of the higher consumption levels of foods high in fat by respondents from socially disadvantaged groups. Energy from carbohydrates was greatest among those from socially advantaged groups, and was close to the recommended 50% of the total energy intake. Conversely, energy from protein decreased with increasing social status group. The mean intake of vitamins and minerals was generally close to or above the recommended values. Significant variation was observed among females across the different levels of education, whereas living with someone appeared to influence the micronutrient intake of males. The reported diets of males and females over the age of 65 years were lacking in vitamin D. Mean calcium levels among males were borderline and females over the age of 65 years had mean dietary iron levels below the recommended intake. CONCLUSIONS: For the first time, quantification of nutrient intake in the different social groups in Ireland has been undertaken. A healthy balance of energy derived from fat, protein and carbohydrate is best achieved among respondents from higher social positions. The positive relation observed with healthy food intake and increasing education level was also present in macronutrient intake and a clear gender and social support interplay was seen in the nutrient intake levels.