South African Food Nutritional Guidelines, what is good and what is bad?

Most of us are receive conflicting messages though TV, Radio and the Internet as to what is considered good nutrition with advertisers pushing their products as the most nutritious food products with extra-ordinary health benefits.

The Department of Health in South Africa has released nutritional guidelines based on the complexity of nutrition-health relationships geared towards catering to the different ethnic population in South Africa with the goal of having one set of guidelines for all. South Africa is a multi-cultural society with eclectic ethnic influences and the Department of Health has tried to meet the needs of an overall population base to prevent malnutrition with positive, practical, affordable, sustainable and culturally sensitive food-based dietary guidelines, (FBDGs), which are extra-ordinarily simple.

The nutritional guidelines in 10 short points emphasize eating in moderation, eating a diversity of food, exercise and well balanced meals with starch as the staple of most meals, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, eating dry beans, peas, lentils and soya, eat fish, chicken, milk and eggs, eating fats sparingly, using salt sparingly, drinking lots of clean, safe water, and drink alcohol sensibly and specifying a recommended number of servings per day as detailed in, (Table 1).

Table 1. Recommended Number of Servings per day

Children >7-13 years Adolescents14-25 years Adults25-60 years Elderly people >60 years Serving Definition
Starchy foods 6-8 servings 9-11 servings 6-8 servings 6-8 servings
Fruits and Vegetables 5 servings 5 servings 5 servings 5 servings One serving = 1 medium fruit (± size of tennis ball)½ cup fruit or vegetables
Chicken, meat fish, eggs;And/or

Dry beans, split peas,

lentils and Soya



Servings 2 -3500-750ml

(2-3 cups)

servings 2 -3250ml-500ml

(1-2 cups)

Servings 2 -3250ml

(1 cup)

Servings 2 -3250ml

(1 cup)

One serving = one cupof cooked dry beans, split

peas, lentils or soya.)

One serving = 75 -100g cooked chicken, fish, meat

(without bone); 150g Soya burger; 2 eggs;

4 tablespoons peanut butter; 2/3 – 1 cup nuts.

1 cup milk or yoghurt; or 40-50 g cheese.

Now what does it mean to eat fats sparingly?

There are two types of fats, unsaturated and saturatedand each type has an impact on your health.

Which fats and oils are the best choices?

Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats are the best choices for arteries and hearts.

Sources are:

  • Vegetable oil (in small amounts), such as olive, canola and sunflower oil.
  • Soft ‘tub’ margarine (thinly spread).
  • Oily fish, such as pilchards, tuna, sardines, mackerel, salmon. These fish types supply the body with the essential omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Nuts, unsalted peanuts and avocado.

Which fats and oils are not good choices?

The fats and oils that contain saturated fatty acids.

These include:

  • Red meat and meat dripping, sausages and processed meats Chicken skin Lard, butter and ghee
  • White cooking fat
  • Hardened vegetable oils found in many commercially baked, fried and snack foods, shortenings and some margarines, (especially brick margarine)
  • Coconut oil and palm kernel oil
  • Coffee creamers
  • Tea whiteners
  • Full cream milk and full cream cheese such as cheddar and gouda
  • Mayonnaise and full cream salad dressings
  • Fried foods

South Africa’s nutritional guidelines speak to applying grass roots common sense standards rather than the commercialized food industries perspective as to what is considered healthy nutrition.


1. FAO/WHO. International Conference on Nutrition. Food, Nutrition and Agriculture 1992; 5/6 .Rome: FAO.

2. FAO/WHO Consultation. Preparation and use of food-based dietary guidelines. NutritionProgramme WHO/NUT 96.6. Geneva: WHO, 1996: 1-9.

3. Diet Consensus Panel. Dietary recommendations for the prevention of coronary heart disease. S Afr Med J 1989; 76: 591-592.

4. Departement van Gesondheidsdienste. Gids vir Gesond Eet. Pretoria: Promedia (not dated): 21.

5. Nutrition Society of South Africa. Nutrition task teams for South Africa: a new opportunity and challenge. S Afr JFood Sci Nutr 1996; 8(4): 160.

6. Love P, Maunder E, Green M, Ross F, Smale-Lovely J, Charlton K. South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines: testing of the preliminary guidelines among women in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14(1): 9-19.

7. Harris SS. Dietary guidelines for Americans. Recommendations for the year 2000. Food Australia 2000; 52(6): 212-215.

8. MacIntyre U. Dietary intakes of Africans in transition in the North-West Province. PhD thesis, Potchefstroom, PU for CHE, 1998: 1-542.

9. Maunder EMW, Matji J, Hlatshwayo-Molea T. Enjoy a variety of foods — difficult but necessary in developing countries. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S7-S11.

10. Vorster HH, Nell TA. Make starchy foods the basis of most meals. S Afr J Clin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S17-S24.

11. Love P, Sayed N. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits everyday. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S24-S32.

12. Venter CS, Van Eyssen E. More legumes for better overall health. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S32-S38.

13. CS Scholtz, Vorster HH (jun), Matshego L, Vorster HH. Foods from animals can be eaten every day — not a conundrum! S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S39-S47.

14. Wolmarans P, Oosthuizen W. Eat fats sparingly — implications for health and disease. S Afr J Clin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S48-S55.

15. Charlton KE, Jooste PL. Eat salt sparingly — sprinkle don’t shake! S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14:suppl, S55-S64.

16. Bourne LT, Seager JR. Water — the neglected nutrient. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S64-S70.

17. Van Heerden IV, Parry CDH. If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14:suppl, S71-S77.

18. Lambert V, Bohlmann I, Kolbe-Alexander T. ‘Be active’ — physical activity for health in South Africa. S Afr JClin Nutr 2001; 14: suppl, S12-S16. September 2001, Vol. 14, No. 3 SAJCN (Supplement) ARTICLES S6

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