Nutrition basics in a nutshell


The South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for adults is a set of dietary guidelines developed specifically for South Africans. The message is positive, understandable and food-based, as opposed to previous nutrition tools.

When implementing these guidelines, it's important to only use healthy cooking methods such as boiling, steaming, baking/grilling in the oven or "braaing" over coals. Limit the addition of any form of fat (such as margarine, oil, butter, lard, mayonnaise, cream and cheese) during food preparation.

The South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines:

1. Enjoy a variety of foods

Variety means eating different foods within a meal, on different days and preparing food in different, healthy ways. This ensures that your diet contains sufficient nutrients and that it's more enjoyable. The more colourful a plate of food, the better the variety.

2. Be active

Regular exercise has many benefits including weight control, reducing the risk for heart disease and osteoporosis, relaxation and better sleeping patterns. Aim to do at least one 30-45 minutes physical-activity session every day, or three short 10-minute sessions over the course of the day. Make use of every opportunity to move.

3. Drink lots of clean, safe water

Each of us should drink at least six to eight glasses (or more according to thirst or when physically active) of clean, safe water every day. This also includes rooibos and other herbal teas, with no added sugar or milk, and low-energy or sugar-free cold drinks.

4. Make starchy foods the basis of most meals

Starchy foods include maize meal, cereals, samp, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and sweet potato. These foods are rich sources of carbohydrates, our main source of energy, and should be consumed with every meal. It's important to choose unrefined starchy foods that are high in fibre since these increase satiety, supports healthy bowel functioning and lower the risk of developing diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Unrefined starches include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, high-fibre cereals, oats and course maize meal.

5. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day

Fruit and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, fibre and water and you should aim to eat five portions or more per day. Try to eat different vegetables and fruit, for example at least one good source of vitamin C (such as tomato, the cabbage family, citrus fruit and guavas) and one dark green or dark yellow vegetable.

6. Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soy regularly

Legumes (or plant proteins) should be eaten two to three times per week. They're affordable, high in protein and fibre and low in fat, and can easily be included in soups and stews.

7. Chicken, fish, meat, milk or eggs can be eaten daily

Small portions of these foods can be eaten daily, but need not be eaten daily. Animal-based foods are higher in fat (saturated fat) and we tend to eat more of these foods than we need to. Try to include more plant protein sources and fatty fish (such as snoek, sardines, pilchards, mackerel and salmon) and less red meat.

8. Eat fats sparingly

Fat intake should be limited, especially the intake of saturated and trans fats (animal fats, full-cream dairy products, chocolate, coconut, hard margarine, baked goods such as pies and cookies and palm oils such as coffee creamers and artificial cream). Rather include more monounsaturated fats in limited amounts in your diet (for example, use canola or olive oil instead of sunflower oil, and spread avocado or peanut butter instead of margarine on bread). Also choose polyunsaturated instead of saturated fat.

9. Use salt sparingly

Use small amounts of salt in food preparation and avoid the use of extra salt at the table. Rather use herbs, salt-free spices and flavourings. Also avoid processed foods with a high salt content.

10. Use food and drinks containing sugar sparingly and not between meals

Sugar is rich in energy, but it contains no other nutrients and can cause obesity if eaten in excess or with fatty foods. Choose foods and drinks with little or no sugar and avoid consuming sweet food and drinks between meals as this can cause tooth decay.

11. If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly

Alcohol is high in energy and contains no other nutrients. You don't have to drink alcohol, but if you do, only drink moderately (one drink for women and two drinks for men per day). A standard drink is classified as one can of beer, one tot of spirits, 125ml of wine and 60ml sherry.

General tips on how to apply the guidelines:





Dairy products

Skimmed milk and -powder (e.g. Elite, Protea and Farmer's Pride), low-fat buttermilk, low-fat yoghurt and low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese. The following cheeses can be used in moderate amounts: Ricotta, Mozzarella, feta, soft goat's cheese, low-fat cheese and low-fat cheese spread.

Full-cream milk and -powder, evaporated milk and condensed milk. Milk mixtures and coffee creamers. Ice cream, sorbet and full-cream cheese (e.g. cream cheese, Cheddar, Gouda, Edam, Tussers, blue cheese, hard goat's cheese, Cheshire, Emmenthal and Parmesan).

(Replace meat more frequently with fish, chicken and legumes such as peas, beans, lentils and soy).

Lean meats (e.g. lean lamb, beef and pork), preferably beef and veal. Remove all visible fat before cooking.

Meat fat, sausage, bacon, offal and organ meat (e.g. liver, kidney, heart, brain, marrow and tongue).

Processed cold meats and sausage (polony, salami, viennas).

Poultry and game

Chicken, turkey and ostrich (without the skin and especially the white meat)

Poultry skin.

Duck and goose.

Fish and seafood

Any type of fish, especially moderate to fatty fish (e.g. tuna, mackerel, cob, anchovies, haddock, flounder, salmon, trout and sardines). Crayfish, oysters, mussels, crab and abalone.

Any fish that's been cooked/fried in oil and/or crumbed.

Caviar and calamari.

(Always use all types of fat in moderation)

Canola margarine and oil. Olive oil, olives, nuts and avocado. Reduced-oil mayonnaise or salad cream. Poli-unsaturated margarine and sunflower oil.

Butter, cream, normal full-cream mayonnaise, coffee creamers, hard margarine, heated sunflower oil, coconut, palm oil (the fat in creamers) and coco butter (the fat in chocolate).


Allowed in moderate amounts (5-8 nuts instead of 5ml fat/oil). Opt for unsalted options.

Avoid nuts and peanuts if you are overweight.

Vegetables and fruit
(At least 4-5 portions per day)

Any vegetable or fruit, especially dark green or dark yellow vegetables, and those rich in vitamin C.

Limit your intake of avocado if you're overweight. Use it instead of margarine on bread (5g margarine = 30g avocado or 8 olives).

Don't cook vegetables with fat and sugar or white sauce and cheese.

Bread and cereals

Give preference to whole-wheat and unrefined cereal products (e.g. high-fibre cereals) and use brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, lentils or samp instead of rice.

Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, sweets, honey, jam, white bread, cake, tart, pies, desserts and rich dessert sauces).


Coffee and tea with skim milk and no added sugar. A maximum of 3-4 cups of coffee and 2 alcoholic drinks can be used per day.

Avoid or limit fruit juices, alcoholic drinks and normal cold drinks (cordeals and carbonated drinks) if overweight.

- Information supplied by the Nutrition Information Centre University of Stellenbosch (Nicus)

(Picture: Man enjoying meal from Shutterstock)

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