National Nutrition Week focuses on 'Healthy Eating in the Workplace'

Healthy food - Google Free Images
Healthy food - Google Free Images

Every year, since the 1990s, we’ve been celebrating a National Nutrition Week (NNW) in South Africa. World Food Day is on 16 October and the NNW runs from 9 to 15 October 2015. This year the healthy eating message selected for our NNW is: “Healthy Eating in the Workplace”.


South Africa is experiencing a health crisis because of the current obesity epidemic – 65% of women and 31% of men in this country are overweight or obese.

Because most people spend eight or more hours a day at work and tend to obtain and consume at least half of their meals and snacks at their workplace, the types of food that are available at the office or building site can have a considerable impact on weight gain or loss.

Read: Healthy eating is costly in the US

This year the DoH (Department of Health) and ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) have cooperated to bring the “Healthy Eating in the Workplace” message to the people of South Africa to urge workers to make wise food choices and for employers to have healthy food and drink choices available at the workplace.

Examples of healthy food choices in the workplace

Based on the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines, workers should be empowered to eat a variety of healthy foods and drink healthy drinks.

Read: Food prices hinder healthy eating

A typical meal should consist of:

- A portion of lean meat or fish (fist-sized), or an egg, or 1/2 a cup of yoghurt, or 30g of cheese. For vegetarian workers, vegetarian protein options such as lentil and soy dishes, tofu and nuts should be available.

- One portion of starch such as cooked rice, samp, wholewheat or low-GI or rye bread. The suggested portions are half a cup for cooked starches, 1-2 slices for breads and 1 roll or pita or wrap.

- Two portions of vegetables such as a salad or one cooked veg and one raw veg (an open handful – about ½ cup – is regarded as one portion of cooked or raw veg).

- One portion of fruit (half a fist except for berries!) – dried fruit only 2 tablespoons as they contain concentrated energy.

- Clean water, coffees (caffeinated and decaffeinated), teas (black, rooibos etc.), milk (low-fat, or 2%, or 1% or fat-free), 100% vegetable and/or fruit juices (a 250 ml serving), low-energy or lite/zero/diet drinks (a 200 ml serving).

- For the sake of the planet, please encourage workers to recycle all plastic bottles and cans used for beverages and as single-use containers for food.

Healthy snack suggestions

As part of the “Healthy Eating in the Workplace” the following refreshments are suggested:

- Sandwiches/bread rolls/ pita bread/ wraps – keep in mind that there are some workers who are intolerant or sensitive to wheat and/or wholewheat products by providing rye bread or even “gluten-free bread” for severe cases.

Read: Gluten-free may not improve athletic performance

- Fillings for sandwiches and rolls can include tuna, boiled, chopped egg, chicken or cheese, with tomato, lettuce, cucumber, moistened with fat-free plain yoghurt, seasoned with a bit of chilli, mustard or chutney.

- Pitas or wraps can be filled with feta and avocado, chicken strips, sweet peppers and cucumber salsa, roast vegetables, hummus, basil pesto, salads, grilled fish or lean meat, or smooth fat-free cottage cheese.

- Grilled chicken strips or mini-skewers, mini-meatballs with a tzatziki dip (plain low-fat yoghurt with chopped mint and cucumber), lean biltong, boiled eggs, cheese wedges with baby tomatoes, low-fat cottage cheese with different flavours.

- Vegetables sticks (crudités), including celery, carrot, cucumber, baby marrow strips, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, spears of baby corn, snap peas, with dips such as low-fat cottage cheese with different flavours, tzatziki or hummus.

- Fresh fruit skewers or fresh fruit with a low-fat yoghurt dip or fat-free cottage cheese.

- Dried fruit and nuts (serve small portions, which are low in sugar and salt).

- Vegetarian options such as spinach and feta parcels, grilled mushrooms, lentil patties, nut cutlets, or tofu cubes must also always be available.

What are the goals of National Nutrition Week and this year’s message of “Healthy Eating in the Workplace”?

- Achieving better physical and mental health

- Reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer

- Boosting immunity, which should help to reduce respiratory infections at work 

- Reduce or maintain the body weight of the staff

- Improve productivity

- Improve the self-image of staff members

Being active in the workplace

The DoH and ADSA also encourage workers to be more active during their working day. The following suggestions may inspire you to get going too:

- Use the stairs whenever possible.

Read: Your plan for physical activity

- Get up and stretch regularly and every time you answer the phone. 

- Get up during meetings to stretch and walk around the table. Chairpersons should allow 5 minutes every hour for delegates to stand up, stretch and walk around.

- Start walking as much as possible between buildings and even to work.

- Join or start physical activity groups at work (skipping, cycling, swimming, playing a sport together – make up tennis or netball teams).

- If you work in a very large corporation, urge management to provide an in-house gym.

Eat healthy food in moderate portions and do plenty of exercise all day long and you will not gain weight at work!

Read more:

SA eats and drinks too much, and doesn't move enough
Workplace break-times benefit all
Healthy work environment lowers obesity risk


- DoH (2015). Workings towards healthier and more productive employees. NNW: 9-15 Oct 2015. Theme: Healthy Eating in the Workplace. Press Release issued by DoH on 29 Sept 2015.

- ADSA (2015). NNW 2015: Healthy Eating in the Workplace. Information released by ADSA, Sept 2015.

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