This is what the typical diet looks like in South Africa

 ·31 Jan 2016

South Africa faces a war on nutrition on two fronts: the high rates of obesity, and a battle against nutritional deficiency.

A study conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council in 2012 (released in 2014) provides a comprehensive insight into the state of nutrition in South Africa.

This National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that an alarming number of South Africans in rural and informal urban areas – over 40% of the population – are nutritionally deficient, with low dietary diversity, and low food security.

The research also revealed an opposing problem. In urban areas in higher income regions where food diversity was high, foods eaten were high fat, high sugar and accompanied by obesity and health problems.

What you understand to be a typical meal in the country may not be accurate at all.

How South Africans eat

According to the HSRC, a variety of foods in a diet is needed to ensure an adequate intake of essential nutrients.

The researchers looked at the dietary diversity score (DDS) in South Africa, by assessing what people eat on a typical day, and how those foods fit into nine different dietary categories.

A DDS score under 4.0 is considered deficient, and South Africa averages 4.2 – not a good sign.

Low income groups typically cannot afford – and have limited access to – diverse types of food, resulting in a low average intake of fruits and vegetables.

Read: South Africa’s poor living on R7 a day

For many South Africans, food security is one of the biggest issues when it comes to diverse nutrition – and provinces such as Limpopo (65.6%) and the North West (61.3%) had a high number of respondents with DD scores below 4.0.

In fact, only those in formal urban regions had an average score over 4.0.

Just over 45% of South Africans are not eating meals with enough nutritional diversity – and the rest aren’t doing great, either. 28.3% of South Africans face hunger, and another 26% face the risk of experiencing hunger.

For these groups, typical diets are based mainly on starches such as maize, rice and bread.

Breakfast (Est. kilojoules: 1,800kJ+)

Pap and milk

A staple breakfast is mieliepap or maize porridge. Depending on what is available, this is either eaten plain, or with sugar, butter, milk or cheese.

Lunch (Est. kilojoules: 1,550kJ)

Lunch is typically a quarter loaf of bread accompanied by a combination of leafy vegetables known as morogo, or African spinach.

Supper (Est. kilojoules: 3,150kJ)


Dinner is once again mieliepap with morogo and a cheap cut of meat, or poultry (chicken feet is a popular choice – or even mopani worms). Rice is typically considered an occasional luxury.

Nutritional values

A 350g portion of pap comes in at around 1,800kJ, and contains 90g of carbohydrates. Morogo can vary, but is around 450kJ per portion. 100g of boiled chicken feet is around 900kJ and a quarter loaf of bread is 1,100kJ.

Eating these three meals in a day (excluding any coffee and other possible additions) would probably only cover 6,500kJ. The average person needs 8,800kJ per day.

According to, these meals can be improved by introducing more fruit and vegetables into the diet – adding beetroot to lunch or dinner meals, and bananas and oranges for snacks during the day.

It provided three examples of improved “typical meals” in South Africa.

Nutritional meal 1

Spinach, beetroot, pap and a chicken thigh

Nutritional meal 3

Spinach, pumpkin, pap and beef stew

Nutritional meal 2

Pap, spinach and mopani worms

More on nutrition

20% sugar tax on the cards for South Africa

Why South Africa needs a sugar tax

These are the unhealthiest cereals for your kids

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