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The State of South Africa’s Plate

Average read time: 3 minutes

Uncovering South Africa’s Eating Habits and Attitudes.

The State of South Africa’s Plate

Despite living in a country fortunate enough to be filled with a variety of nutritious crops, South Africans on average consume a dangerously limited diet. This lack of dietary diversity has resulted in South Africa being crowned the unhealthiest country in the world according to the recent Indigo Wellness Index. 

In an effort to truly uncover what was on South Africa’s plate, Knorr commissioned Nielsen – a global measurement and data analytics company – to carry out an independent study (using a representative sample group) to help uncover and gain a greater understanding of the eating habits of the South African population.

The research objectives were multifold and included the following:

  • Gaining an understanding of the composition of South Africa’s plate across different meal occasions, demographics, and regions.
  • Understanding South Africans’ attitudes towards food and its link to health.
  • Gaining an understanding of South Africans’ access to healthy food.
  • Creating a source of information that stakeholders could tap into in order to help shape the health of the nation.

The study found that the current plate composition consumed by many in South Africa does not align with the Eatwell plate composition ­­– with the average South African adult’s plate made up of twice the recommended amount of meat and almost three times less vegetables than recommended. This places South Africans at risk of poor nutritional status, with the country already seeing significant levels of obesity, hypertension as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies (NDoH et al, 2019).01

Key findings unearthed in the study included:

  • South African adults eat twice the amount of recommended meat and three times less vegetables than recommended.
  • That 84% of South Africans eat meat almost every day, with poultry and red meat being the most popular.
  • That children also have a diet that is low in dietary diversity and have the same plate composition as adults, which is likely to result in the establishment of poor eating habits and the risk of poor nutritional status early in life.
  • That carbohydrate-rich food is eaten daily, with refined staples inclusive of bread, white rice, potatoes and mielie pap being the most popular.
  • That the most commonly consumed vegetables include tomatoes, onions and cabbage, followed by carrots.
  • That high blood pressure is the most common health issue for South Africans when it comes to non-communicable diseases.
  • After family and friends, information from healthcare professionals remains people’s main sources of nutritional information.

The EAT-Lancet Commission, on reviewing the large body of evidence on sustainable diets, has called for the reorientation of global priorities. They call for food system actors to work together on holistic solutions which build nutrition outcomes into all food production activities – from farm to fork – in order to make sustainable, plant-based foods more available, affordable and desirable (EAT-Lancet reference is enclosed).02

Making changes to one’s eating patterns can be overwhelming. However, small shifts in food choices — over time — can make a big difference. Encouraging these shifts is imperative to building a stronger and healthier nation. Understanding what current intakes are in South Africa and how food groups and other dietary components are consumed can help inform these necessary changes. For more information on how Knorr is using these insights to reinvent the local food system and help improve the plate of the nation, visit


National Department of Health (NDoH), Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and ICF, 2019. South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016. Pretoria, South Africa, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: NDoH, Stats SA, SAMRC, and ICF.


EAT-Lancet Commission. Food in the Anthropocene: Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems.

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