How many vegetables and fruit are South Africans consuming per day?

South Africans aged 15 years and older eat well below the recommended 400g, i.e. five portions of vegetables and fruit per day at 226g per day for females, and 235g per day for males. Studies among adolescents and children younger than 15 years also show that vegetable and fruit consumption is inadequate.

Why is the consumption of vegetables and fruit is so low among South Africans?

In South Africa, the nutrition transition, which saw an increase in the intake of ultra-processed foods in the diet, such as sugary drinks and a decrease in the intake of vegetables and other more fibrous nutrient-rich foods, has been linked to the rise of overweight and obesity, and the decrease in the intake of vegetables.

Limited vegetable and fruit consumption is not simply determined by limited nutrition knowledge or poor decision-making by households, but rather by a much wider set of social, economic and spatial factors. Some of these barriers to including adequate amounts of vegetables and fruit in the diet are availability, acceptability, preparation, peer pressure, food availability and affordability of food in school tuck shops, perceived time and effort and confusing recommendations.

The current global pandemic of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and measures taken to reduce its spread, have also disrupted food environments around the world, and the intake of unhealthy foods increased as fresh food supplies were more affected. COVID-19 also negatively impacted the economy and households’ purchasing power, which led to an increase in eating cheaper and unhealthier foods. Food systems are thus not delivering the healthy diets needed for nourishment and strong immune systems. There is an underproduction of beneficial foods such as vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts, and over-production of nutrient-poor foods.

What tips do you have for healthy snacks using vegetables and fruit?

Here are a few healthy snack ideas:

  1. a medium-size apple cut into pieces and dipped in a peanut butter and yoghurt dip (2 tablespoons of peanut butter and ¾ cup low-fat, unsweetened yoghurt)
  2. a medium-size banana
  3. 1 cup steamed or raw green beans
  4. 1 cup blueberries
  5. 1 cup grapes
  6. 1 cup carrots, broccoli, celery sticks, or bell peppers (or combinations of any of these) with 2 tablespoons hummus, low-fat yoghurt or low-fat cottage cheese.
  7. 1 cup of diced pieces of fruit with low-fat, unsweetened yogurt
  8. A fruit/vegetables kebab
  9. Instead of a high fat, sugary or salty snack from a vending machine, bring some cut-up vegetables or fruit from home.
  10. Vegetables and fruit make great snacks for children too. Stock up on vegetables for snacks and limit unhealthy snacks in the home. In this way, children will be more likely to choose vegetables when they are hungry.
  11. Keep a container of chopped vegetables, like cucumber, carrots or celery sticks or a bowl of cherry tomatoes in the fridge or several ready-to-eat washed whole fruits in a bowl on the counter. These are often also more affordable than soft drinks, chips and sweets.
  12. Offer older children frozen baby peas, but note that these can be a choking hazard for younger children.

How much vegetables and fruit should South Africans consume per day?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) recommends a minimum of 400g or five portions for vegetables and fruit for health benefits. Most nutritional and global recommendations include consumption of at least two portions of fruits and three portions of vegetables per day for adults.

One serving of vegetables or fruit = approximately 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked, or 80g fresh and 30g dried

Fresh, frozen, tinned vegetables or fruit½ cup cooked; 1 cup diced and raw
Raw, leafy vegetables1 cup raw
Whole fruitOne medium (fist size) or two small
Dried fruit30g or 2-3 pieces
100% fruit juice125 ml (limit to 1 per day, if using)

Infants should be breastfed exclusively during the first six months of life. From six months of age, breast milk should be complemented with a variety of adequate, safe and nutrient-dense foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods. Include dark-green leafy vegetables and orange-coloured vegetables and fruit in your child’s meals every day. Portion size will be age specific.

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