We just learnt what South Africans eat: 67% meat and starch – with only sporadic vegetables

Business Insider SA

SA's plate
(Nielsen for Knorr)
  • The average South African plate consists of 41% starch, mostly bread, and 26% meat, mostly chicken.
  • That is true across demographic and regional groups.
  • Vegetables lag far behind – very, very far if you don't count tomato and onion.
  • South Africans are also very confused about what a plant-based diet is, new research by Nielsen of Knorr shows.
  • For more stories, go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

The average South African plate is 67% meat and starch, new research says, and after you count the beans, fats, and diary, only 13% made up of vegetables.

And those vegetables are mostly tomatoes and onions.

In February research house Nielsen interviewed just over 1 000 South Africans in a study commissioned by Knorr, the meal-kit, soup, and condiment company owned by Unilever. Based on a 30-minute questionnaire, it reconstructed what people eat at each meal.

It found a dearth of vegetarians – and knowledge about plant-based diets – and a lot less vegetables than nutritionists recommend.

At dinner about a third of every meal is meat, Nielsen found, with slightly more starch than that. At breakfast nearly half of every plate is starch of some kind, with 16% of the meal consisting of meat.

That makes for an average plate composition across meals that is:

  • 41% starch
  • 26% meat
  • 13% vegetables
  • 9% fats and oils
  • 8% diary
  • 3% legumes

That is true across geographies and demographic groups, Nielsen said, and children ate roughly the same.

South Africans appear to understand that their eating habits are not ideal, but don't care. Only 31% of the study group said they always eat as healthily as possible – with 23% saying they eat what they want, healthy or not.

Vegans and pescatarians were nearly impossible to find among the respondents, and vegetarian and semi-vegetarian flexitarians combined came to 16%.

Everyone else ate meat, with poultry and red meat predominating, and South Africans eating seafood more often than pork.

What little vegetables South Africans do eat, don't heavily feature those promoted as having the greatest health benefits. Tomato, onion, cabbage, and carrots dominated the types regularly consumed.

Asked if they know what a "plant-based" diet is, more than a third of people admitted they didn't know, nearly another 20% said it is food from the garden or fruit, and others identified it as eating healthy food, without reference to its origin.

The study is intended to be repeated annually, to track any changes in plate composition.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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