Updated 24 February 2017

South Africans consume alarming amounts of sugar and carbs

South Africans opt for food that is high in energy rather than rich in nutrients – and experts warn that this may lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. Can a sugar tax be the solution?

As parliament debates the proposed sugar tax, a review of dietary studies funded by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security has revealed that most South Africans consume too much in the way of sugar and carbohydrates.

Serious health implications

The study shows that South African men consume up to 13 974 kilojoules a day, while South African women consume up to 11 978kJ a day, way more than the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommended average energy intake for adults of 8 700kJ.

Associate Professor Hettie Schönfeldt, who conducted the review, says that the amount of kilojoules that South Africans consume indicates that many South Africans are either underweight or overweight, both of which have serious health implications.

Professor Schönfeldt is the research leader for the Biofortification Programme of the Institute of Food Nutrition and Well-being at the University of Pretoria.

Using online data and data from libraries, Schönfeldt and her team of researchers reviewed the diets of both adults and children between 2000 and 2015.

She says their review revealed that many South Africans have an imbalanced diet since they consume food that is cheaper and high in energy, especially from sugar. 

Wrong kind of fat

Although the fat intake of South Africans was within the WHO recommendations, the type of fat consumed was also a concern, according to Professor Schönfeldt. 

The study revealed that most South Africans eat refined foods. Refined food is food that has been processed to look and taste different compared to its original state.

“For example, many white breads have had the nutrient-rich bran and germ removed from the grain, leaving the bread with very little nutritional value,” Professor Schönfeldt explains.

The research also showed that adult diets, in both urban and rural areas, is becoming more energy-rich but nutrient-poor. As these diets can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes, more education on the value of healthy but affordable foods is essential, according to the Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

Read more:

Is a sugar tax really on the cards for SA?

Why sugar tax would be devastating for South Africans

Sugar tax could save South Africa billions in diabetes costs


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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