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What are the different food groups? A simple explanation.

Do you know about the different food groups? Would you be able to name them? When you’re building a healthy plate of food, it helps to know about the food groups.

Seven food groups

According to the South African food-based dietary guidelines (SAFBDGs 2012) there are seven food groups that can be eaten regularly. An adequate diet is one that includes a variety of these food groups in moderation.

The seven food groups are:

  1. Starchy foods
  2. Vegetables and fruits
  3. Dry beans, peas, lentils and soya
  4. Chicken, fish, meat and eggs
  5. Milk and dairy products
  6. Fats and oil, and
  7. Water.

Starchy foods

These are our main source of carbohydrates. They have an important role in a healthy diet when eaten in moderation – carb counting can help for those with diabetes, particularly Type 1 diabetes. (Here’s the difference between Type 1 and Type 2.) They are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients – but it’s important to eat them in moderation if you’re living with diabetes. Many people find a low carb diet helpful for managing diabetes. Besides starch, carbs also contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.

food groups: starch


  • Pap
  • Samp
  • Brown rice
  • Potatoes
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta

Vegetables and fruits

Try to eat at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. People with diabetes should choose green, leafy vegetables (rather than starchy options) and lower carb fruits (berries, plums, apricots). Vegetables and fruit contain lots of vitamins and minerals that can help prevent diseases and they are also packed with fibre which can help lower cholesterol and helps digestion.


food groups: fruit and vegetables
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Orange
  • Mango
  • Cabbage
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomato

Dry beans, peas, lentils and soya

These are a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals and are naturally very low in fat. They can be used as alternatives for meat or chicken because they are a good source of protein and this reduces the amount of fat you’re consuming. Remember that many legumes (dry beans, peas, lentils and soya) are also carbohydrates, so include them in your carb counting.

food groups: legumes


  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Green peas
  • Black beans
  • Soy beans
  • Split peas


A good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. They’re a good choice as part of a healthy balanced diet and there’s no recommended limit on the number of eggs you can eat in a week.

Meat / Chicken/ Fish

A good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Meat is one of the main sources of vitamin B12, an important vitamin which is only found in food from animals, like meat and milk. Some types of meat are higher in fat, especially saturated fat. Eating lots of saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels which increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Always try to choose lean cuts of meat with less visible white fat.

food groups: chicken


  • Skinless chicken
  • Lean meat
  • Mince
  • Canned fish
  • Frozen fish

Milk and dairy products

Milk and dairy products are good sources of protein and vitamins. They also contain calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. Dairy-free milk alternatives include soya milk and nut milks – if you choose dairy-free milk, then go for unsweetened varieties which have been fortified with calcium.

Some dairy products like cheese and yoghurts can be high in salt, sugar or fat (especially saturated fat), so always check the label. And remember that dairy is also a carb!

food groups: dairy


  • Low fat milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Amasi

Fats and oils

Some fats are healthier than others, so it’s best to choose unsaturated fats which are plant-based instead of animal-based fats which are saturated fats. Plant-based fats can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

food groups: oils


  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Flax seed


food groups: water

The body constantly loses fluid through breathing, sweating or urination and therefore this needs to be replaced. Aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day to help keep your body hydrated.

Download a free copy of the Healthy Food Guide

Looking for more information on which foods to choose and in what portions? We created this free Healthy Food Guide to help people with diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol make healthier choices. It’s also useful if you want to lose weight.

Download your free copy here or read it online here !

Get your free 2022 Diabetes Journal: The journal is aimed specifically at those living withType 1 diabetes, and it’s all about how behaviour change can help you live a happy, healthy life with diabetes.

Free Healthy Food Guide: This Healthy Food Guide shows you exactly which foods to choose (and which to avoid), as well as sharing which portions to eat.

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.

Photos by Heather Gill, Laura Mitulla, Eiliv-Sonas Aceron and Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

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  1. pauline khosa pauline khosa

    Hi good menu but I can’t eat soya as I have also thyroid hyperthyroidism

    • Good to know, Pauline… You can substitute it with other proteins then.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.