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The healthiest fast-food meals in South Africa



Fast food franchises have a poor reputation regarding healthy eating, but load shedding has meant that many South Africans turn to these foods as meal preparation times across households are disrupted.

South Africans have endured load shedding every day in 2023, and the schedule is currently at stages 5 and 6 until further notice.

As the failing power utility Eskom continues to cycle through the stages, South Africans have to accept the reality of no electricity for more than six hours a day – with the bulk of the outages occurring in the evenings.

The Tiger Brand Foundation (TBF) operations manager Karl Muller, told Netwerk24 that constant load shedding not only disrupts the preparations of meals but also results in a considerable rise in food waste.

He explained that as fridges and freezers warm up or defrost during load shedding, many expensive food items like meat and veg spoil sooner.

Muller added that this has meant that many south Afrians are turning to takeaways and ready-made meals during lunch and dinner.

“There is increasing evidence that load shedding is affecting South Africans’ food choices, which is not good news for our health as a nation,” said Muller.

According to an Allied Market Research report, South Africa’s fast food market is expected to grow by 7.9% annually and reach a valuation of $4.9 billion (R85 billion) by 2026.

More interestingly, a market study conducted by McDonald’s in South Africa reported record sales in March 2019 when the country was pushed to stage 4 load shedding – a notable increase in power cuts during the year.

South Africa is littered with fast-food outlets and chains, to the extent that the country has eaten its way to becoming one of the most obese nations in the world.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 68% of women and 31% of men in South Africa are overweight or obese, reported the Sunday Times.

Registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, Nathalie Mat, told the Sunday Times that the occasional takeaway meal is not an issue, but when it happens more than once a week, or it changes the food preference of the family, these foods can displace more nourishing home-cooked options.

However, while local fast food franchises pack on the calories in many of their meal options, that’s not to say there are no healthy choices available.

Nearly every fast food chain lists healthy meal options on their menus, and at worst, would wipe off 23% of an adult’s daily required kilojoule intake.

Adults require around 8,700kJ per day, including 70g of fat, 310g of carbohydrates and 2300mg of sodium, on average. These figures change depending on body type, lifestyle and many other factors.

Arguably, the healthiest fast food meal is no fast food meal, but if load shedding pushes you towards its convenience, these are the best options at South Africa’s biggest franchises.

For all the meals below, we looked at meals as they’re sold from the menu (excluding optional extras such as sides and drinks, where possible). All meals are also the ‘full-sized’ options – no kids’ meals were considered.

The list below includes fast food chains with nutritional information on their websites. We also had one more rule: no salads and no sides as meals.

McDonald’s burger
Kilojoules1 046 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)31 g
Fat (g)9.0 g
Sodium (mg)510 mg
% of RDI12%
1/4 Chicken
Kilojoules1 377 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)0 g
Fat (g)16.8 g
Sodium (mg)576 mg
% of RDI16%
Hake (grilled) and rice – small
Kilojoules1 188 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)22.73 g
Fat (g)11.50 g
Sodium (mg)N/A
% of RDI14%
Classic Twister
Kilojoules1 452 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)37.4 g
Fat (g)12.5 g
Sodium (mg)988 mg
% of RDI17%
6pc Vegan Nuggets
Kilojoules1 046 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)22.1 g
Fat (g)13.2 g
Sodium (mg)1200 mg
% of RDI12%
Creamy Tikka Veg pizza – small
Kilojoules2 014 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)70.28 g
Fat (g)12.42 g
Sodium (mg)173 mg
% of RDI23%
Vegetarian pizza – small
Kilojoules1 953 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)52 g
Fat (g)16.5 g
Sodium (mg)676 mg
% of RDI22%
1/4 Chicken
Kilojoules841 kJ
Carbohydrates (g)4.28 g
Fat (g)12.55 g
Sodium (mg)538 mg
% of RDI9.6%
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