Aim. To assess the appropriateness of the preliminary South African food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) as a nutrition education tool for women in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Western Cape (WC) in terms of comprehension, interpretation and implementation. Methods. This was a qualitative study using focus group discussions. Focus groups were held in five magisterial districts within KZN, and the Cape Town metropolitan area of the WC, to evaluate the comprehensibility and applicability of the FBDGs. Groups were randomly selected according to settlement type (non-urban, urban informal, urban formal) and ethnicity (black, coloured (of mixed origin), Indian, white) to reflect the KZN and WC population. Focus groups were conducted in the home language of the participants, namely, English, Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. Participants included 137 women aged 19-63 years, with no formal nutrition training and who were responsible for food purchasing and food preparation decisions in the household. Results. In general, women understood many of the FBDGs and the suggested food categories, and could construct a day's meals using the FBDGs. Areas of confusion were identified regarding certain terminology and concepts, such as the terms 'legumes', 'foods from animals', and 'healthier snacks'. Primary constraints to implementation of the FBDGs included cost and availability of food, household taste preferences, routine food purchasing habits, habitual or traditional food preparation and cooking methods, time constraints, accessibility (primarily transport difficulties) and underlying attitudes towards health and nutrition. Conclusion. The findings from this study have been used to revise the preliminary FBDGs, in order to provide an appropriate tool for effective nutrition education, for the purpose of improving nutrition knowledge, attitudes and dietary behaviours of South Africans.