Importance of nutrition

People living with HIV face several health challenges because their bodies must work harder to fight infections. HIV patients should avoid foods high in sodium, sugar, and trans and saturated fats.
People living with HIV face several health challenges because their bodies must work harder to fight infections. HIV patients should avoid foods high in sodium, sugar, and trans and saturated fats.

A proper, nutritious diet is essential for anyone hoping to maintain good health. When you eat, your body uses those nutrients to fight off infections. People who live with HIV struggle against a virus that weakens their immune system. Getting the right amount of nutrients daily can help those living with HIV avoid health complications and ease issues brought on by HIV-related treatments. 

While there's no specific diet for HIV, those living with the virus must avoid certain foods and food preparation habits at all costs. Whether you show no signs of illness or are in the more difficult stages of the virus, understanding what foods you should avoid can aid your immune system in fighting off infections. 

People living with HIV face several health challenges because their bodies must work harder to fight infections; they may need to eat more to supplement lost energy. HIV is also known to cause weight loss — the infection also reduces a person's appetite or causes them to be too tired to eat.

Specific HIV-related treatments and medications often have side effects that may cause nausea, diarrhea, and mouth sores — making it even more challenging for them to eat.

Eating healthy when living with HIV

Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. Eating an ample amount can ensure you're getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. As a rule of thumb, aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables for every meal.

Lean protein supports your muscles, and options like lean beef, lentils, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, and poultry will help you maintain a strong immune system.

Carbs are needed to fuel your body and are packed with B vitamins and fiber. Consuming whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread lowers your chances of dealing with potential HIV-related side effects.

Having at least eight to 20 cups of water each day is crucial. Water helps flush out used medications from your body, carries nutrients that maintain your energy levels, and keeps you from becoming dehydrated, which is why it's so important to drink plenty of fluids. 

Consuming an adequate amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight is essential for people living with HIV. Eating a nutritious diet can boost someone's resistance to infections while decreasing the side effects of medications and reducing HIV-related symptoms.

What you should know about food safety

Because HIV weakens the immune system, people with the virus are more vulnerable to food poisoning. If you or a loved one is living with HIV, you must practice food sanitation and safety to decrease your chances of getting sick.

Here are some basic food safety rules you must follow:

  • Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
  • Use separate knives and cutting boards for raw meat and produce
  • Always wash your hands before handling food
  • Avoid raw eggs, meats, or seafood — including sushi, oysters, and shellfish
  • Reduce your risk of water-borne illness by using a store-bought water filter or boiling water for drinking and cooking.

If you're experiencing any problems related to your diet, weight, HIV medications, or the HIV itself, you should talk to your doctor right away.

Foods to avoid 

People with HIV should avoid foods that contain high amounts of sodium — like chips, bread, and pizza. Too much sugar can raise your chances of heart disease — this can be especially harmful to people living with HIV. If you're living with HIV, you should aim to get less than 10 percent of your calories from food or drinks containing added sugar. You should also be wary of consuming more than 2,399 milligrams of sodium per day. 

Avoid trans and saturated fats — which are often present in processed food. While healthy fats can provide you with energy, they should be consumed in moderation.

Some healthy fats you might try are nuts, avocado, or vegetable oils. Consuming too much alcohol weakens your immune system — making it more difficult to fight off infections or side effects from medications.

Adopting healthy eating practices can help your immune system fight off infections. If you or someone you know is living with HIV, maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is essential to managing HIV-related symptoms. The best way to do this is by meeting with your doctor or a registered dietitian who can help you manage the virus and attain a better quality of life. 

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Medically Reviewed on 10/4/2021
References
SOURCES:

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Nutritional interventions for reducing morbidity and mortality in people with HIV."

HIV & AIDS Review: "Effect of fatty acid content in the diet on lipid profile in HIV-infected patients treated with antiretroviral drugs."

Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Diet quality of persons living with HIV/AIDS on highly active antiretroviral therapy."

Public Health Reports: "Food counseling for persons infected with HIV: strategy for defensive living."

Riddlesperger, K., & Huber, J. T. Eating positive: a nutrition guide and recipe book for people with HIV/AIDS, Routledge, 2013. ?