How to eat well if you have HIV

Tips to Maintain a healthy diet when living with HIV

Good nutrition is key to an overall healthy life – this is specifically true for those who are HIV+. 

HIV affects your body’s ability to process nutrients naturally found in food, leading to health problems like cardiovascular disease and reduced appetite. 

Plus, the HIV infection, medications and treatment may cause you to experience physical issues such as weight loss, opportunistic infections (tuberculosis, cervical cancer or pneumonia), mouth sores, and diarrhea. 

Can you prevent this? YES – by choosing a healthy, wholesome HIV diet

What is an HIV diet?

An HIV diet is just like any other – the catch? Eat more of the right foods and well-balanced meals. 

For instance, eating healthier foods can help you: 

  • Lessen side effects of HIV medication and treatment
  • Fight muscle and weight loss
  • Keep energy levels high
  • Strengthen your immune system 
  • Manage HIV symptoms

How can I create a well-balanced diet?  

Although there’s no specific diet plan for people living with HIV, keeping tabs on your food intake can make a difference in your life. 

More tips on food balancing:

  • Eat vitamins and minerals: HIV can take a toll on your immune system, which is why you need to boost it by choosing foods with these nutrients: 
    • Vitamin C: Oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, green peas, and red and green peppers
    • Vitamin E: Seeds (pumpkin or sunflower), nut butters, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, avocados, red bell peppers, mangoes, and fortified foods like cereals, fruit juices, and margarine
    • Selenium: White bread, tuna, brown rice, eggs, ham, shrimp, oatmeal, milk, carrots, and bananas
    • Zinc: Beans, seafood, meats, whole-grain cereals, dairy products, nuts, and fish 
    • Vitamin B: Salmon, eggs, milk, beef, oysters, clams, mussels, chicken, turkey, pork, and sunflower seeds
  • Increase water intake: Water is life – it reduces side effects and flushes out medication while transporting nutrients to keep your energy levels high. Additionally, water keeps you from becoming dehydrated, so drink about eight glasses a day. 
  • Add proteins: Proteins build muscles and support your immune system. Additionally, foods full of protein can help you avoid losing weight. So, include these sources of protein in your diet: 
    • Poultry
    • Fish
    • Low-fat dairy foods
    • Eggs 
    • Beans
    • Lentils
  • Consume calories: If gaining healthy weight is your goal, an adequate number of calories (a mix of carbohydrates and fats) throughout the day can do the trick, so add these foods to your meal plan:
    • Fats: Butter, sour cream, cream cheese, peanut butter, avocados, and olives
    • Starches: Bread, muffins, biscuits, oatmeal, pasta, rice, and tomatoes
    • Simple sugars: Jelly, dried fruits, honey, and maple syrup
  • Stay healthy: HIV medication can contribute to weight gain, so regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you stay in shape.  The benefits of exercising regularly are:
    • Increasing energy levels 
    • Lowering stress
    • Improving appetite
    • Strengthening bones and muscles 
    • Reducing the likelihood of heart disease

Are there any foods I should avoid?

YES! If you’re living with HIV, you should avoid:

  • Processed food: Many processed foods lack the primary source of nutrients and fiber, which do not contribute to your well-being. Some examples are:
    • Prepackaged meals
    • Chips
    • Enriched bread
    • Packaged baked foods
  • Sugar: Avoid foods with high amounts of sugar, including:
    • Ice cream
    • Cake
    • Cookies
    • Pastries
  • Alcohol: Consuming too much alcohol can weaken your immune system — a weaker immune system increases medication side effects. If you like alcohol, make sure you drink in moderation or avoid it all. 

Where can I find help with my HIV dietary plan?

If you are living with HIV but aren’t sure how to thrive, fill out our linkage to care form to connect with a provider for confidential care, support and resources.  

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