Nutrition and HIV


Jennifer Larson

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fruits and vegetables

Stay healthy for as long as possible. That’s pretty much the main goal for all of us. But if you’re living with HIV or AIDS, you may have to be more deliberate about your strategies for staying healthy. A good combination of eating healthy and getting regular exercise is critical.

But let’s take a closer look at the diet angle. The American Academy of Family Physician maintains that eating a nutritious balanced diet will help slow down your HIV infection by strengthening and maintaining your body’s immune system. Your body has to work hard to keep the infection in check—and fight off other opportunistic infections that might develop. Staying well-nourished will help you achieve those goals.

Managing HIV goes beyond just taking your medications—you’ve also got to live a healthy life. These patients and physicians share how you can give your body what it needs to thrive with HIV.

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Eating a healthy diet will also help you maintain your body weight, keep your strength up and stay healthier overall. Try these strategies to get you on the right track:

Eat enough protein

Protein will help you build and maintain muscle. You can boost your protein intake with a combination of lean meats, fish, chicken, and low-fat dairy products, as well as peanut butter, eggs, legumes and tofu.

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Take a multivitamin

Diarrhea is a common side effect of HIV, and it reduces the amount of essential nutrients your body is able to absorb. Look for a multivitamin-mineral supplement that will provide 100% of your recommended daily intake. To minimize the chance of upsetting your stomach, take your supplement with food. 

Take care of your bones

People with HIV or AIDS are at increased risk for developing osteopenia and osteoporosis. To minimize your chances of losing valuable bone mineral density, drink milk instead of a cola. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends drinking calcium-rich beverages instead of carbonated drinks that are high in phosphorous. Try to incorporate more calcium-rich foods like dairy, broccoli and spinach into your diet, and you might even want to take a calcium supplement.

Choose complex carbohydrates

Look for whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals, as well as barley and oatmeal.

Choose a variety of foods

A healthy diet does not equal a dreary diet. But do try to limit foods like candy and sweets that are low in nutrient density—they might fill you up and prevent you from eating foods that will work to keep you healthy.

Be vigilant about food safety

Your HIV status puts you at elevated risk for contracting a food-borne infection. Be especially careful when it comes to handling raw or undercooked meat—wash your hands and all cooking surfaces and utensils frequently. Cook meat until the middle reaches the appropriate minimum internal temperature. Carefully wash all fresh produce, and clean the lids of any canned foods you plan to eat, too. You might also want to avoid raw egg, raw fish, and unpasteurized milk or cheeses made with raw milk. And when you’re finished eating, promptly refrigerate all leftovers at 40 degrees F or below.

Avoid foods that aggravate any problems you’re experiencing

If you have mouth sores, citrus fruit is likely to cause pain. Very cold, hot and spicy foods may also aggravate your sores.

Visit with a dietitian

If it all seems overwhelming, don’t panic! You don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. Consult a registered dietitian for a more individualized plan toward eating a healthy, balanced diet that will work for you. The dietitian can help you determine how many calories you need to consume, and how to manage eating with symptoms or side effects that you may experience.


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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 6, 2017

© 2018 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Hendricks KM, et al. Dietary patterns and health and nutrition outcomes in men living with HIV infection. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 88(12) no. 6: 1584-1592.
  2. HIV and AIDS | Nutrition and Exercise When You Have HIV. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  3. Mulligan K. Schambelan M. HIV-Associated Wasting: HIV InSite Knowledge Base Chapter. November 2003. University of California San Francisco.
  4. Living with HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. Food Safety for People with HIV/AIDS. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  6. Eating Tips: A Nutrition for People Living with HIV/AIDS. New York Department of Health.

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