Healthy Eating Tips for People With HIV


Jennifer Larson

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When you have a chronic infection like HIV, getting the appropriate medical care is paramount. But self-care also plays a major role in maintaining your health. And at the top of that list is eating healthy, so make sure you know the basics.

Eat a Healthy Diet

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that all adults embrace a diet heavy on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as low-fat dairy and lean meats. However, good nutrition is especially critical for people with HIV. You want to keep your strength and energy levels up, as well as provide as much support to your immune system as you can.

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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Keep Your Weight Up

If you’re having trouble maintaining your weight—not an uncommon problem for many people with HIV—then you’ll have to be deliberate about eating more calories.  

  • Shake it up. If you need to add more calories to your diet, try drinking a high-calorie protein shake. You could also boost the calorie count by adding some powdered milk to your shake, per the American Academy of Family Physicians.

  • Snack often. The best way to eat more calories … is to eat more calories. Stash snacks at your desk or in your bag so you always have access to food. Nuts and dried fruits are good healthy options that also contain a calorie boost.

  • Avoid low-cal options. For example, swap out low-fat yogurt and dairy products for the full-fat versions. Read those labels carefully so you don’t pick up the low-cal version by accident.

  • Don’t drink during meals. Filling up on liquids at mealtime might make it harder for you to eat food.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids is critical to staying properly hydrated, which helps your body continue functioning. Keep a water bottle on hand so you have easy access to H20. If you prefer really cold water, invest in an insulated container. Enjoy a popsicle for an added treat.

Also, pay attention to where your water comes from. Expert caution that some sources of water can contain bacteria, viruses and even parasites. People with HIV must avoid these as much as possible. So, if you’re a big fan of spending time in the great outdoors, you may want to bring along your own filtered drinking water and avoid drinking water that came from a stream, river or lake.

Clean Up

It’s lunchtime. You grab a piece of fruit and a sandwich, but whoops! When was the last time you washed your hands before you ate? It’s easy to get into a big hurry and forget how important cleanliness is when it comes to eating and drinking.

  • Wash your hands. Everyone should wash their hands before preparing or eating food, but that goes double for people with HIV. If your hands have some potentially harmful bacteria on them, the last thing you want to do is transfer them into your mouth, as it could lead to a serious infection.

  • Clean after prepping food. Be vigilant about washing utensils and cutting boards during and after food prep, especially if you’re handling raw meat or poultry.

Adjust your diet

Eating right to stay healthy is your goal, but achieving that goal can be a lot more complicated if you’re suffering from side effects from your infection or from any medications you’re taking. Adjust your diet accordingly if you have these problems:

  • Mouth sores. If you have mouth sores, stay away from citrus fruits and juices, which can irritate the sores. Hot and spicy foods should also be avoided for a similar reason. Go for the softer, less intense foods like macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, or canned fruit.

  • Diarrhea. High-fiber and fried foods need to go on the list of foods to avoid. They can make the diarrhea worse.

  • Nausea. Bland foods might be your best bet. Think: toast, applesauce, and bananas.

At times, eating well may require a little extra effort. When you’re feeling sick, it can be harder to eat a variety of healthy foods. Depending on your situation, your doctor may also want you to take a nutritional supplement. Talk to your doctor about taking supplements and staying safe and healthy with HIV.  

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 9, 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. Blood Sugar and Fats. Fact sheet.
  2. Diet and Nutrition. HIV InSite. University of California San Francisco.
  3. Nutrition and Exercise When You Have HIV. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  4. Nutrition and Food Safety.
  5. Nutrition Tips to Keep the Immune System Strong for People with HIV-AIDS. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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