What is HIV?

HIV, short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that breaks down cells in the immune system over time, making the body more vulnerable to infection and illness as it becomes harder for the immune system to fight back. About 1.1. million people in the United States are living with HIV and about 38,000 new infections occur every year.

Read on to learn why nutrition is important for HIV patients.

Nutrition is important for HIV patients

Living with HIV can present many challenges, including the need to pay closer attention to the health of the immune system, to prevent the risk of developing other infections or illnesses. Staying well-nourished and eating a variety of foods high in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients helps maintain energy and muscle mass and helps the body prepare to fight infection and illness.

HIV is different from AIDS, short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which is the stage of the disease that develops from HIV when enough damage has been done to the immune system. Today, the treatment for HIV is very effective, keeping a person infected with the virus healthy for a long period of time and lowering or even stopping the chance of spreading the virus to others. 

HIV can cause many symptoms which vary for different people and during different stages of the illness. In addition to its impact on the immune system, individuals living with HIV may experience chronic fatigue, mouth ulcers, diarrhea, weight loss, skin rashes. Many of these symptoms can be relieved or reduced through proper nutrition.

While eating a healthy diet regularly can be a challenge for a variety of reasons, when possible, seeking support from family, friends, and healthcare providers can help to lighten the load to set up a plan for healthy eating.

Nutrition Guidelines for Individuals Living with HIV

Maintaining a healthy weight

With any chronic infection, including HIV and other infections that may result from a weakened immune system, the body may have a hard time keeping weight on. More energy will be used in trying to fight the infection. Individuals living with HIV may need to eat more calories than the average person to prevent too much weight loss. Some symptoms of HIV like mouth sores and nausea could make it difficult to eat regularly. If this is the case, talk to your healthcare provider about medications that might be used to relieve these symptoms. It also is a good idea to talk to a dietitian about developing a special diet that might work for you.

Conversely, weight gain may also become a challenge during illness, for different reasons. Research has shown that the medication for the treatment of HIV can cause metabolic complications in moving the body from weight loss to weight gain, possibly leading to more-than-healthy weight gain and even diabetes. 

Whether an individual is experiencing weight gain or weight loss, nutrition is an important tool in maintaining a healthy weight and maintaining strength overall. Following a diet of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and plenty of fruits and vegetables can help to achieve a healthy weight and prevent the onset of other illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.  

Protein

Protein helps the body build and maintain muscle mass, which can be lost during times of infection and illness. Eating at least 3 servings of protein per day is especially helpful for individuals living with HIV to prevent muscle loss. Lean proteins from meats like chicken and turkey, fish, soy foods like tofu, and legumes are great options because they contain less saturated fat than red meat. A leaner red meat option like beef is great too!

Complex carbohydrates

There are two categories of carbohydrates, often called simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs include foods higher in sugar and white flour like sodas, pastries, white rice, and white bread. These foods are often highly processed, making them digest more quickly. This can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels and too much weight gain. Complex carbs digest more slowly. These kinds of carbs include foods like sweet potatoes, whole grains like brown rice, and whole wheat flours.

Since complex carbs break down more slowly than simple carbs and often contain fiber, they do not lead to the sudden spike in blood sugar. This can help give the body energy and maintain itself throughout the day. 

People living with HIV often experience fatigue, making the consumption of complex carbs helpful in maintaining energy levels. Carbohydrates can cause problems for people living with diabetes, so make sure to consult with your doctor or dietitian before including additional carbohydrates in your diet if you have any form of diabetes.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in foods. Fruits and vegetables are high in these vitamins and minerals, so including at least four servings of fruits and vegetables per day will help to provide the necessary vitamins and minerals the body needs to stay strong and fight illness. 

Fruits and vegetables that are also anti-inflammatory are even better, as they have the double benefit of fighting inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory foods include green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens, broccoli, beets, celery, nuts, seeds, blueberries, and certain spices like turmeric and ginger.

Supplements

It may not always be possible to get enough essential vitamins and minerals from food sources, in which case it may be helpful to check out supplements. (However, supplements, like multivitamins, should not be a replacement for healthy foods.) In this case, a multivitamin or other supplement may be helpful in supplying additional nutrients. Because supplements can negatively interact with other medications, it is important to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

Food Safety

Individuals living with HIV and their caregivers must pay closer attention to food safety. Foodborne illness can cause an infection that may be hard for the body to fight. By following a few basic safety tips, you can more likely avoid foodborne illness:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water before preparing or eating food.
  • Wash all produce – rinsing with a mixture of water and vinegar is an effective way to remove any bacteria and increase the life of your produce.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked eggs or meat (check the safe cooking temperatures of different meats like chicken, beef, and pork to make sure it is cooked through before serving and eating).
  • When preparing raw meat, eggs, or seafood, avoid cross contamination with other foods – use different cutting boards for different food types, don’t reuse a bowl, plate, or fork that has touched raw meat, fish, or egg, and always make sure to wash hands well in between preparation steps.
  • Use bottled or filtered water if the public water supply is not totally safe.

Similar Posts