Diet and Nutrition

jhon pablo

Do I need a special diet? There are no special diets, or particular foods, that will directly boost your immune system. But there are things you can do to keep your immunity up. When you are infected with HIV, your immune system has to work very hard to fight off […]

Do I need a special diet?

There are no special diets, or particular foods, that will directly boost your immune system. But there are things you can do to keep your immunity up.

When you are infected with HIV, your immune system has to work very hard to fight off infections–and this takes energy (measured in calories). For some people, this may mean you need to eat more food than you used to.

If you are underweight–or you have advanced HIV disease, high viral loads, or opportunistic infections–you should include more protein as well as extra calories (in the form of carbohydrates and fats). You’ll find tips for doing this in the next section.

If you are overweight, you should follow a well-balanced meal plan such as the ones presented on the U.S. government’s Choose My Plate website ( Keep in mind, you may need to eat more nutritious foods to meet your body’s needs.

To add protein to your diet

Protein-rich foods include meats, fish, beans, dairy products, and nuts. To boost the protein in your meals:

Spread nut butter on toast, crackers, fruit, or vegetables.
Add cottage cheese to fruit and tomatoes.
Add canned tuna to casseroles and salads.
Add shredded cheese to sauces, soups, omelets, baked potatoes, and steamed
Eat yogurt on your cereal or fruit.
Eat hard-boiled (hard-cooked) eggs. Use them in egg-salad sandwiches or
slice and dice them for tossed salads.
Eat beans and legumes (pinto and other beans, lentils, etc), nuts, and seeds.
Add diced or chopped meats to soups, salads, and sauces.
Add dried milk powder or egg white powder to foods (such as scrambled eggs,
casseroles, and milkshakes).
To add calories to your diet

The best way to increase calories is to add extra fat and carbohydrates to your meals.

Fats are more concentrated sources of calories. Add moderate amounts of the following to your meals:

Butter, margarine, peanut butter, gravy
Sour cream, cream cheese, grated cheese
Avocados, olives, salad dressing

Carbohydrates include both starches and simple sugars.

Starches are in:

Breads, muffins, biscuits, crackers

Simple sugars are in:

Fresh or dried fruit (eg, raisins, dates, apricots, etc)
Jelly, honey, and maple syrup added to cereal, pancakes, and waffles
Vitamins and minerals that affect the immune system
Vitamin A and beta-carotene Keeps skin, lungs, and stomach healthy. Liver, whole eggs; milk; dark green, yellow, orange, and red
vegetables and fruit (such as spinach, pumpkin, green peppers, squash,
carrots, papaya, and mangoes); also found in orange and yellow sweet
It’s best to get vitamin A from food. Vitamin A supplements are toxic
in high doses. Supplements of beta-carotene (the form of vitamin A in
fruits and vegetables) have been shown to increase cancer risk in
Vitamin B group (B1, B2, B6, B12, folate) Keeps the immune and nervous systems healthy. White beans, potatoes, meat, fish, chicken, watermelon, grains, nuts,
avocados, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables
Vitamin C Helps protect the body from infection and aids in recovery. Citrus fruits (such as oranges, grapefruit, and lemons), tomatoes, and
Vitamin D Important for developing and maintaining heathy bones and teeth. Fortified milk, fatty fish, sunlight
Vitamin E Protects cells and helps fight off infection. Green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, avocados, almonds Limit to 400 IU per day.
Iron Not having enough iron can cause anemia. Green leafy vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, dried fruit,
beans, red meat, chicken, liver, fish, and eggs
Limit to 45 mg per day unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
Iron may be a problem for people with HIV because it can increase the
activity of some bacteria. Iron supplements can be constipating. Supplements that do not contain iron may be better tolerated. Ask your doctor.
Selenium Important for the immune system. Whole grains, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, and nuts Limit to 400 mcg per day.
Zinc Important for the immune system. Meat, fish, poultry, beans, peanuts, and milk and dairy products Limit to 40 mg per day.
What should I know about food safety?

Paying attention to food and water safety is important when you have HIV, because your immune system is already weakened and working hard to fight off infections.

If food is not handled or prepared in a safe way, germs from the food can be passed on to you. These germs can make you sick.

You need to handle and cook food properly to keep those germs from getting to you.

Here are some food safety guidelines:

Keep everything clean! Clean your counters and utensils often.
Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after preparing and eating food.
Check expiration dates on food packaging. Do not eat foods that are past the expiration date.
Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables with clean water.
Thaw frozen meats and other frozen foods in the refrigerator or in a microwave. Never thaw foods at room temperature. Germs that grow at room temperature can make you very sick.
Clean all cutting boards and knives (especially those that touch chicken and meat) with soap and hot water before using them again.
Make sure you cook all meat, fish, and poultry “well-done.” You might want to buy a meat thermometer to help you know for sure that the meat is fully cooked. Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, not touching a bone. Cook the meat until it reaches 165-212 degrees F. on the thermometer.
Do not eat raw, soft-boiled, or “over easy” eggs, or Caesar salads with raw egg in the dressing. This includes eating uncooked cookie dough or cake batter that contains uncooked eggs.
Do not eat sushi, raw seafood, or raw meats, or unpasteurized milk or dairy products.
Keep your refrigerator cold, set no higher than 40 degrees F. Your freezer should be at 0 degrees.
Refrigerate leftovers at temperatures below 40 degrees F. Do not eat leftovers that have been sitting in the refrigerator for more than 3 days.
Keep hot items heated to over 140 degrees F, and completely reheat leftovers before eating.
Throw away any foods (like fruit, vegetables, and cheese) that you think might be old. If food has a moldy or rotten spot, throw it out. When in doubt, throw it out.
Some germs and parasites are spread through tap water. If your public water supply isn’t totally pure, drink bottled water.
Can diet help ease side effects and symptoms?

Many symptoms of HIV, as well as the side effects caused by HIV medicines, can be alleviated by using (or avoiding) certain types of foods and drinks.

Below are some tips for dealing with common problems facing people living with HIV.


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