Introduction to HIV Nutrition

Having a balanced diet is particularly important for people living with HIV. Think of eating a healthy diet as a positive strategy you can use to maintain good health, boost your immune system and be better prepared to fight infection.

People living with HIV have been shown to be at increased risk of metabolic complications such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and changes in the way that the body metabolises fat (lipodystrophy).

A healthy diet is particularly important if you are taking antiretroviral medications as some drugs  can cause changes to the way your body metabolises some fats and sugars.

Healthy eating improves short term health, helps you maintain a healthy weight and can help reduce the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lipodystrophy and  osteoporosis.

The Eatwell plate

The Eatwell plate tells us how much of a whole day’s food should come from each food group.  When making choices about your own diet, try to include a wide variety of foods following the recommended proportions on the Eatwell plate.

Starchy foods such as bread, rice and potatoes

Starchy foods are a good source of carbohydrate and provide  us with energy. Choose from foods such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cassava, yam and maize.  Starchy foods should make up around a third of your diet, try to  include a source of starch with every meal to provide energy and essential vitamins and minerals.  Opt for wholegrain sources such a wholemeal bread, rice and cereals to increase your fibre intake.  Wholegrains have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. 

Fruit and vegetables

Eat at least five fruits and vegetables per day.  Fruits and vegetables provide a source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and many phyto-chemicals (chemical compounds that naturally occur in plants). Many of these nutrients are vital for good health and act as powerful anti-oxidants to protect the body from free radical damage caused by pollutants in the environment. You can find out more information about important vitamins and minerals, the recommended daily amounts and which fruits and vegetables on the NHS website. Studies show that fruits and vegetables can protect against some cancers and lower the risk of heart disease. Aim to eat a rainbow of colour and incorporate a wide variety, for example, peppers, carrots, broccoli, squash or pumpkin and try fruits such as apples, banana, pineapple, mango and papaya.  Don’t forget, this can include fresh, frozen, canned and dried sources.

Meat, fish,eggs, beans and nuts

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts are a good source of protein.   Protein is needed to build, maintain and repair your body’s tissues and to support a healthy immune system. When living with HIV is it important to ensure an there is an adequate amount of protein in the diet to help build and maintain muscle mass. Plan to have two to three portions per day and opt for lean cuts of meat where possible. Remove visible fat from the meat and remove skin from chicken meat.  Include two meals per week based on fish.  Oily fish are a source of omega 3 fatty acid, good for heart health, sources include; salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines.

Milk and dairy products

Aim to include two to three portions per day.  Select low fat milk, yogurt, fromage frais, half fat cheeses such as cheddar and soya products, for example, milk, yogurt, soya mince or tofu. These foods provide a rich supply of protein, vitamins, minerals and calcium.

Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar

Save these foods for occasional treats and opt for items that are lower in fat, salt and sugar when you can. HIV and some HIV medications can  increase the risk of developing heart disease so it is important to limit foods high in bad (saturated) fat, for example, processed meats, pies, biscuits and cakes.  Foods that are high in fat are a source of energy that can help you regain weight following illness.  Try to opt for good (unsaturated) sources of fat such as nuts, seeds and oily fish.  Look out for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in, rapeseed*, sunflower oil olive oil, oily fish, avocados, seeds and nuts. *for information, most vegetable oils you buy in the supermarket are made with 100% rapeseed oil.

Sugary fizzy drinks, chocolate bars and sweets contain a large amount of sugar. Eating too much of this type of food can lead to unhealthy weight gain. If you have a poor appetite, eating sugary foods can be a good short term solution to increase your energy (calorie) intake.

Portion control

Using portion control is a great way to help you control weight and stay healthy. Use our portion size pyramid to help you.

Fluid intake

It is important to drink plenty of fluids. This can help the body process the medication you may require when living with HIV. Aim for six to eight glasses of fluid per day and remember this can include not only water but other fluids such as tea and fruit juice.

Alcohol

Limit your alcohol intake to no more than two-three units per day if you are a woman and no more than three-four units if you are a man. Try to have some alcohol free days every week and avoid binge drinking. Ifyou have been advised not to drink alcohol by your healthcare team-make sure you stick to this advice.

Take a look at our alcohol units chart if you want to know more.