Nutrition Tips to Keep the Immune System Strong for People with HIV-AIDS

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
three women wearing HIV red ribbons - Nutrition Tips to Keep the Immune System Strong for People with HIV-AIDS

Hongqi Zhang/iStock

The inflammatory nature of HIV and AIDS puts those who have it at greater risk for infection, kidney failure and certain types of cancer. In addition to the damaging effects of the virus, side effects of some antiretroviral therapies also can predispose those with HIV to other conditions such as metabolic syndrome.

Nutrition is a valuable tool for people with HIV. Tweet this Whether you have just been diagnosed, show no signs of illness or are in a more challenging stage of HIV, knowing what and how to eat can help keep your body and immune system strong.

Eating well can help:

  • Minimize symptoms associated with HIV.
  • Lessen the side effects of medications.
  • Increase your quality of life.
  • Improve your resistance to other infections and complications.

Healthy Eating When the Virus Is Under Control

Individual needs should be taken into consideration for those with HIV and AIDS; however, general healthful eating patterns are a good place to start.

  • Consume adequate calories throughout the day to maintain a healthy weight. Those with HIV/AIDS may need to adjust their calorie and protein needs depending on how they respond to treatment. Some individuals may need more calories and protein compared to those who do not have this condition.
  • Add protein to every meal. Protein is important because it is needed to make, repair and maintain cells in the body. It also plays a role in the immune system. Good protein sources include lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy foods, eggs, beans and lentils.
  • Include a variety of vitamin and mineral rich foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein choices contain vitamins and minerals that help the body function. Zinc and vitamin C are used by the immune system and iron and vitamin B12 are essential for healthy blood cells. Including a variety of nutrient-rich foods helps meet these needs.
  • Discuss dietary and herbal supplements with your health care team. Ask about new supplements before starting them as some can interact with medications.
  • Be vigilant about food safety. Those with HIV/AIDS are more vulnerable to food poisoning because HIV weakens the immune system. Practicing food safety helps decrease your risk of getting sick. Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, fish and eggs; only consume pasteurized milk or cheese; wash fruits and vegetables and remember to use separate knives and cutting boards for raw meats and produce.

When Eating is a Challenge

Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, sore mouth and taste changes all are common issues that can develop with HIV and may make eating difficult.

The best therapy for these hurdles is to meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist. An RDN may already be on your health care team but if not, ask your doctor to refer you to one who is familiar with HIV/AIDS. An RDN can help you develop the right nutrition plan to get you through difficult periods.

Find Nutrition Experts

Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

Find a Nutrition Expert