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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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Nutrition and HIV/AIDS

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If you're HIV-positive, nutrition and HIV is a subject you'll want to pay special attention to. That's because your body will undergo changes, both from medications and the disease itself. For example, you may experience extreme weight loss, infections, or diarrhea. Another common change is lipodystrophy (fat distribution syndrome) which can cause body shape changes and increases in cholesterol levels. Making improvements in your diet can improve your health and how well you feel. Here are a few tips that may help. A registered dietitian (RD) can give you even more guidance.

Why Nutrition and HIV/AIDS Are Linked

If you are HIV-positive, good nutrition can have several benefits. It can:

  • Improve your overall quality of life by providing nutrients your body needs.
  • Keep your immune system stronger so you can better fight disease.
  • Help manage HIV symptoms and complications.
  • Process medications and help manage their side effects.

The Basic Principles of Nutrition and HIV

The basic principles of healthy eating will also serve you well if you are HIV-positive. These principles include:

  • Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
  • Choosing lean, low-fat sources of protein
  • Limiting sweets, soft drinks, and foods with added sugar
  • Including proteins, carbohydrates, and a little good fat in all meals and snacks

Here is more specific information to get you started with a healthier eating plan.

Calories are the energy in foods that provide your body with fuel. To maintain your lean body mass, you may need to increase calories. To get enough calories:

  • Consume 17 calories per pound of your body weight if you've been maintaining your weight.
  • Consume 20 calories per pound if you have an opportunistic infection.
  • Consume 25 calories per pound if you are losing weight.

Protein helps build muscles, organs, and a strong immune system. To get enough of the right types of protein:

  • Aim for 100-150 grams a day, if you are an HIV-positive man.
  • Aim for 80-100 grams a day, if you are an HIV-positive woman.
  • If you have kidney disease, don't get more than 15%-20% of your calories from protein; too much can put stress on your kidneys.
  • Choose extra-lean pork or beef, skinless chicken breast, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
  • To get extra protein, spread nut butter on fruit, vegetables, or toast; add cheese to sauces, soups, potatoes, or steamed vegetables; add canned tuna to salads or casseroles.
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