HIV/AIDS: Diet matters!

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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that can damage human immune system to the stage where the immune system is no longer able to protect human from the invasion of micro-organisms. This eventually exposes the patient to various types of infection (a.k.a. opportunistic infections). AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the advance stage of HIV infection whereby people with HIV present one or more opportunistic infections.


People who are infected with HIV do not get AIDS immediately. In fact they may appear healthy for several years. However, if the HIV is not detected and treated early, disease will progress rapidly. Fortunately with the advancement of medicine and technology, people with HIV can now live as healthy as those without HIV.

Nutrition is one of the main components in managing HIV/AIDS. If you are living with HIV, do pay attention to your diet.

Why nutrition is so important to me?

  • Optimal nutrition maintains and strengthens your immunity so that your body can put up a better fight against infection.
  • Optimal nutrition prevents and may even reverse malnutrition and wasting that, in fact, are the contributing factors of disease progression.
  • Optimal nutrition helps your body better process your medical treatment i.e. medication.
  • Proper diet helps you to better manage symptoms (e.g. diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting) and metabolic abnormalities (e.g. high blood cholesterol and sugar) due to HIV/AIDS and long-term use of medication

With all these benefits, eating well can indirectly contribute to better quality of life.

What dietary changes should I make?

There is no such thing as HIV/AIDS diet. Hence if your condition is under control, you should follow dietary guidelines similar to general population. Here are the main principles:-

  • Consume enough calorie to maintain body weight in a healthy range (BMI 18.5-24.9kg/m2)
  • Be creative and make your plate colourful, nutritious, and full of variety by
    • Having rice, other cereal products (preferably whole grain) and tubes as your main staples,
    • Filling in plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables,
    • Adding in quality protein foods i.e. fish, meat, poultry, egg, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as
    • Not forgetting to include milk and dairy products e.g. yoghurt and low-fat cheese.
  • Choose healthy fats such as canola, corn, soybean, sunflower oils and omega-3, which can be found in tongkolkembungtenggiri, sardines, salmon and tuna.
  • Limit intake of foods high in cholesterol, fats (especially saturated and trans fats), salt, and sugar
  • Drink plenty of water daily

Besides nutrition, food safety is another crucial component in maintaining and promoting good health. It is because weakened immune system (caused by HIV) increases your susceptibility towards food poisoning. Click here to read about how to ensure your food is clean and safe.

I can hardly eat and am getting thinner, what should I do?

There are many factors contributing to eating difficulties, poor appetite and weight loss. It is crucial to identify the root cause and tailor the management accordingly. Consuming inadequate calorie, protein and other nutrients can negatively affect your health and immunity and eventually worsen your disease condition. Research has shown weight loss and wasting as independent risk factors of HIV progression and mortality.

To manage with your condition better, do not hesitate to discuss with your healthcare provider. It is always good to meet a dietitian to discuss about your current food intake. A dietitian will provide personalised dietary strategies that will help you to eat adequately and achieve healthy weight. If you have never consulted a dietitian and wish to do so, you can request a referral letter from your doctor. You can also click HERE to search for a dietitian at your residential area.