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Nutrition and HIV/AIDS: Enhancing your quality of life

If you're HIV positive, nutrition and HIV is a subject you’ll need to pay special attention to. That's because your body will undergo changes, both from medication and the disease itself. For example you may experience extreme weight loss, infections or diarrhoea. 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. Your doctor or a dietitian 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 the 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 rich in vegetables, fruits and wholegrains
  • Choosing lean, low-fat sources of protein
  • Limiting sweets, soft drinks and foods with added sugar
  • Including proteins, carbohydrates and a little 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 (450g) of your body weight if you've been maintaining your weight.
  • Consume 20 calories per pound (450g) if you have an opportunistic infection.
  • Consume 25 calories per pound (450g) 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.
  • 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 peanut butter on fruit, vegetables or toast; add cheese to sauces, soups, potatoes or steamed vegetables; add tinned tuna to salads or casseroles.

Carbohydrates give you energy. To get enough of the right types of carbohydrates:

  • Eat five to six servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
  • Choose produce with a variety of colours to get the widest range of nutrients.
  • Choose pulses and whole grains such as wholemeal flour, oats, barley and brown rice, instead of white bread, pasta and rice.
  • Limit simple sugars such as sweets, cake, biscuits and ice cream.
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