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HIV and Nutrition

In people with HIV, good nutrition supports overall health and helps maintain the immune system. Good nutrition also helps people with HIV maintain a healthy weight and absorb HIV medicines.

HIV attacks and destroys the immune system, which makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. People with HIV take a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day. The medicines prevent HIV from destroying the immune system. A healthy diet also helps strengthen the immune system and keep people with HIV healthy.

In general, the basics of a healthy diet are the same for everyone, including people with HIV:

  • Eat a variety of foods from the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy.
  • Eat the right amount of food to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat, sodium (salt), and added sugars.

HIV and HIV medicines can sometimes cause nutrition-related problems. For example, some HIV-related infections can make it hard to eat or swallow. Side effects from HIV medicines, such as loss of appetite, nausea, or diarrhea, can make it hard to stick to an HIV regimen. If you have HIV and are having a nutrition-related problem, talk to your health care provider. To avoid nutrition-related problems, people with HIV must also pay attention to food safety. Because HIV damages the immune system, foodborne illnesses are likely to be more serious and last longer in people with HIV than in people with a healthy immune system. Following food safety guidelines reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses.

If you have HIV, follow these food safety guidelines to reduce your risk of foodborne illnesses:

Do not eat or drink the following foods:

  • Raw eggs or foods that contain raw eggs, for example, homemade cookie dough
  • Raw or undercooked poultry, meat, and seafood
  • Unpasteurized milk or dairy products and fruit juices

Follow the four basic steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill:

  • Clean: Wash your hands, cooking utensils, and countertops often when preparing foods.
  • Separate: Separate foods to prevent the spread of any germs from one food to another. For example, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from foods that are ready to eat, including fruits, vegetables, and breads.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure that foods are cooked to safe temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, or other foods that are likely to spoil within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing.

For more information, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Food Safety for Older Adults and People with Cancer, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Organ Transplants, and Autoimmune Diseases webpage. If you are planning a trip outside the United States, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Traveling with HIV fact sheet.