The right food for persons living with HIV


A good diet will keep the immune system strong, and help manage HIV symptoms and complications. / Net.

Generally, when a person is living with HIV/AIDS, the body gradually gets weaker and weaker that without proper treatment and care the condition can get worse leading to other serious health conditions, and even death.

Nutritionists suggest that if one is HIV-positive, diet is a subject they must pay special attention to. This is because the body will undergo changes, caused by both medication and the disease itself. Good nutrition will therefore have several benefits.

According to experts, a good diet can improve the overall quality of life by providing nutrients the body needs. It will keep the immune system strong, and help manage HIV symptoms and complications .Therefore, making improvements in one’s diet can improve overall health and how well one feels.

Faustin Machara, a nutritionist at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says the relationship between HIV and nutrition is multifaceted.

He notes that HIV can cause or worsen under nutrition by causing reduced food intake, increased energy requirements, and poor nutrient absorption. Poor nutrition in turn further weakens the immune system, increasing vulnerability to infection and worsening the disease’s impact.

“For Example, energy requirements are likely to increase by 10 per cent to maintain body weight and physical activity in asymptomatic HIV-infected adults, and growth in asymptomatic children. During symptomatic HIV, and subsequently during AIDS, energy requirements increase by approximately 20 to 30 per cent to maintain adult body weight. Energy intakes need to be increased by 50 to 100 per cent over normal requirements in HIV+ children experiencing weight loss,” he explains.

Taking into consideration the requirements mentioned above, people living with HIV should ensure to eat a balanced diet. Machara suggests that their diet should comprise plenty of fruits and vegetables to provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.

“Choose products with a variety of colours to get the widest range of nutrients. They should also opt for plenty of starchy carbohydrates to give them energy – such as rice, maize, and potatoes, and add enough protein such as lean meat, fish, eggs, beans and dairy products,” he says.

According to nutritionist Joseph Uwiragiye of University Teaching Hospital, Kigali, (CHUK), in order to maintain a lean body mass, one may need to increase calorie intake. And, to get enough calories, one needs to increase protein intake as they help build muscles, organs and a strong immune system.

“To get enough of the right types of protein, choose extra-lean pork or beef, , 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,” he says.

Uwiragiye notes that if the person has kidney disease, they shouldn’t get more than 15-20 per cent of their calories from protein as too much of it can put stress on your kidneys.

Nutritionist Dieudonné Bukaba suggests that the diet for people living with HIV should include foods high in all types of vitamins and minerals as they help boost the immune system.

“For vitamin A and beta- carotene, they can take dark green, yellow, orange, or red vegetables and fruit; liver; whole eggs; milk. B vitamins can be got from meat, fish, chicken, grains, nuts, white beans, avocados, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C can be obtained from citrus fruits, while vitamin E can be found in green leafy vegetables, peanuts, and vegetable oils,” she says.

However, the body may have a variety of responses to HIV and the person may also experience side effects from antiretroviral therapy medication. Anatalie Kamugisha, a general practitioner at Polyfam Hospital in Kigali says some of these side effects can be managed with a proper diet.

“For instance, when you get nausea - a feeling of sickness with an inclination to vomit - eating smaller meals and limiting spicy foods may help. Also, the person should try to avoid being around overpowering cooking aromas. For diarrhoea be sure to drink plenty of water and other healthy beverages to replace lost fluids. Try cutting back on raw foods and whole grains as well as spicy dishes. Focus on plain food until you feel better,” he says.

Kamugisha also says the medication can create changes in the way the body stores or metabolises fat.

“This can lead to fat build-up in certain areas of the body, such as the belly, and fat loss in others, like in the face and limbs. Strength-training exercise as well as tesamorelin, a prescription drug that targets belly fat, may help with these side effects of HIV treatment,” he says.