Living with HIV
HIV and Nutrition and Food Safety
Last Reviewed: December 11, 2018
- 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 and HIV medicines can sometimes cause nutrition-related problems. For example, HIV-related infections can make it hard to eat or swallow.
- Food and water can be contaminated with germs that cause illnesses. Food safety refers to ways to handle, prepare, and store food to prevent foodborne illnesses (sometimes called food poisoning).
- 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.
- People with HIV should take the following steps to prevent foodborne illnesses:
- Wash hands, cooking utensils, and countertops often when preparing foods.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from foods that are ready to eat, including fruits, vegetables, and breads.
- Cook food to safe temperatures.
- Refrigerate or freeze foods to prevent spoiling.
What is nutrition?
Nutrition refers to the food we eat to grow and stay healthy. Nutrition also includes all the body processes involved in making and using energy from food (called metabolism).
Why is good nutrition important for people living 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. Daily use of HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) prevents HIV from destroying the immune system. But a healthy diet also helps strengthen the immune system and keep people with HIV healthy.
What is a healthy diet for people living with HIV?
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 (found in animal products such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter), sodium (salt), and added sugars.
What are some HIV-related nutrition problems?
Because of HIV medicines, people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives. However, HIV and HIV medicines can sometimes cause nutrition-related problems. The following are examples of nutrition-related issues that can affect people with HIV:
- HIV-related infections can make it hard to eat or swallow.
- Changes in metabolism can cause weight loss or weight gain.
- 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. Your health care provider can help resolve the issue.
To avoid nutrition-related problems, people with HIV must also pay attention to food safety.
What is food safety?
Food and water can be contaminated with germs that cause illnesses. Food safety refers to ways to handle, prepare, and store food to prevent foodborne illnesses (sometimes called food poisoning).
Why is food safety important for people living with HIV?
HIV attacks the immune system. A weakened immune system makes it hard for the body to fight off infections, including foodborne illnesses. In people with HIV, foodborne illnesses are likely to be more serious and last longer than in people with a healthy immune system.
Following food safety guidelines reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses.
What steps can people with HIV take to prevent foodborne illnesses?
People with HIV can reduce their risk of foodborne illnesses by avoiding certain foods and taking care to prepare and store foods safely. If you have HIV, follow these food safety guidelines:Don’t eat or drink the following foods:
- Raw or undercooked eggs, for example, in homemade mayonnaise or uncooked cookie dough
- Raw or undercooked poultry, meat, and seafood (especially raw shellfish)
- Unpasteurized milk, cheeses, and fruit juices
- Raw seed sprouts, such as alfalfa sprouts or mung bean sprouts
Water contaminated with human or animal waste can also cause illness. To be safe, never drink water directly from a lake or river and don’t swallow water when you're swimming.
It is important to be careful about what you eat or drink if you are traveling outside of the United States, especially in developing countries. Before your trip, read this fact sheet for people living with HIV who are traveling outside the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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 People with HIV/AIDS webpage. The webpage includes information on the recommended safe minimum internal temperatures for cooked foods, tips for eating in restaurants, and steps to take if you think you have food poisoning.
This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:
From the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA):
- Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents: Appendix A. Recommendations to Help HIV-Infected Patients Avoid Exposure to, or Infection from, Opportunistic Pathogens
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