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HIV and Nutrition and Food Safety

Last Reviewed: June 16, 2017

Key Points

  • 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.
  • A healthy diet includes a variety of nutritious foods in the right amount to maintain a healthy weight. But HIV infection and its treatment can sometimes make it hard for a person to follow a healthy diet. 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 processes our body uses to take in and use that 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 meat and dairy products), sodium (salt), and added sugars.
To learn more about how to maintain a healthy diet, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ChooseMyPlate.gov website.

What are some nutrition-related problems that people with HIV may face?

HIV infection and its treatment can sometimes make it hard for a person to follow a healthy diet. 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 adhere to (stick to) an HIV regimen.
Browse the following resources to learn more about HIV and nutrition and how to manage nutrition-related problems:
In addition to eating healthy, people with HIV must 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.

Following food safety guidelines reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses, which are likely to be more serious and last longer in people with HIV than in people with a healthy immune system.

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 during 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 and 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 AIDS Education and Training Center (AETC) National Coordinating Resource Center:

From CDC:
From CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America: 
From FDA:
From USDA:

Need Help?

  • Call 1-800-448-0440
  • (1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET)
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