Living with HIV / AIDS
Eating correctly is one of the most important considerations when living positively with HIV. The nutritional status of any person infected with HIV is known to play a vital role in slowing down the progression of HIV to AIDS, as good nutrition helps the body’s immune system to function better. Eating right can also help the body to stay stronger during any medical treatments as well as in decreasing the severity of secondary infections.
Healthy eating guidelines
A healthy diet means eating a variety of foods each day that will provide all the nutrients the body needs to stay strong and fight infection. Choose foods from the following groups of foods each day:
Fruits and vegetables
This group provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to fight infection. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables should be eaten every day, including fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin A (spinach, morogo, pumpkin leaves, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, apricots, paw-paws and mangoes) and vitamin C (oranges, naartjies, grapefruit, lemons, guavas, mangoes, tomatoes, maroelas and sweet peppers.)
Meat and dairy foods
All forms of meat (beef, mutton, pork and chicken) and fish, eggs and dairy products (maas, milk, yoghurt) may be eaten daily. Foods from these animal sources provide the body with proteins to build strong muscles, and they also help to keep the immune system healthy.
Dried beans, peas, lentils, peanuts and soya
This group of foods from plant sources also supplies proteins needed to strengthen the immune system and muscles. More cooked dried beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter and soya beans should be included as part of a healthy eating plan for people with HIV/AIDS.
Breads and cereals
This group of foods should form the basis of every meal and they are foods such as cereals, breads, pap, potatoes, sweet potatoes, samp, millet, sorghum, rice and pasta.
Sugars, fats and oils
Margarine, butter, oil, cream, nuts and sugar provide the body with much needed energy as well as essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins. Vetkoek, cakes, pastries, biscuits, cookies, tarts, puddings and desserts may be included especially after infections to help with weight gain. Enrich vegetables, stews and porridge by adding additional butter, margarine or cream, as tolerated. Note that in later stages of HIV-infection, eating a lot of fat can cause diarrhoea.
Clean, safe water
Diarrhoea, vomiting and night sweats can cause dramatic loss of water from the body. To avoid dehydration replace daily losses by drinking more clean, safe fluids (water, soup, cold drinks, sports drinks, milk, fruit juice).
Vitamins - what, how much and when?
Vitamin pills cannot make up far eating well and there is no specific vitamin pill that will cure HIV/AIDS. People living with HIV/AIDS do hove higher needs of certain vitamins and minerals and it may therefore be useful to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement, but be consistent and take them regularly.
Coping with some of the symptoms of HIV/AIDS
Nausea and vomiting
Eat small, frequent meals and avoid high fat, greasy foods. Avoid lying down after eating. Food is best tolerated at cool or room temperature. Dry, salty crackers, pretzels, biscuits and cookies as well as simple foods such as mashed potato, rice, scrambled egg, noodles, yoghurt and custards may be better tolerated. Allow plenty of fresh air in the house and disperse cooking odours.
Eat snacks out of your mealtimes, so that you are eating at least six smaller meals each day. Simple ingredients such as sugar, oil, peanut butter, egg and skim milk powder can be used in porridge, soups, gravies, casseroles or milk-based drinks to increase the energy and protein content. Add generous amounts of sugar, butter, peanut butter, margarine, cheese, mayonnaise and cream to food, as tolerated. Meal-replacement drinks such as Ensure, Nutren Active and Complan are also recommended to boost nutritional status and weight gain.
Try to eat six small meals a day. Fluid replacement is essential to prevent dehydration. Water is good, but soups and fruit juices will supply more energy and vitamins. A low fat diet is often better tolerated, and a dairy free diet could help minimise symptoms. Avoid gas-forming foods and drinks such as peas, lentils, cabbage, broccoli, onion, nuts, cucumber, garlic and beer. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, since both may have a dehydrating effect. Eat more foods rich in soluble fibre such as fruit, oats, beans, peas and lentils, as well as foods rich in potassium such as bananas, potatoes, apricot juice and tomato juice. Use the following home made recipe for water and salt replacement:
Oral rehydration therapy
• Use 1 litre clean and safe water
• Add 8 level teaspoons of sugar and a ½ tsp. of salt
• Mix well and store in a clean and covered container.
• Make a fresh solution every day.
Choose moist, soft foods at cool or room temperature. Mashed potato, minced meat, ‘slappap’, soups, pasta dishes such as macaroni and cheese, ice cream, custard and puddings are examples. Drink through a straw and avoid carbonated drinks as well as spicy and acidic foods. Look after the hygiene of your mouth - if your gums are painful and you cannot brush your teeth, rinse your mouth with a bit of bicarbonate of soda mixed in water. For difficulties with swallowing, try providing smooth, thick and cold consistencies such as yoghurt, thick custard, smooth soup and sauces.
Food safety is of utmost importance as when the body’s immune system is weakened the body is less able to fight off germs. To guard against illnesses carried in food, it has to be stored, handled and prepared in a safe way.