HIV & Nutrition and Food Safety

Why maintaining good nutrition is important for people living with HIV:

Good nutrition can support overall health as well as help maintain the body’s immune system. It can also help those living with HIV maintain a healthy weight and properly absorb any HIV medication.

As you know, HIV attacks and destroys the immune system, which makes it harder for those living with HIV to fight off any infections. Daily use of HIV medication prevents HIV from destroying the immune system. In addition to a medication regimen, a healthy diet will also help to strengthen the immune system and keep people with HIV healthy.

What a healthy diet looks like:

Generally, the basics of a healthy, nutritious diet are the same for everyone, including people with HIV. Unless given special dietary instructions by a medical professional, the United States Department of Agriculture makes the following recommendations:

  • Choose a variety of foods from the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy
  • Eat the right amount of food for your body to maintain a healthy weight
  • Stick to foods low in saturated fat (found in animal products such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter), sodium (salt), and added sugars

How HIV can impact nutrition:

Thanks to HIV medications, people living with HIV are living longer and healthier lives. However, HIV and HIV medication can sometimes cause nutrition-related problems. Here are some examples of nutrition-related issues that have the ability to affect those with HIV:

  • HIV-related infections can make it hard to eat food or swallow
  • Changes in metabolism can cause weight loss or weight gain
  • Side effects from medication (like changes in appetite, nausea, or diarrhea) can make it hard to stick to an HIV regimen

If you have HIV and are experiencing what you think might be a nutrition-related problem, your health care provider can help resolve the issue. To avoid potential nutrition-related problems, make sure you’re also paying attention to food safety.

What food safety means:

Food and water can become contaminated with germs that cause illnesses. Food safety refers to the proper ways to handle, prepare, and store food to prevent these foodborne illnesses.

Why food safety is important for people living with HIV:

A weakened immune system makes it hard to fight off any infections, this includes foodborne illnesses. In people with HIV, foodborne illnesses are likely to be more serious as well as last longer than in HIV negative folks. Following food safety guidelines reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses.

How to prevent foodborne illness:

People living with HIV can reduce their risk of foodborne illnesses by avoiding certain foods and taking the time and care to prepare and store their food in a safe matter. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

Food and beverages to avoid:

  • Raw or undercooked eggs (example: in homemade mayonnaise or uncooked cookie dough or cake batter)
  • Raw or undercooked poultry, meat, and seafood
  • Unpasteurized milk, cheeses, or fruit juices
  • Raw seed sprouts (example: alfalfa sprouts or mung bean sprouts)

Four steps to food safety – clean, separate, cook, and chill:

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

Contaminated water (most typically due to human or animal waste) can also cause illness. To be safe, don’t drink any water directly from a lake or river, and don’t swallow any water while you’re swimming.

It’s also important to be careful about what you eat/drink if you’re traveling outside of the U.S., especially in developing countries. Before taking a trip abroad, check out this fact sheet for people living with HIV who are traveling outside the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


USDA: Food Safety Guidelines
CDC: Traveling With HIV Guidlines
USDA: Choose My Plate
NIH: HIV and Nutrition