Living with HIV: Your Diet

How important is a balanced diet for those living with HIV? Tips to help you deal with various conditions that may affect your nutrition.

Fight HIV and AIDS with better nutrition.

Good nutrition is important for all people irrespective of their HIV status. When you are living with HIV, sound nutrition is even more important than ever because HIV in itself, and HIV treatment (ARVs) have been found to change a person’s metabolism or affect the way in which the body processes the nutrients it receives. People living with HIV have to eat well enough so that their bodies can withstand these effects. When you are HIV-positive, you are also more susceptible to loss of appetite, diarrhoea and vomiting resulting in loss of essential nutrients and in turn loss of body muscle. This is commonly referred to as wasting.

A healthy, balanced diet is one that contains food from all the basic food groups and limits daily intake of sugar, salt, alcohol and fats.

The five major food groups

To maintain your ideal weight, it helps to know more about the major food groups and what role each of them plays in your body:

  1. Protein – meat, dairy, and legumes build muscles and a strong immune system.
  2. Carbohydrates – including starches and sugars found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, give you energy.
  3. Fat – such as butter, oils, cream and avocados gives you extra energy and keep your cells healthy.
  4. Vitamins regulate body processes and can be found in many different fresh, unprocessed foods.
  5. Minerals regulate body processes too and also make up body tissues.

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Food and water safety

As HIV attacks the human immune system, HIV positive-individuals become susceptible to many food and water-borne illnesses that are preventable through proper hygiene and cooking methods. It is recommended that people living with HIV avoid eating raw and undercooked proteins such as meat, chicken, fish or seafood and eggs, and to steer clear of unpasteurised dairy products as these foods all present a higher risk for contracting food poisoning.

When using or drinking water it is best to avoid water from dams, rivers, streams or other outdoor sources and to use a water filter at home. If you’re unsure of the safety of the tap water in your home, you can significantly reduce the risk of contracting water-borne illness by using and drinking water that has been boiled (and cooled, for drinking) first.


WebMD, Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 17, 2014

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions around HIV. 

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After becoming infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body, ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?

  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.

How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure, to detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks after infection and can last about 1 to 2 weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies, through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme. PMTCT has been highly effective in reducing the HIV transmission risk to under 1%.

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