What a ‘good’ nutritional plan looks like, when coping with HIV.

Know what to eat for good nutrition. We share some tips of healthy eating to boost your immune system when you are living with HIV.

What a 'good' nutritional plan looks like, when coping with HIV.

Three rules to eat by for a stronger immune system

1. Know what to eat for good nutrition

A well-balanced diet is exactly that: well-balanced. Good nutrition doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself or remove any food groups from your meals. Healthy eating involves the right balance of food groups in the correct portions on a daily basis. Arrange your dinner plate this way:

  • 1/2 your plate should be filled with fresh fruit and/or vegetables. These provide the vitamins and minerals required to build, grow, and sustain your body’s various systems.
  • 1/4 should have lean protein, which doesn’t necessarily mean meat. Protein includes cultured yoghurt, beans, lentils, chickpeas and a variety of other pulses and legumes.
  • Your last 1/4 needs to provide slow-burning energy, in the form of low glycaemic index (low GI) grains and starches. Brown rice, brown pasta, butternut squash, carrots, potatoes can be used interchangeably.
  • Challenge yourself to have at least one glass of water with your dinner. Sip on it slowly before, during and after your meal to enhance your body’s digestion.

Tip: Adjust the amount of water you drink, in accordance with what you’re doing on the day. Increased physical activity needs increased rehydration effort.

2. Knowing when to eat is just as important

Your ARV treatment and healthy eating go hand in hand. Even HIV negative individuals need to eat at the right times for optimum health. Most people have busy mornings, often eating unhealthy breakfasts or skipping the meal altogether. This is damaging to your health because it doesn’t kickstart your body’s metabolism.

The purpose of breaking your overnight fast is to let your body know that it needs to begin burning energy. If you don’t send that message by eating slow-burning carbohydrates with some protein, your body has no clue that digestion needs to kick in. Because of that, weight gain is a major risk, and it brings other issues along with it, not to mention that if you take medication in the morning that won’t be effectively absorbed into your system either.

Make the effort to have something to eat every morning as part of your routine. If you rush out to work, prepare smoothies in advance using plain Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit. You can batch these into portions which are easy to grab on your way out every morning. It’s a great way to get your five fresh fruit and vegetables daily.

Remember that effective nutrition helps your body absorb nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and your ARVs. Ask your doctor about exactly how your medicine should be taken, then make sure you follow instructions. The timing becomes even more critical if you’re placed onto a co-infection programme.

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3. Know your body

Despite what anyone else may tell you, there’s no doubt that you have the best understanding of your own body. This makes it so important for you to pay attention to your body’s reactions. Whether it’s your food, beverages, medicine or physical activity – all of these things have an impact.

As soon as you begin your ARVs, you might find that your body has strange reactions. Side effects can include vomiting, diarrhoea, weight fluctuations and more so brace yourself for those. Take annual leave from work if you need to, to allow your body to rest and recuperate, and adjust to your medicine.

As always, though, the moment you feel that something just isn’t right, contact your doctor, nurse or clinic sister. Foods with any unusual effect on you, like digestive intolerance or allergic reactions, must be noted down. If you have a healthcare plan which allows you to consult with a Clinical Dietician, take advantage of that. If not, make sure that your doctor, nurse or clinic sister is aware of your body’s response to specific foods. Ask for guidance on what you can substitute into your meals.


Eating Well. 2018. What healthy eating looks like. Available at: http://www.eatingwell.com/article/14902/what-healthy-eating-looks-like/ [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Graziani, AL. 2019. Patient education: tips for taking HIV medications (beyond the basics). 10 July. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/tips-for-taking-hiv-medications-beyond-the-basics [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. 2018. Good nutrition. 29 August. Available at: https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/healthy-living/good-nutrition [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Lehman, S. 2019. One-week healthy and balanced meal plan example. Verywell Fit. 29 July. Available at: https://www.verywellfit.com/an-example-of-a-healthy-balanced-meal-plan-2506647 [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Lemein, AB. 2019. Once and for all: how much water do I have to drink each day? Women’s Health Magazine. 28 February. Available at: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a26255080/how-much-water-should-i-drink-per-day/ [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Mayo Clinic. 2017. Whole grains: hearty options for a healthy diet. 18 July. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/whole-grains/art-20047826 [Accessed 30 July 2019].

McCulloch, M. 2018. Top 13 lean protein foods you should eat. Healthline. 15 July. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lean-protein-foods#section2 [Accessed 30 July 2019].

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. n.d. Healthy eating plan. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/calories.htm [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Ntuli, CF. 2017. Be careful what you eat when HIV positive. News24. 22 June. Available at: https://www.news24.com/MoveMag/Archive/be-careful-what-you-eat-when-hiv-positive-20170728 [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Robbins, C. 2018. 5 signs of good nutrition. Healthy eating. 14 December. Available at: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/5-signs-good-nutrition-4919.html [Accessed 30 July 2019].

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After getting 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 and 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 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 two to four weeks after infection and can last about one to two 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 has been highly effective in reducing transmission risk to under 1%.

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