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

Three rules to eat by for a stronger immune system.

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.

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.


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