Your eating while on ARV treatment.

Treatment adherence and healthy eating go hand in hand. What we eat and drink contains ingredients and additives which cause a variety of chemical reactions inside us. Your ARVs are digested along with your food.

Your eating while on ARV treatment.

Eating balanced meals is critical when you’re taking ARVs.

Stick to the plan

Coping with your diagnosis itself is a major uphill climb. There’s so much information being thrown at you at that moment you find out; it’s hard to make sense of it all. One of the last things you might be thinking about at this point is the changes you need to make to your eating habits. This being said, there is also a lot of great reference material to help you cope with this life-changing news.

One thing you need to be very strict about is your treatment regimen. You need to pay special attention to when and how your medicine should be taken. If you’re placed onto a co-infection programme, it’s even more vital. One wrong step could make you sicker because of the chemical reactions (see below) inside your body. If you do miss a dose, contact your doctor, nurse or clinic sister as soon as possible for further instructions.

Another important thing is to never act on assumptions. Something as simple as taking your missed dose along with your next dose may make sense to you but it could have a major effect on your body. Because of this, whenever you’re in doubt, always speak to your healthcare professionals.

Did you know?

At AllLife, we support your treatment adherence. We send you regular reminders about medication and medical appointments.

How ARVs work

ARVs, and any other medication include chemicals that are designed to react with your body in a very specific way. Just like in chemistry class, some substances mix well and others cause disaster. Imagine that risk inside your body, if you mix the wrong chemicals together.

This is why treatment adherence and healthy eating go hand in hand. What we eat and drink contains ingredients and additives which cause a variety of chemical reactions inside us. Your ARVs are digested along with your food. The right foods aid digestion so that your medicine can work inside your bloodstream.

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The importance of fibre

Fibre helps keep your digestive system healthy and your bowel movements regular. This means that no gut lining prevents the absorption of vitamins, nutrients and minerals. An optimal meal plan includes between 28g-35g of fibre, daily.

While a lot of people avoid talking about things like bowel movements, you must tell your doctor about any changes you experience. Changes in your stool consistency, colour and odour can give doctors a lot of clues about any problems or side effects. Eating more fibre means that the number of times you excrete stools in a day can change. Don’t try to hold it in or prevent your body from processing this important function of getting rid of your body’s waste. That could lead to many more problems and interfere with your chemical balance and toxicity in your bloodstream.

Timing is everything

Introducing new chemicals into your body, potentially in large doses, requires careful monitoring and management. Not only do you need the right food groups, but you also need to do so at the right time. Too little substance inside your stomach could lead to acid reflux or ulcers. Too much of the wrong food groups could also result in reduced absorption of your medication. Be sure to ask your doctor, nurse or clinic sister about the exact conditions and timing to take your medication.

Some foods, like fruit, are best eaten on an empty stomach for nutritional value. Others, like proteins, are better when digested alongside vegetables for a good mix of enzymes to break down a variety of nutrients altogether. You can also click here to view three handy rules to live by when it comes to managing your eating. 

Handy tips

  • Always wash your hands before you prepare, serve, or eat food.
  • Ensure your kitchen and food preparation spaces are clean.
  • Cook food to the right temperature to prevent food poisoning.
  • Keep raw meat separate from fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread.
  • Ensure you drink potable water.


Bisika, T, and Mandere, G. 2008. Integration of nutrition in the antiretroviral therapy scale up plan for Malawi. Malawi Medical Journal. 20(3): pp.93–98. Available online at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Davis, JA, Hill, DP, Lowenthal, DT, and Williams, L. 1996. The influence of food on the absorption and metabolism of drugs: an update. European Journal of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics. 21(3): pp.201-211. Available online at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Lewin, J. 2018. How much fiber should I eat per day?. Medical News Today. 31 May. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 2017. Taking HIV to the gut. The Body Pro. 17 November. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Serrano-Villar, S, Rojo, D, Martínez-Martínez, M, Deusch, S, Vázquez-Castellanos, JF, Bargiela, R, Sainz, T, Vera, M, Moreno, S, Estrada, V, Gosalbes, MJ, Latorre, A, Seifert, J, Barbas, C, Moya, A, Ferrer, M. 2016. Gut bacteria metabolism affects immune recovery in HIV-infected individuals. EBioMedicine. 8: pp. 203. Available online at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Spar. n.d. Healthy eating for people living with HIV. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

University of California San Francisco. 2019. Diet and nutrition. HIVinsite. 22 May. Available at: [Accessed 30 July].

US Department of Health and Human Services. 2019. People at risk: those with weakened immune systems. 1 April. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

US Department of Health and Human Services. 2019. HIV and nutrition and food safety. AIDSinfo. 14 June. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Van Heerden, IV. 2014. How medication affects nutrient intake. Health24. 5 May. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

World Health Organisation. 2003. Nutrient requirements for people living with HIV/AIDS: report of a technical consultation. Geneva: World Health Organisation. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

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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