HIV AIDS and Nutrition

No Cure or vaccine has yet been found for HIV-AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), but its sufferers may improve their quality of life by making the correct food choices, i.e by eating prudent or balanced diet.

AIDS is a disease in which the body’s immune system is broken down. It is therefore important to choose foods that boost immunity. Nearly all HIV/AIDS sufferers are faced with the problem of losing weight, generally due to muscle deterioration and loss.

The following guidelines might be helpful when planning a diet for the HIV/AIDS sufferer:

  • Eat a variety of foods from all food groups
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetablesevery day to fight infections. They contain vitamins and minerals which are important in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Try to choose different colours of vegetables and fruit and to eat at least 5 portions a day.
  • Animal products, i.e. fish, chicken, meat, milk and eggsshould be eaten daily to combat muscle loss. These protein rich foods are also good sources of Vitamins A, B6, B12 and zinc which all play a positive role in the functioning of the immune system.
  • To obtain energy, starchy foods should be the basis of each meal. Examples of starchy foods include maize meal (mealie pap), porridge (oats, maltabella), bread, potatoes, samp, rice sweet potatoes, breakfast cereals, spaghetti and macaroni.
  • Dry beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter or soyashould be eaten regularly as they are good sources of protein.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of watera day. The water should be clean and safe. If it comes from a river or borehole, it should be boiled and cooled down before drinking. If you experience diarrhoea you should not stop drinking water (Unless contaminated water is the cause it). You actually need to drink more water to replace the water being lost through diarrhoea. An easy way to replace the loss of water and mineral salts is by preparing an “Oral Rehydration Therapy” (ORT) by mixing one liter of boiled water with half a teaspoon of salt and 8 teaspoons of sugar. Let it down and drink small amounts of this mixture directly after each incident of diarrhea and try to finish the liter within a day.

What Foods And Drinks Should I Avoid?

Alcohol can be harmful to the liver and deplete vitamin and mineral supplies. It is therefore recommended that HIV/AIDS sufferers consume no alcohol.

When feeling nauseous, avoid greasy and spicy foods.

Each patient is unique and each may respond differently to a given type of food. Some foods (e.g. milk) may cause nausea in certain patients, while it may have no effect on others. Foods responsible for causing discomfort should be consumed less often, in smaller quantities or be avoided altogether.

What Can I Do When I Don’t Have An Appetite?

  • Try to eat 6 small meals throughout the day rather than fewer large meals
  • Take a high-kilojoule drink (e.g. Ensure) between meals. Drinks can be self-prepared by adding sugar, oil, peanut butter, mashed fruit etc. to milk. .(full fat / skim?)
  • Avoid drinking liquids with meals as this can cause discomfort and can also increase the feeling of nausea.
  • Have more personal favourite dishes or types of food
  • Sugar, fat or oil can be added to meals to increase energy intake (e.g. add a teaspoon of peanut butter to a bowl of porridge).

What About The Preparation Of Food?

Make sure that all your food is fresh and that fruits and vegetables are well washed in clean water before eating – especially organically grown vegetables and fruit.

Meat, chicken, fish and eggs must be cooked properly. Do not use an egg if the egg shell is broken.

Hands should be washed before preparing and eating food. Also after going to the toilet and blowing your nose. Parents must teach their children these clean habits.

Does Treatment With Natural Products Work?

The Department of Health has proposed the treatment of HIV/AIDS with so called “natural” products like garlic, olive oil and the African Potato (Hypoxis).

Garlic is believed to have antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. However, it must be eaten in large quantities and some of the substances in garlic that are needed to cause theses positive effects are inactivated by heat. Studies have shown that large amounts of garlic and certain garlic preparations can have negative side effects, of which gastrointestinal discomfort is the most common.

The positive effects of olive oil have been studied for years. The oil, because of it’s mono-saturated nature, has been recommended as part of a prudent diet for avoiding or reducing the incidence of heart disease. It has recently been proposed for the treatment of HIV/AIDS due to its anti-inflammatory effect. However, to be effective, the oil has to be consumed in unrealistic quantities over a considerable period of time. Heating of the oil, such as during cooking, can also damage the effectiveness of certain desirable heat sensitive compounds. Together with the cost, culture and local food preferences, preferences it is not practical to make use of olive oil for its medicinal properties in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Hypoxis, better known as the African Potato, has been shown to cause bone marrow suppression which further weakens the already impaired immune system in HIV/AIDS patients. Use of the African Potato is therefore not recommended for HIV/AIDS patients.

HIV/AIDS patients can improve their lives by taking good care of themselves, by eating the correct types of foods and by seeking medical advice and treatment from the local clinic, hospital or medical doctor.

(A list of references is available from SANCU – (0)12 341 9746.)

F.A.C.S. Scientific Director. March 2006.