Nutrition plays an important role in the lives of those with HIV/AIDS. Proper nutrition can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your immune system strong, increase effectiveness of medications and help manage side effects.

People with HIV/AIDS have different needs for nutrients like calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.

  • Calories:  People with HIV/AIDS, even those who are not taking medications and do not show any symptoms of infection, need more calories because their metabolism is higher.
  • Protein: Protein is needed to build and maintain muscle tissue, and eating too little calories and protein can lead to wasting.
  • Carbohydrates:  Carbs provide our bodies with energy, and most of our calories should come from carbs. Insulin resistance and diabetes are more common in those with HIV/AIDS, and these conditions may require that you pay attention to your carbohydrate intake at meals and snacks. Visit for more information.
  • Fat:  Fat is a concentrated source of energy, and is needed to provide calories in the diet. If high cholesterol and/or high triglycerides are diagnosed by your doctor, you may need to follow a diet that is low in total fat, saturated fat and trans fat.
  • Vitamins and minerals:  A vitamin and mineral supplement is recommended for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS because vitamin and mineral needs are higher. Do not take a supplement that has more than 100% of any vitamin or mineral, unless instructed by your doctor.

A registered dietitian can help plan individual meal plans to meet your nutrient needs. You can call Client Services at (404)419-6947 to find out if you could benefit from nutrition counseling by an Open Hand dietitian. You can also visit to find a registered dietitian in your area.

Medication and Food
HIV/AIDS medications work best when you follow the directions on the label, or those given by your doctor. Some medications need to be taken on an empty stomach (1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal), while others should be taken with food. Try to set a daily schedule, and plan your medications so that they can be taken at the appropriate time.

Managing Side Effects
Side effects can occur because of HIV/AIDS or because of certain medications. Try these tips to help manage your side effects:

Side Effect Dos Dont's

Nausea or vomiting

- Eat small and frequent meals
- Have a snack before getting out of bed in the morning
- Choose bland, soft foods
- Eat dry, salty foods
- Try mint or ginger candies

- Avoid strong odors
- Avoid very hot or cold foods
- Avoid drinking fluids with your meals -- drink them in between meals
- Avoid lying down after eating
- Avoid greasy and fried food


- Drink plenty of fluid: juice and water mixtures, sports drinks, soup broth
- Try bananas, applesauce, white rice, dry white toast, pretzels or salted crackers.

- Avoid greasy and fried food
- Avoid sweet foods
- Avoid dairy products
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate)
- Avoid drinking alcohol


- Drink more fluids
- Eat more fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans)
- Be more physically active

Dry mouth

- Drink more fluids
- Keep food moist with extra sauce, gravy, or melted butter
- Eat foods that have a lot of water, like fruits and vegetables
- Chew sugar free gum, or suck on hard candies

- Avoid dry foods like toast, crackers and pretzels

Trouble swallowing

- Choose soft foods
- Drink fluids through a straw
- Try milk shakes or smoothies

- Avoid sticky or chewy foods
- Avoid very hot food
- Avoid spicy and acidic foods

Adequate fluid intake is needed to stay hydrated, as well as to help flush the end products of medications out of the body. Try to drink 9-12 cups of non-alcoholic beverages each day. Do not count caffeinated drinks towards your 9-12 cups. Caffeinated drinks include coffee, hot tea, iced tea, cola, and some root beers.

Food Safety
Food safety is an important issue. HIV/AIDS can weaken the immune system, making you more likely to suffer from a food-borne illness. Extra care should be taken to ensure that your food is prepared, cooked, and stored safely.

In addition to the general food safety recommendations, there are special water recommendations for those with HIV/AIDS. Follow one of the following methods for ensuring that your water is safe to drink: tap water should be boiled for one minute before drinking or using tap water to cook; if using bottled water, look for at least one of these words on the label: distilled, reverse osmosis, filtered through a micron filter; or if you choose to buy a water filter, look for ANSI/NSF standard 53 or 58 for “cyst” removal, or an absolute one micrometer filter. Also, don’t forget to make sure you use safe water to make drinks like iced tea, coffee, and Kool-Aid, and to make ice cubes.

Using Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies may include taking special supplements or participating in procedures that are not ordered by your doctor, or another member of your health care team. Some supplements may negatively affect medications taken for HIV/AIDS. Echinacea, Milk Thistle, Garlic, St. John’s Wort, and large doses of vitamin E are examples of supplements that may interfere with HIV/AIDS medications. Alternative therapies may be expensive and many are not proven to be safe or effective. If you are on a limited budget, it is a good idea to save your money for the drugs prescribed by your doctor and healthy foods. If you are thinking about trying an alternative therapy or are already using one, be sure to let your doctor know.

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