People with HIV need to avoid foods that are high in salt and sugar as well as undercooked meat or seafood. Following a balanced diet can help support the immune system and can also help absorb HIV medications better.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s white blood cells. The virus destroys these cells and lowers the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Untreated or severe HIV may lead to stage 3 HIV, the most severe stage, also known as AIDS.

While there is treatment available for those with HIV, following a balanced diet can benefit someone living with the condition and people in general. People also need to avoid certain foods, such as salts and fats, to help prevent further damage to the immune system.

This article explores what foods to avoid with HIV, what HIV is, and nutrition with HIV and why it is important. It also looks at food safety, how to create a balanced diet, managing complications from eating with HIV, and support for those with HIV.

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People with HIV need to avoid the following foods:

  • foods that are:
  • raw eggs
  • undercooked or raw meats or seafood
  • dairy products and fruit juices

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that targets the immune system. It destroys the white blood cells and weakens the body’s immunity against other infections and diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV has three main stages:

  • Stage 1: Acute HIV causes flu-like symptoms, and people will be contagious during this phase.
  • Stage 2: Chronic HIV may not cause symptoms, but it is possible to spread the virus.
  • Stage 3: Severe HIV means a person has a large amount of HIV in their blood and has a severely damaged immune system. People also refer to this stage as AIDS.

Read more about the stages of HIV.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, HIV puts people at a higher risk of infection. Nutrition plays an important part in the life of someone with the condition.

Dietary tips for those with HIV include:

  • consuming adequate calories throughout the day
  • increasing protein intake such as lean meats and pulses
  • consuming vitamins and mineral-rich food such as fruits and vegetables
  • discussing possible supplements with a medical professional

Sufficient nutrition for people with HIV provides the following benefits:

  • minimizing HIV symptoms
  • reducing the side effects of medications
  • improving quality of life
  • helping resist other infections

Good nutrition is important for everyone. However, for those with HIV, a balanced diet helps maintain strength and energy and supports the health of their immune system.

Following a balanced diet also offers several other advantages:

  • maintaining a supply of energy and nutrients to help fight HIV and other infections
  • helping to maintain moderate body weight
  • managing symptoms and complications
  • improving the absorption of medications

Learn more about the role of nutrition in HIV.

As HIV impairs the immune system, there is a greater risk of foodborne illnesses, which tends to be more severe and long lasting in people with HIV. This is where germs enter food during preparation or consumption, causing illness or food poisoning.

Besides eating well, someone with HIV needs to take extra precautions around food. HIV may lead to the suppression of a person’s immune system, so practicing proper food hygiene and safety helps prevent further infections.

Food safety refers to how to select, handle, prepare, and store food to prevent foodborne illnesses.

The following food safety rules are important for all people to practice, especially those with HIV:

  • washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption
  • using a separate cutting board for raw meats
  • wash hands before and after eating
  • cleaning utensils and cutting boards after each use

Additional tips food safety tips also include:

  • washing hands and utensils when preparing food
  • separating raw foods from fresh produce
  • using a thermometer to check food temperature
  • chilling foods that are likely to spoil within 2 hours of purchasing

Water safety

Water may also carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It is important to practice water safety to protect against possible infections from water:

  • not drinking from lakes, rivers, or ponds
  • using a water filter when drinking water at home
  • using boiled water for drinking and cooking
  • drinking bottled water when abroad and avoiding ice and unpasteurized juices

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refers to a balanced diet as one that contains six essential nutrients:

  • protein to support the immune system
  • carbohydrates to provide energy
  • fat for extra energy
  • vitamins to regulate body processes
  • minerals to build body tissues
  • water acts as a medium in which body processes can occur

Examples of suitable food sources for those with HIV include:

Read more about a balanced diet.

People with HIV may face complications, which can make eating challenging. These complications include:

HIV and the medications may also make it hard to eat or swallow.

To manage these nutrition-related difficulties, people can speak with a registered dietitian specializing in HIV care to help build a suitable eating plan. A person can also consult a medical professional for the best ways to treat these complications.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests the stress of living with HIV may have significant effects on someone’s mental health. People can seek support from a mental health professional or a doctor to help with managing their physical and mental symptoms.

As HIV is a long-term condition, it is important for a person to regularly check in with their medical team to ensure their treatment remains suitable for their needs.

The CDC provides a list of resources that can provide care and services for people with HIV.

Learn more about HIV and mental health.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s white blood cells, weakening the immune system’s ability to fight infection.

People with HIV need to avoid foods high in salt and sugar and not eat undercooked meat or seafood. A balanced diet helps those with the condition to better protect against infection and side effects.

Good nutrition is important for those with HIV, as it minimizes symptoms and helps the immune system with resistance against other infections.

There is a greater risk of foodborne illnesses in people with HIV due to their impaired immune system. To practice food safety, people need to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating, use separate cutting boards when preparing, and clean utensils and surfaces afterward.

Similarly, water safety is also important to protect against further infection in those with HIV. This includes not drinking from lakes and boiling water before drinking and cooking.

People may face complications relating to HIV, such as difficulty eating or swallowing, as well as mental health disorders. There are various resources and support available for people living with HIV.