Having a healthy balanced diet is a good idea for everyone, HIV positive or negative. A good diet can help to keep your immune system strong and maintain your levels of energy. Good nutrition can help your body deal with infections, and in some cases can even help reduce the side effects of some anti-HIV drugs.

If you’re eating loads of fatty foods and not a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables then you’re probably not getting the nutrition you need to keep you and your immune system as healthy as possible. If you haven’t already been offered an appointment with a dietitian, or if you’re unsure about your diet, then ask at your clinic to see someone. Dietitians at HIV clinics will understand the specific nutritional needs relating to HIV.

If you are on HIV treatment, then choosing the right diet can also help to reduce some of the side effects experienced with them. Your doctor or dietitian at your clinic would also be able to talk through this with you.

"When I was first diagnosed, in amongst several discussions with the health adviser was the one about eating properly. It would have passed me by completely, if I hadn't had the same talk from a nurse a few years earlier when I was trying to conquer my acne. It was the "five fruit and veg", grilling rather than frying, high carb, high protein, low fat talk. It had stuck years before as I had just left home and was just starting to have to cater for myself.
It’s difficult with HIV to actually see the benefits of eating properly; with acne you can as it’s all over your face. After seeing it beat the acne, I hope it’s doing my immune system the same sort of good." (Richard, 38)

Diet and HIV treatment
If you are on HIV treatment then some of the anti-HIV drugs you are taking may have to be taken with food to ensure that they work as well as they can. Your doctor should have explained these to you when you started treatment. If not, it’s worthwhile making sure you are taking the drugs with the right foods. You could speak to your HIV doctor and you can read more about this in the section on HIV treatment.

Watching your weight
Losing weight can affect how your body fights infection and recovers from illness. If you are underweight then speak to your doctor or a dietitian. They will be able to highlight your nutritional needs and help you to put weight on.

Being overweight can be bad for your heart and, in extreme cases, can cause type 2 diabetes. Once again speak to your doctor or dietitian about developing a diet that will help you to lose some weight. You could also think about doing some exercise. It needn’t be too strenuous, and it will help you to lose some weight and improve your general health and self image.

You can read more about this in the section on Exercise.

Nutritional supplements
A good healthy diet should be sufficient to give your body all the nutrition it needs. If you want to take vitamin supplements then one multivitamin a day won’t hurt, and it could be beneficial. However, doctors advise against taking large quantities of vitamin supplements, as some may actually be harmful. If you want to take vitamin supplements then it’s probably a good idea to check it out with your HIV doctor or dietitian at your clinic before you do, especially if you are taking anti-HIV drugs.

If you’re thinking of taking herbal supplements then again it’s a good idea to check with your HIV doctor or dietitian first. If you are taking anti-HIV drugs then there are some herbal supplements or remedies that can be dangerous. For example, garlic capsules can stop some Protease Inhibitors from working properly; St John’s Wort can stop both Protease Inhibitors and NNRTIs from working properly. Such supplements would be best avoided if you are on treatment.