Today is World AIDs Day, where we talk about HIV/AIDs prevalence and prevention! As dietitians, our biggest role with patients who have HIV/AIDs is that of support. Nutrition plays a key role in keeping patients healthy and improving quality of life, as well as preventing the progression of HIV into AIDs. Symptoms of the disease and side effects of medications can be minimized in some cases with the right diet.
A healthy diet for a patient with HIV/AIDs doesn’t look all that different from anyone else, minus a few exceptions to accommodate side effects of their medications and disease state. Maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important, so consuming enough calories to keep their energy and weight up is crucial for these individuals. They also need to consume higher amounts of protein, as their cells need protein to heal and regenerate at a higher rate than a healthy person. Good protein sources for these patients can include lean meats, legumes, fish, eggs, and some dairy.
As we all know, HIV and AIDs target the immune system. A big educational opportunity as dietitians is to prevent exposure to foodborne illnesses, which could be have more serious outcomes for immunocompromised patients. HIV and AIDs patients should be careful to wash all produce carefully, keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods, and stick to drinking purified water when possible. In some cases, patients may also want to avoid eating some raw foods including sushi.
Patients with HIV/AIDs should also be monitored to determine on a person-by-person basis if they need any additional supplementation. This is a decision that should be made by a doctor or dietitian – do not encourage patients to seek out their own supplement routine and stress that it is important for patients to disclose any additional supplements they may be taking to ensure that there are not any interactions with current medications.
Finally, patients with HIV/AIDs may experience increased levels of nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. It is important that this is addressed when it happens to avoid malnutrition or dehydration from lack of food and water intake. With all of this taken into consideration, we can drastically improve the health status and quality of life for our HIV/AIDs patients!