Nutrition and People with HIV

Content From: HIV.govUpdated: June 18, 20245 min read


Why Is Good Nutrition Important for People with HIV?

Good nutrition is important for everyone because food gives our bodies the nutrients they need to stay healthy, grow, and work properly. It is essential for maintaining good health throughout the lifespan.

Good nutrition is especially important for people with HIV because it helps strengthen the immune system and keeps people with HIV healthy. It also helps people absorb HIV medicines.

What Is Good Nutrition?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy dietary pattern involves eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy or fortified soy alternatives. When deciding what to eat or drink, choose options full of nutrients and limited in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.

Along with physical activity, improving what you eat can help you reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and obesity. The benefits of healthy eating add up, bite by bite, over time.

Explore and learn how to make every bite count. MyPlate offers ideas and tips to help you create an eating style that meets your individual needs and can improve your health. You can also learn how to read the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods and drinks to help you to make informed choices.

However, before you make major changes in your diet, contact your HIV health care provider or seek guidance from a registered dietician to get a better assessment of your nutritional needs. Many HIV clinics and community health centers have dieticians on staff who can help you set goals and make a plan to eat the best possible food to maintain your health and reduce the chances of developing other health problems.

Will HIV Medicines Make You Gain Weight?

If you have HIV, it’s important to get and stay on treatment with HIV medicines called antiretroviral therapy or ART. When taken as prescribed, HIV medicine can reduce the amount of virus in your body (your viral load) to a very low level—including a level so low that a regular lab test can't detect it. This is called having an undetectable viral load. Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing people with HIV can do to stay healthy and prevent transmitting HIV to others.

Some HIV medicines can cause weight gain. The reasons are unclear. If you were very sick with HIV and experienced weight loss before starting treatment, you may gain weight as you return to health on ART. Weight gain is more common in women, Black/African American people, and people who had poor health before starting treatment, but not everyone gains weight.

Factors other than ART can also affect your weight, such as lifestyle habits; how much sleep you get; other medicines you take; other health problems; genes and family history; and where you live, work, play, and worship.

Being overweight can increase your risk for other chronic diseases, like heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Talk to your HIV health care provider if you have concerns about your weight and what you can do to stay healthy.

Learn about HIV and heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

How Can You Eat Healthy on a Budget?

Some people worry that it’s expensive to eat healthy foods. But there are many ways to eat healthy on a budget.

The Shop Simple with MyPlate tool can help you make healthy choices within your budget. You can download this tool to your phone, tablet, or computer to make a shopping plan, find cost-saving opportunities in your local area, and discover new ways to prepare budget-friendly foods.

You can also ask your HIV health care provider’s office about local food resources and food assistance programs you may qualify for.

What Role Does Exercise Play in Living Healthy with HIV?

Regular physical activity and exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone, including people with HIV. Read our page on exercise and people with HIV.

What Do People with HIV Need to Know About Food Safety?

Because HIV affects the immune system, foodborne illnesses are likely to be more serious and last longer in people with HIV than in people with a healthy immune system. So, in addition to eating well, you need to eat safely. By following a few basic safety guidelines when you prepare and eat your meals, you can protect yourself from food-related illness:

  • Do not eat raw eggs, meats, or seafood (including sushi, oysters/shellfish, and raw cookie dough).
  • Do not eat unpasteurized milk, other dairy products, or fruit juices
  • Follow the four steps to prevent food poisoning: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill:
    • Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often.
    • Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate foods.
    • Cook to the right temperature using a food thermometer
    • Chill: Refrigerate promptly.

Learn more: visit’s Food Safety Choices for People with Weakened Immune Systems.

Water safety is extremely important, too, as water can carry a variety of parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Learn how people with weakened immune systems and others at risk for getting waterborne illness can protect themselves from waterborne germs at home.

Hepatitis A: People with HIV are at increased risk for severe disease from hepatitis A, a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is usually transmitted by coming into contact with an infected person’s feces, such as by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, or by person-to-person contact. Hepatitis A can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. It is recommended for all people with HIV in the U.S. The vaccine is usually given in 2 doses, 6–18 months apart.