The Importance of Good Nutrition

Why Nutrition Matters

Good nutrition is critical for people living with HIV and AIDS. Basically, nutrition should be viewed as an essential co-therapy that can help maximize your medical management of HIV. Eating well can help:

-Prevent or delay the loss of muscle tissue or "wasting"

-Strengthen the immune system

- Reduce viral mutations

- Decrease the incidence and severity of opportunistic infections and hospitalizations

- Lessen the debilitating symptoms of HIV/AIDS

If you're HIV infected, it's important to avoid any unplanned weight loss, which can further weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection. Eating enough food--and the right foods--to maintain your proper weight, and keeping your body strong can make a real difference in staying healthy. Generally speaking, people with HIV/AIDS should try to eat a diet that is 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates. And eat 3-5 vegetable servings and 2-4 fruit servings every day.

Protein is involved in nearly every biological process of the human body. It builds muscle tissue and helps your immune system fight off infections. We need protein to keep organs like our heart and lungs working well and to keep ourselves strong and active. Studies have shown that HIV weight loss tends to reduce protein stores more quickly than simple starvation, and a major nutritional goal for HIV-infected individuals should be to build or maintain your muscle mass.

Carbohydrates and fat are important because HIV can increase the body's metabolic rate--causing us to use more calories to do the same work we did with less calories before becoming HIV positive.

Finally, if you're not eating enough to maintain your weight, you're probably not getting adequate amounts of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that our bodies need to produce energy, to help with many chemical reactions that we carry out automatically, and to help protect us from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. Depending on the medication you are taking, you may not be eating enough to absorb those medications properly and get them into your bloodstream where they can work effectively. Not getting enough of these essential nutrients can further weaken your immune system. Even though it is a good idea to take a multivitamin every day, you must remember that supplements cannot take the place of real food. That's why they're called supplements.

Immune Deficiency Effects of Protein/Calorie Malnutrition

1.T-Cell Count Decreased

2.Helper T-Cell Count Decreased

3.Ratio of Helper to Suppressor T-Cells Inverted

4.Delayed Cutaneous Hypersensitivity (Anergy)

5.Immature T-Cells Increased

6.Lymphokine Production Decreased

7.Helper T-Cell Activity Decreased

8.Serum Immunoglobulins Increased

9.Primary Antibody Response Diminished

10.Antibody Affinity Decreased

Note: These are the same exact effects that HIV has on the immune system.

Credit: Nutrition for Life, Volume 2, Number 1, January 1997 produced and distributed by the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA

Making good nutrition part of your daily routine takes real commitment--but it's definitely worth the effort. A good first step is to discuss your diet with your health care provider or nutritionist. There are lots of good books and nutritional guides available, and you can contact The Momentum Project or any of the organizations listed in the online resources section of our website for more information. Nutrition counseling is also available from a number of organizations, including Momentum. Be sure to select a counselor who is qualified to advise you and is familiar with HIV illness and will work cooperatively with your primary care physician. And remember, most of the messages in the popular media about nutrition and dieting are intended for people who are trying to lose weight--and may not be appropriate for people living with HIV/AIDS. Weight loss diets generally don't work and can be dangerous.