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Nicholas Rush, RDN, CDN

November 30, 2020

HIV and Nutrition

On June 5th, 1981 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published an article describing cases of a rare lung and other unusual infections in five young gay men in Los Angeles. This article is the first official reporting of what will later become known as the HIV/AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) epidemic. A disease of the that leaves the body vulnerable to life-threatening infections and cancers. Nearly 675,000 precious lives have been lost to AIDS in the United States, and nearly 13,000 with AIDS in the US die each year.

It has been almost 40 years since the epidemic began and we’ve made some incredible advances in HIV care. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) live longer and healthier lives with the help of antiretroviral therapy (ART). However, the prevalence of obesity and chronic diseases in PLWHA has significantly increased. This is where nutrition comes in as an integral component of medical care for PLWHA.

HIV infection is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, frailty, and cognitive impairment. HIV-infected men are over four times more likely to develop diabetes than non-infected men. Nutrition can play an essential role in supporting the health and quality of life for PLWHA.

So what can you do as a person living with HIV/AIDS to maintain health and a good quality of life?

Maintaining a relationship with your primary care physician is essential, and adding a registered dietitian (RD) to your care team can help you navigate your health goals through good nutrition. The role of the dietitian includes educating clients on nutrition and diet for both restoration and maintenance of health. An RD also conducts an assessment of your current nutrition status and develops nutrition-related strategies. Finally, implementation of medical nutrition therapy can help recover and maintain immune function.

Implementation of medical nutrition therapy can help recover and maintain immune function.

Nutrition Considerations


Consider increasing fiber intake to 25-30 grams per day from food. A higher fiber intake among PLWHA is associated with a decreased risk for developing diabetes and reduced risk for developing fat deposition.

Dietary Fat
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Omega 3 fatty acids have been found helpful in lowering triglycerides. Eat foods rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

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Consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables to get those key vitamins and minerals. Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.

Weight Mangement

Maintaining a healthy weight for you is key to reducing your risk for your cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But, do it in a healthy way. Low-carb, high-protein diets are generally not recommended for PLWHA do to the added risk for heart disease.


Combining resistance exercises with aerobic exercise can reduce risk for diabetes (and help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes). Exercise can also improve bone density and muscular strength by increasing lean body mass and reducing excess fat.

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