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Why a Healthy Diet is Vital for People Living with HIV

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The south African nation of Zimbabwe made significant strides against HIV in recent years, with local reports indicating nearly three-quarters of people living with the disease are now on antiretroviral medication. But there is an obstacle to better health outcomes for individuals on treatment, at least according to Moreni Masanzu of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living With HIV: nutrition.

Speaking in broad terms to the nation’s Herald newspaper, Masanzu said poor nourishment — whether because of poverty, personal choices, or lack of access to healthy food — is undermining the effect of treatment on people living with HIV.

“It is important to note that for people living with HIV to take their medication they consistently need to have a healthy diet,” Masanzu said. “It is, however, unfortunate that most people living with HIV do not have good nutrition to support their positive living mandate. Poor diet among people living with HIV is leading to defaulting because ARVs are heavy medications that need someone to eat well.”

While American officials and HIV leaders are less prone to generalize about people with HIV and their eating habits, the government’s National Institute of Health does stress the importance of good nutrition for folks living with the virus.

According to the NIH’s HIV website, which was just updated last year, “In people with HIV, good nutrition supports overall health and helps maintain the immune system.” Additionally, “Good nutrition also helps people with HIV maintain a healthy weight and absorb HIV medicines.”

So, what counts as good nutrition? The Food and Drug Administration recommends women aged 31 to 59 consume about 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, while men in this age group need about 2,200 to 3,000 calories a day. In its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, the FDA encourages adults to consume three to four cups of vegetables a day and approximately two to three cups of fruit. Six to 10 ounces of grain is also recommended, as well as three cups of any dairy and five to seven ounces of protein. Not surprisingly, the agency also encourages limiting sugars, sodium, and saturated fat.

For more facts and tips on healthy eating, including recipes, visit Nutrition.gov.

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