Nutrition and healthy living

Posted on: 2nd May 2012

When it comes to a healthy diet, it can be confusing for anyone to know what the right things are to eat to stay healthy. However, it can be simpler than you think!

The key is keeping a healthy balance. Nutrition and healthy living is important to everyone and can really help if you are HIV positive. By eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, it can help to alleviate symptoms and help strengthen your immune system.

Let’s start with the basics…..

All nutrients found in food are needed for growth. They have a wide variety of roles in our body, from helping us to grow to keeping our brain functioning properly.

There are lots of different types of nutrients. This can seem quite daunting at first, but once you know the basics you’re on the right track to a healthy diet!

There are two main groups of nutrients. Macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. Macro nutrients are needed in large amounts in your body and are usually the best source of energy. In this group are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts, but are as equally important. They are essential for growth and development. In this group are your vitamins and minerals.

Let’s go into this a little further…

To explain all the different functions, we’ve designed the simple and colourful poster below. Get in touch if you’d like us to email you a copy. It might be useful in your kitchen and it great to use in explaining nutrition to children!

So how does HIV affect nutrition?

Being HIV positive does not mean that you have to change your diet drastically, but a few minor changes can help build up your immune system and keep your strong and healthy.

HIV can interact with nutrition by-

• Reducing appetite- This can be due to side effects from medication or sometimes when you are tired and have low energy, you just don’t want to eat!

• Affecting nutrient absorption- This can be due to a couple of things. Sometimes, again it is down to lack of appetite and food intake but sometimes it can be a more physiological reason. HIV can affect key cells found in the gut which can affect which nutrients are absorbed into the body, meaning some can be lost.

• Increasing energy expenditure- Because your body has to work a little harder when affected by HIV, the amount of energy your body needs to function can increase. It is generally recommended that HIV positive people consume 10% more calories, just to make sure you are getting enough energy to be at your best.

• Medication interaction- Some medications can affect absorption of nutrients and in turn, some nutrients and foods and affect the efficacy of medication. It’s always best to ask your doctor which foods to avoid with certain types of medication.

This can all seem a bit overwhelming but it is easier than you think to have a healthy diet and avoid these issues!

Below are a few tips to help you make sure you are eating healthily and getting the most out of your diet:

1. Eat 10% more calories. As we mentioned earlier, the body needs more energy to function and keep healthy when suffering from HIV. So by consuming more, you’re giving your body the helping hand it needs to be at its best. Starchy foods like wholegrain bread and cereals, potatoes and brown rice are all great foods to up your energy intake.

2. Eat small meals often. This will help keep your energy levels and also make sure you keep your appetite nice and healthy.

3. Eat a good amount of protein. If possible, try to consume minced meat and fish as it’s easier for your body to digest and absorb. Other great sources of protein are eggs, shellfish and soya products.

4. Consume a good amount of vitamins and minerals- There are certain vitamins and minerals that are important when you are HIV positive. These are-

• Selenium-this enhances your immune system and helps it to function. It is found in Brazil nuts, tuna, kidney and mushrooms.

• Iron- helps oxygen to move round your body to your vital organs so they can function. It is found in red meat, spinach, dried apricots and some fortified grains.

• Zinc- Zinc can help you immune system and also increase your appetite. It is found in meat, seeds and pulses, dark chocolate and if you’re feeling brave, oysters!

• Vitamin A- protects against bugs and colds and also helps your eyesight. It can be found in carrots, pumpkin leaves, broccoli, apricots, eggs, milk and other green leafy vegetables.

• Vitamin B- very important in your metabolism and helps your immune and nervous system. It can be found in meat like turkey and fish like tuna, wholegrain, potatoes, bananas, brewer’s yeast and molasses.

• Vitamin C- can act as an antioxidant (which means it protects the body from damaging reactions In the body) and also helps the immune system. It can be found in brightly coloured foods like oranges, tomatoes, strawberries and carrots.

5. Try to eat foods low in saturated fats. There are good and bad types of fat, this is definitely the bad one! If you consume a high amount of saturated fat it can cause heart problems, obesity and has even been linked to some cancers. There are however good types of fat that can help you stay a healthy weight and can even protect your heart. These are called poly and monounsaturated fats and are found in avocadoes, fish, nuts, seeds and oils such as rapeseed and canola oil.

6. Try to eat your five a day. 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day can really help you maintain a healthy diet. 1 portion is determined as 1 handful, so 5 handfuls are all you need! They don’t always need to be fresh too, you can use frozen and tinned foods which can be more affordable and keep for much longer.

7. Make sure that you store and cook foods properly to prevent from getting food poisoning. Also try to be hygienic in the kitchen so you are protected against anything that could contaminate the food you are eating.

With these tips, you can maintain a healthy diet without making too many complicated changes. If you’d like to learn more about nutrition and how to stay healthy, you can visit sites listed in the Nutrition and HIV section in the Library.

Thanks to our Adult Services intern Lucy for this post. You can also look at her worksheet on Nutrition, Children and HIV here. If you’re interested in internships at Body & Soul, read about our current opportunities or get in touch.

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