Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/ Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Tuberculosis (TB) are two of the most prevalent infections in South Africa, and both conditions present nutritional challenges that must be met to effectively treat these diseases.
“HIV/AIDS and TB patients are not just eating to maintain their normal bodily functions, like moving their muscles and the pumping of their hearts,” says Chantell Witten, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa). “When you have a disease, it becomes even more important to maintain good nutrition because you often need additional energy and nutrients to effectively treat the disease, maintain a healthy weight, help the medication work optimally and support the body to repair damaged cells.”
According to Yzelle Watermeyer, a clinical dietitian working at the coal-face at the Kopanong Hospital in Vereeniging, one of the most serious challenges many patients face is the danger of getting caught up in a vicious cycle of malnutrition and an impaired immune system.
“Sickness and some medications can cause loss of appetite, malabsorption and an altered metabolism (increased nutrient needs). This, together with a lack of access to quality food may result in a vicious cycle of weight loss, decreased immunity and worsening of the chronic infection (HIV and/ or TB).”
So, what should South Africans infected with HIV or TB eat?
The experts are unanimous that they don’t have do much that’s different from following the basic healthy eating guidelines that apply to all South Africans (as per our South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines). Whilst, some medications may present challenges due to malabsorption and/ or nutrition related symptoms, sticking to the rule of following a healthy diet made up of a variety of foods goes along way.
What foods should HIV and TB patients avoid?
- Avoid unpasteurised dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese (always check the label if unsure, almost all dairy products sold in supermarkets are pasteurised, but milk bought directly from the farm, although more cost effective is not always pasteurised, so rather be safe than sorry!)
- Alcohol (increases risk taking behaviour and can exasperate malabsorption)
- Raw or partially cooked animal products (can be a source of potentially harmful bacteria like Listeriosis)
- Do not use anything past its expiry date
- Limit tea and coffee as they affects some nutrient absorption and are not beneficial to the body (for example iron)
- Avoid sugary cold drinks and energy drinks (these are high in sugar and low in nutrients a.k.a nutrient poor.)
Top tips to help patients’ access safe, healthy foods that are more affordable include:
- Make a vegetable garden at home and grow your own fresh vegetables
- Legumes (like beans and lentils), soya mince, eggs and tinned fish are fantastic sources of good quality protein
- Shop at the most affordable stores, be price-aware and look out for the specials
- Buying in bulk is often cheaper, share the cost and produce with family, friends and neighbours
- Do not buy and eat cracked eggs (check them before you buy them)
- Be vigilant about keeping your hands and food preparation surfaces clean at all times.