HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks and seeks gradually to destroy the human immune system. Once the virus is in the body, it attacks certain types of white blood cells, while also making copies of its own cells. Over time, if left unchecked, the virus can destroy enough of the immune system that the HIV progresses into Acquired Immune Deficiency (AIDS).
A healthy diet is crucial to help your immune system fight the virus. Food should not be viewed casually, as just something to fill your stomach, but as an integral weapon to help your body to fight this virus.
While good nutrition is an essential part of healthy living for every person, certain aspects of HIV, like muscle wasting, make a balanced diet even more important to persons living with the disease. The US Food and Drug Administration defines a healthy diet as one that provides enough of each essential nutrient; contains a variety of foods from all of the basic food groups; provides adequate energy to maintain a healthy weight; and does not contain excess fat, sugar, salt, or alcohol. There are six essential nutrients:
- Protein builds muscles and a strong immune system.
- Carbohydrates (including starches and sugars) give you energy.
- Fat gives you extra energy.
- Vitamins regulate body processes.
- Minerals regulate body processes and also make up body tissues.
- Water gives cells shape and acts as a medium in which body processes can occur.
The biggest positive change that you can make to your diet is switching from processed foods to whole foods. Those of us living in developed countries have easy access to quick, cheap and filling ‘meals’ a short drive away, or even at the touch of a button on our phones thanks to meal delivery services.
Most of these meal options, however, barely qualify as food. They contain what once was a whole food, but now has now been processed with fillers, sodium and chemicals so intensively that the ingredient list is 30 items long. They provide only empty calories, and their nutritional value is long gone. Know what’s in the foods your eating. The fewer ingredients, the better. If you buy whole foods, and prepare them yourself, you will lessen the chance of subjecting your already weakened immune system to foodborne illness, you can ensure that your food is stored correctly, and you can control of the food’s cooking time and temperature. As you learn how to cook, you can learn how to take control of providing your body with the building blocks it needs. As Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach said in 1863: “Man is what he eats.”