Eating a well-balanced meal and living a healthy lifestyle is important for anyone, but for people living with HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, proper nutrition plays a crucial role in keeping them healthy.
HIV-positive and healthily-positive
Thulani Totyi, an HIV activist from Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, says maintaining a good diet is essential for her overall health and treatment strategy. As a person living with HIV, she adopts a holistic approach, utilising the dietary pyramid as a guide and supplementing with multivitamins as needed. She also drinks plenty of water to keep her hydrated and maintain her immune system.
“In general, as we age our metabolism system deteriorates or slows down, affecting our digestive system and the fibre-rich foods will assist in activating the metabolism system,” she says.
Nutrition is essential
Mpho Mbeki-Ntoni, an HIV ambassador from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, stresses the importance of supporting the immune system, which is already compromised by the virus.
Eating well is a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for people living with HIV; it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should ensure that you get the necessary nutrients from the simple meals you eat at home, she adds.
She adds that one of the negative effects of being on ARVs for a long time is constipation, therefore eating foods high in fibre helps to relax the stool and allows us to go to the bathroom like other people who aren’t on treatment.
The link between TB, HIV, and nutrition
According to the World Health Organisation, TB remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV (PLHIV). In 2019, TB accounted for an estimated 30% of the 690 000 Aids-related deaths in the world.
Janke Draper, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (Adsa), says people with HIV and TB have increased protein and energy requirements on a daily basis.
Additionally, they have specific nutritional needs for vitamins and minerals. It is common for TB patients to experience deficiencies in micronutrients such as vitamins A, E, and D, as well as minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, and selenium.
“Micronutrients play a significant and complex role in the immune function. Whenever the immune system is compromised, successful TB treatment is at stake. Therefore, nutrition deficiencies are associated with increased risk and severity of TB disease, delays in recovery and longer, more frequent hospital visits.”
Spokesperson and registered dietitian, Faaizah Laher says, “Since nutrition plays a vital role in determining the strength of the immune system, under-nourishment, including significant loss of fat and muscle mass, is one of the risk factors of TB.”
“Where there is malnutrition, poverty, overcrowding, stress, alcoholism and drug addiction, there is TB.”
Nutrition to boost your immune system
Laher recommends that people with HIV and TB focus on eating a varied, well-balanced diet, and avoiding unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and drinking sugary drinks.
“Aim to have a minimum of three mixed meals a day because when meals are mixed, we have the best absorption of nutrients.”
She explains that mixed meals mean ensuring that we use a combination of foods from the four basic food groups in one meal:
- Starches such as cereals, rice, maize meal, wholewheat bread, potatoes and butternut.
- Vegetables and fruit provide our body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to support the immune system.
- Protein-rich foods such as milk, eggs, yoghurt, maas, beans, lentils, chicken, meat, and fish.
- Oils and fats as well as nuts and seeds
Here are some of Laher’s examples of mixed meals containing all four food groups:
- Chicken stew with onion and carrots served with green beans and maize porridge
- Beans and samp with beetroot, cooked cabbage and onion
- Peanut butter and bread with a banana
- An orange with a cheese sandwich
- Maize porridge with milk or maas, a little margarine and sugar with an apple or fruit of your choice
- Oats porridge with yoghurt, a banana and a little sugar
- Pilchards with rice, cabbage salad and chakalaka
- Beef stew with tomatoes, green beans and carrots served with rice or lentils
- Mielie pap, morogo, beetroot and lamb
- Chicken sandwich and an apple
- Amabumbe with pilchards and stewed vegetables
- Mielie pap with tomato and onion stew, beans and mixed vegetables
- Bean stew with rice and steamed frozen vegetables
- Pilchards on bread with salad
- Beans and bread with cooked spinach and tomato
- Beef mince with tomato, spinach and onion served with pasta
- Bread with a boiled egg and a banana
- Soy mince with mixed vegetables and rice or pap
- High protein cereal with milk and margarine, and a banana
- Vegetable soup with chickpeas or barley and a slice of bread
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