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Healthy and balanced nutrition is important for everyone


Food is essential for our bodies to:

Food is made up of nutrients. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are needed only in small amounts. Macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat are needed in larger amounts. The body cannot function properly if one or more nutrients are missing. A healthy and balanced diet provides foods in the right amounts and combinations that are safe and free from disease and harmful substances.

Prevention is better than cure. The earlier a person starts to eat a healthy and balanced diet, the more he or she will stay healthy. Once weight has been lost it may be difficult to regain it because of tiredness and lack of appetite.

The section below contains some guidelines on healthy and balanced nutrition. These apply to everyone - whether they are infected with HIV or not.


Enjoy a variety of foods

Eating well means eating a variety of foods. No single food contains all the nutrients that our bodies need, except for breastmilk for babies up to the age of six months. Eating a variety of different foods will supply the nutrients that are essential for our bodies. By taking care to choose foods that are in season and locally available, eating can be enjoyable, healthy and affordable.

Eat staple foods with every meal

Staple foods should make up the largest part of a meal. These foods are relatively cheap and supply a good amount of energy and some protein. Staples include cereals (such as rice, maize, millet, sorghum, wheat and barley), starchy roots (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and yams) and starchy fruit (such as plantains).

However, staple foods are not enough to provide all the nutrients the body needs. Other foods must be eaten to provide additional energy, proteins and micronutrients.

Eat legumes if possible every day

These foods provide a person with the proteins needed to develop and repair the body and also to build up strong muscles. They are good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre and help to keep the immune system active.

Legumes include beans, peas, lentils, groundnuts (including peanut butter) and soybeans. When eaten with staple foods the quality of protein is increased. Legumes are a cheaper protein source than animal foods, such as beef and chicken, and should be eaten every day, if possible.

Eat animal and milk products regularly

Foods from animals and fish should also be eaten as often as you can afford them. They supply good-quality proteins, vitamins and minerals and extra energy. They will help to strengthen muscles and the immune system.

These foods include all forms of meat, poultry (birds), fish, eggs and dairy products such as milk, sour milk, buttermilk, yoghurt and cheese. If insects, such as caterpillars or grasshoppers, are part of your diet, they also provide good nutrients.

Eat vegetables and fruit every day

Vegetables and fruit are an important part of a healthy and balanced meal. They supply the vitamins and minerals that keep the body functioning and the immune system strong. These foods are especially important for people living with HIV/AIDS to fight infection. Eat a wide variety as each one provides different vitamins and minerals. A recommended list is provided below.

Yellow, orange, red or dark green

Other vegetables and fruit vegetables and fruit

Green leafy vegetables (spinach, pumpkin, cassava leaves), green peppers, squash, carrots, yellow peaches, apricots, papaya and mangoes

Tomatoes, cabbage, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons, guavas mangoes, passionfruit, pineapples, mulberries and baobab fruit

· Good sources of vitamin A

· Good sources of vitamin C; help to fight infection

Use fats and oils as well as sugar and sugary foods

Fats, oils and sugar are good sources of energy and can help one gain body weight, which can be particularly important for those living with HIV/AIDS. They also add flavour to food, thereby stimulating appetite.

Fats and oils play an important part in a healthy and balanced diet. Even small amounts can provide lots of energy. Fats and oils include butter, lard, margarine, cooking oil (vegetable, coconut and palm oil), cream, mayonnaise and coconut cream. They are also found in avocados, oilseeds (sunflower, groundnut and sesame), fatty meat and fish, curds and cheese.

Sugars and sugary foods include honey, jam, table sugar, cakes and biscuits.

Although fats and sugars are good sources of energy, they are not rich in other nutrients. They should therefore be eaten in addition to other foods, not in place of them.

Drink plenty of clean and safe water

Water is important for life and is necessary every day. A person needs about eight cups of fluid per day. When it is very hot, while working, sweating or suffering from diarrhoea, vomiting or fever, a person needs to drink even more to replace the water that has been lost. If drinking-water is collected from a protected well or borehole it is important to store it in a clean container. If the water is from an unprotected well or river the water should be boiled for at least ten minutes and stored in a clean container (see advice on food hygiene). In addition to drinking clean water, fluid can also come from juices, soups, vegetables and fruit as well as meals that have gravy or sauces. However, avoid drinking tea or coffee with a meal, as this can reduce the absorption of iron from the food.

Alcoholic drinks remove water from the body and should therefore be consumed only in limited amounts. They can also interfere with the action of medicines.

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