Eating well is difficult when experiencing side effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, sore mouth, taste change and swallow problems. Many of these symptoms can also trigger depression. If you are not feeling well because of symptoms or side effects due to medications, good nutrition becomes more crucial for recovery.
Proper and adequate nutrition is a valuable tool for people living with HIV/AIDS. Whether you have just been diagnosed, show no signs of illness or are in a more challenging stage of HIV, knowing what and how to eat can help you keep your immune system strong.
During the holidays, following a balanced diet and adhering to a medication regimen can be challenging as schedules often get disrupted. Festive seasons also tend to promote an overindulgence of sugar, fat and sodium, and can increase stress levels. Stress further weakens the immune system if nutrition is compromised.
But holidays don't have to derail you from caring for your health. Here are some tips for eating well and staying healthy during the holidays.
Consume enough calories to maintain a healthy weight
- A healthy and balanced diet has adequate calories coming from complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, water and fiber.
- Eat five to six small meals per day. They may be better tolerated and easier to digest than very large meals.
- Do not shy away from plant based foods – whole fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals and beans.
- Choose healthy fats such as olive, canola and fats containing omega-3 fatty acids as found in salmon, tuna and soybeans.
Experiment with preparing meals that are healthy and delicious
- Incorporate color and fiber into dishes by having an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
- Try using fresh herbs and spices like basil, ginger, onions and garlic.
- Avoid high fat and marbled meats; choose leaner cuts to avoid saturated fats.
- Choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains, cereals and breads.
- Watch out for excessive use of salt.
Drink six to eight glasses of fluids a day
- Chose from a combination of water, low-fat milk, teas and healthy juices.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages as these can cause water loss through diarrhea and frequent urination.
Avoid alcohol and take medications as prescribed
- Alcohol is harmful to the liver, and can cause very serious interactions with medications.
- Remember the risks related to alcohol. Under the influence you may forget to practice safe sex.
- Let your doctor know if you are using any over the counter or herbal supplements.
Be vigilant about food safety
- Avoid raw egg products, meats and seafood as well as milk and fruit juices that are unpasteurized.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash cutting board and utensils before and after food preparation.
- Do not drink untreated water from streams and rivers. They carry high bacterial and parasitic counts which further weaken the immune system.
- Check expiration dates and keep foods in original containers.
- Separate meat products from produce.
- Look for broken eggshells or breaks on skins of fruits and vegetables. Avoid items that cannot be washed.
- If your CD4 count is below 200/dl avoid salad items, mainly sprouts and pre-bagged.
- Shop for cold and frozen items last. Keep them in the same bag to reduce the chance of thawing.
- Carry a cooler in the car to store frozen foods if the journey will be more than 30 minutes.
- Spoiled food does not always smell or taste bad, and refrigeration and freezing do not always kill bacteria. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Exercise provides a boost to the immune system.
- Try to incorporate an exercise plan in your daily routine as approved by your doctor.
Finally, ask for help and accept it when it is offered. Holidays can be overwhelming. This is a great time to give yourself permission to involve trusted loved ones in your plan of care. Providing them with a shopping list is a great way to start. Educate loved ones on how to manage symptoms like heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other chronic conditions like diabetes.
Here is a sample menu that is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in fat.
Spinach/ Collard Sauce
1 lb fresh or frozen spinach
1 lb fresh or frozen collards
3 large fresh tomatoes
1 medium can low sodium tomatoes
1 large onion
1 tsp tumeric
¾ tsp salt
4 tbsp canola or olive oil
1 tsp ginger (fresh or ground)
1 tsp fresh or ground garlic
3 red bell peppers
1/3 tsp anise, rosemary, black and white pepper
3 tbsp roasted melon or pumpkin seeds (ground) - optional
1½ pounds smoked or baked fish, turkey chicken or beef
- Wash fresh spinach and collards, drain and chop.
- Blend together tomatoes, onion fresh ginger, garlic and bell peppers.
- Heat oil for 1 minute, add tomatoe mixture, melon seeds, anise, tumeric, rosemary, black/white pepper and salt.
- Simmer for 15 minutes covered, stirring occasionally.
- Add desired meat, chopped spinach and collards.
- Simmer covered for an additional 10 minutes.
Sweet Potato Delight
1 lb sweet potatoes fresh or canned
½ lb 96% lean ground beef or turkey
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp fresh or ground ginger
3 cloves fresh or ground garlic
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp salt
2 pieces zucchini cut into desired size
8 oz snow peas
6 oz cauliflower florets
6 oz broccoli florets
1 large onion chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Cook potatoes and cool (if using canned, drain and run under cold water for 2 minutes, leave to drain for 20 minutes).
- Sautee ground meat until well cooked let it cool.
- Mix all vegetables, onion, spices and oil in a large bowl. Gently toss.
- Pour into a large casserole dish and bake 30-45 minutes covered.
- Bake uncovered for the last 10 minutes.
Ginger and Lemon Baked Chicken
1 lb chicken thigh or breast
2 fresh lemons
4 cloves of garlic
1 ginger stalk
2 fresh thyme leaves
Dash of salt
1 tsp corn starch
- Wash chicken well and let it drain.
- Add all ingredients and leave to marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Bake in oven for 40 minutes until juices run clear.
- Remove from heat.
- Drain stock and thicken with cornstarch to serve over chicken.
Strawberry-Yogurt with Pistachio Dessert
1 medium plain yogurt
1 lb fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup unsalted roast pistachios- crushed
- Mix yogurt, strawberries and honey together.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Sprinkle with crushed pistachios.
Adeline Assani-Uva, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian at Medical Nutrition Consultant, LLC and a known expert in African diet and culturally competent dietary interventions and weight management. She also has extensive expertise in medical nutrition pertaining to adult and child obesity, people living with disabilities, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, dialysis and gastrointestinal conditions. She is currently working on multiple projects in Maryland pertaining to African immigrant diet and health, including an African immigrant dining club, sponsored by the African American Health Program (AAHP) and a cultural competency project in acute care with Adventist Health Care and Office of Minority Health Resource Center.