East well and live longer

2008-11-26 00:00

The antics of Manto “Dr Beetroot” Tshabalala-Msimang around the promotion of eating “healthy” foods such as garlic, olive oil and beetroot deflected attention somewhat from the very real benefits of following a nutritionally sound diet.

In a country where the overwhelming majority of people infected with HIV are poor and uneducated, information about how to follow such a diet is crucial, and the significance of slim, easy-to-read books on the subject, in this case put out by the Treatment Action Campaign, cannot be underestimated.

As a new book, HIV and Nutrition, explains, living with HIV places additional nutritional demands on one’s body, while the rate at which the virus progresses increases in undernourished people. And many of the side effects of illness — loss of appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting — reduce the effects of what nutrition is obtained.

Starting with the real basics —what is HIV, how to shop, what the basic food groups are — the book adopts a positive yet realistic tone. In answer to the question “do I need a funeral policy?” the reader is reminded that “the important thing to focus on is living rather than dying”. With antiretrovirals (ARVs) HIV can be like any other potentially deadly illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Nor are the hazards of ARVs skirted. While they can keep you alive they also have unpleasant side effects, like diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, lipodystrophy (fat loss or gain) and diabetes.

To some extent these side effects can be managed through diet and this is explained in detail, as are “‘fallacies about nutrition and HIV”, where many of the so-called “wonder foods” and herbal remedies are considered. Recognising that one of the biggest barriers to eating well is affordability, the final chapter outlines the various grants that are available from the government.

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