What Holiday Foods You Can Enjoy on ART

With Thanksgiving around the corner and Christmas and New Year’s following closely on its heels, you know that a near-constant barrage of rich, decadent holiday foods is going to be present at home, work and on seasonal restaurant menus. For people on antiretroviral therapy (ART), you may be wondering, “Can I eat this? Should I eat this?”

The good news: as long as you enjoy foods in moderation and at appropriate times, there are actually few dietary restrictions for patients on ART.

Enjoying Holiday Foods Is More about Timing

For most ART medications, the issue with eating is about when you eat in relation to when you take your medicine rather than what you eat. Some medications require gastric acid for proper absorption, so they should be taken with meals. Other medications’ effectiveness may be impaired by stomach acids, so they should be taken on an empty stomach.

As long as you take meds before, after or with meals as indicated, you are generally free to eat what you like.

One notable exception is Efavirenz (brand name Sustiva). Risks for adverse effects increase with fat consumption because fat affects absorption. People living with HIV who are on this ART medication should adhere to a low-fat diet, even during the holidays.

Foods to Avoid or Consume with Caution

Many holiday festivities rely on alcohol to increase everyone’s cheer. While a glass of wine with Thanksgiving dinner or a champagne toast to ring in the New Year do not pose a threat, excessive alcohol consumption should be avoided no matter what ART medications you take. Alcohol may increase the risk of adverse side effects, but more importantly, it can damage the liver, which is responsible for processing ART medications. Without a healthy liver, your medication is rendered nearly ineffective.

Beyond alcohol, food and supplement restrictions are medication-specific. Here’s a quick guide:

If you take… Avoid…
Integrase inhibitors Calcium supplementation with dose
Saquinavir (brand: Invirase) Garlic capsules; grapefruit juice with dose
Non-nucleoside transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI), protease inhibitor (PI) St. John’s Wort

Medication and dosing information dispensed with your prescriptions may have more detailed information about food, drug and supplement interactions. If you have questions about safe holiday consumption on ART, please ask your doctor or contact UNM Truman Health Services.