Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Healthful ways to add calories and gain weight

Looking to add calories to your diet or the diet of a loved one?  Although it may be surprising, since most Americans seek to cut out calories from their diets, many individuals actually need more.  You may have an elderly parent who struggles to eat or maintain a high enough weight.  You may have a child with disordered eating who does not eat enough and struggles with underweight.  Or, perhaps you are trying to get pregnant and need to gain more weight in order to support a healthy pregnancy.  Others may be genetically very lean and seek to find helpful ways to gain weight in order to improve immunity, digestion and overall health.

Whatever the case may be, it is often necessary to find creative ways to add more calories into your diet or the diet of a loved one.  When adding more calories, it is nice to know there is a healthy way to do it  – without feeling the need to overstuff oneself with high calorie-low nutrient foods.   

This means it is still a good idea to limit junk foods and greasy fast foods.  They are certainly not the best and not the only ways to gain weight.  Instead, consider the food groups and how you can best add in more servings of complex carbohydrates, dairy products and healthy fats.

When it comes to complex carbohydrates, grains can be an excellent source of nutrients and helpful on a weight gain diet.  However, be cautious to avoid very high fiber versions, as they can be very filling and cause digestive discomfort when consumed in excess.  For instance, avoid “high fiber” cereals and bars.  Instead, opt for grains like all natural granola, rice salad (for instance, made with wild rice, flavored olive oil and dried fruit), pasta salad, granola bars that contain a mix of nuts, fruits and grains (such as Kind Bars or ProBars) and more dense loaf breads than your usual choice (100 calories per slice, rather than 50). 

Other helpful complex carbohydrates include fruits and vegetables.  Drink 100% juice to gain antioxidants and fruit sugars (rather than soda or “empty” sugars).  Eat fresh fruit or vegetables with a smear of peanut butter.  Choose starchy vegetables as side items such as beans, corn, peas or potatoes.  Instead of greasy French fries, go for baked sweet potato fries with a side of honey to dip.  Put tub margarine or butter on baked potatoes and use other condiments like regular sour cream.   

It is ok to use high fat condiments, so long as they are balanced with each meal.  Whenever you can choose unsaturated fats (from nuts and most oils), do it!  They are the healthiest fats for your body and are a wealth of calories.  However, when someone needs to gain weight, that means he or she needs all types of fats!  So, ensure fats are incorporated into all meals and snacks.  Nuts themselves are one of the best sources of pure energy and if no allergies exist, try to incorporate at least one and a half ounces of nuts daily.  Choose salad dressings effectively, too.  Some varieties offer 100 calories per tablespoon.  Pure oil (such as olive oil or walnut oil) has 120 calories per tablespoon and makes a great dressing…look for flavored versions for wonderful taste changes.

When it comes to dairy products, opt for full fat versions.  Whole milk and products like whole milk yogurt and cheese offer the same protein as lower fat versions, but are higher calorie due to their fat contents.  Make oatmeal, soup and smoothies with whole milk.  You can also add dry milk powder into recipes and dairy products to make them more calorie and protein rich.

Finally, consider supplement drinks such as Boost, Ensure, Pediasmart, Carnation Instant Breakfast and Orgain.  These products are designed to assist with nutrient intake and come in a variety of tasty flavors.  You can warm them up like hot cocoa or drink them chilled like a smoothie.  While homemade protein drinks are also an option, be sure you have a good balance of ingredients to blend together.

Working with a dietitian can be very helpful when trying to gain weight.  Meal planning with appropriate meal spacing is essential and should include many of the ideas listed above.  To find a dietitian in your area, go to www.eatright.org/programs/rdfinder.


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