Healthy Food Guide senior nutritionist Rose Carr has practical advice for those looking to gain weight.
Q. I’m underweight for my height, and I find it difficult to gain weight. How can I gain weight without resorting to burgers and chips?
A. Adding unhealthy fatty or sugary foods may help gain weight but they won’t help gain health.
Try to add high-energy healthy food to your day. That is food that’s high in energy as well as nutrients. You may need to review the balance of your current diet. For many of us, adding extra low-energy vegetables to our day helps fill us up and it’s a good thing. It’s possible, however, your diet may be choc-full of low-energy foods, so that you are filling yourself up before you can consume enough energy/kilojoules to gain weight.
Aim to make small achievable changes that will have an impact over time. If you currently snack on celery or a couple of rice crackers with cottage cheese, try nuts or higher-energy crackers and hummus.
Portion size is important for you, too: aim to slowly increase your normal portions of the higher-energy foods on your plate.
If you usually drink plain water or herbal teas, try switching some of these to milk or a milky drink.
If you currently stick to three meals each day, see if you can add several snacks to the day without making yourself too full before meal times. If you drink immediately before a meal, you won’t have as much room in your stomach for food so have the drink earlier or later. And try not to rush your meals: give yourself time to eat.
Remember, exercise is also important as you gain weight. Focus on exercises to build strength so that you’re gaining muscle as your weight increases. And keep in mind that if you increase the amount of exercise you are doing, you will need to up your kilojoule intake as well. Try having a snack before and after a good workout.
Keeping a food and exercise diary can be much more helpful than we might think. It gives us an overview of what’s really happening daily or weekly and can help us think about where we can make changes. You may also find a visit to a dietitian or qualified nutritionist will help provide an objective view of your current diet and the changes that would help you personally.
A. Are there foods that are particularly good for weight gain?
A. For weight gain we need to focus on adding high energy, nutrient-dense foods. Examples include:
- Nut and seed oils. These are around 100 per cent fat (mainly healthy fat) and fat has more energy per gram than other nutrients. So don’t be afraid to add more oil to salads and cooking and use lashings of hummus or avocado on sandwiches.
- Nuts and seeds. These are around 40 to 50 per cent fat. Use as a snack or add to main meals.
- Avocados are naturally high in healthy fats. For weight gain aim to add half an avocado to a meal.
- Salmon and tuna are higher in fat than most other fish and are higher in omega-3 fats.
- Dried fruit is a higher-energy snack than fresh fruit.
This advice is for healthy people wanting to gain weight. People who have lost weight suddenly and do not know the cause, or people with eating disorders, need to seek personal professional advice.