Healthy foods for weight gain are shown below separated by food group. It's important to get this right because gaining weight in the wrong way van be very destructive to health. So that's where we'll start this section: the wrong way to go about doing this.
It seems simple that to gain some weight, all you'd need to do is eat more candy, sweets, cake and cookies right? Um, no...
There are significant health risks involved in this approach. The primary reason is that this approach puts enormous stress on your body to regulate blood sugar levels. When you spike blood sugar levels using high carbohydrate sugary foods, your body reacts with an insulin response to help regulate your blood sugar levels. Insulin is a fat hormone and it will store the excess energy as fat but can put you on the path to diabetes.
But that's not all...
Excessive consumption of carbohydrates leads to the production of palmitic acid in the body. Palmitic acid is a saturated fat and one that can lead to heart disease and strokes. Too much palmitic acid reduces sensitivity to a hormone that regulates hunger, making you feel like you need to eat more. It's also the first step to insulin resistance. This creates a devastating snowball effect.
Wheat products, like breads, can create the same blood sugar spike as candy with the same results. So limiting wheat intake applies here as well. There is simply no good reason to gain weight using this method!
The best healthy foods for weight gain are ones that are high in calories and protein. They promote healthy weight gain and muscle development.
Calories don't create an insulin response like carbohydrates do. Calories drive weight gain through the storage of excess energy from a caloric source rather than a carbohydrate source.
Let's explore the sources of high calorie low carbohydrate foods:
Proteins are a great healthy food to gain weight. They are typically high in calories, healthy fats and excess protein intake is converted to energy and stored.
Here's how it works:
When excess protein is consumed, meaning more than the body needs for tissue repair and growth, the amino acids are broken down and converted to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. It is then used as a fuel and burned or stored as fat.
Ok, now having said that, here's where your body draws the line on too much protein intake: The liver can only process about 30-35% of your total caloric intake as protein. Anything beyond this ratio gets converted and used for energy or stored.
Your body already has a way of dealing with this processing limitation so that you don't over-consume proteins: They're very satiating. This makes proteins hard to overeat.
The takeaway here is that proteins are a part of a healthy weight gain approach. We need to round out our caloric intake using other high-calorie foods as well.
Below are some great sources of high quality proteins that I recommend:
Nuts and seeds are another source of healthy foods for weight gain. They're high in healthy fats, calories, protein and a great source of a multitude of nutrients ranging from potassium to zinc. They're also easily transportable making them a great snack food to munch on throughout the day.
Here are some of my favorites:
Many dairy products are great healthy foods to gain weight. They're high fat, high calorie, high protein and have other beneficial nutritional properties.
It's important to note that the best dairy products come from grass fed animals labeled organic. This is more important than we have been led to believe. Grass fed animals produce dairy that has a very different ratio of fats than factory farmed grain fed animals do. The more dairy products you consume, the more important this becomes because of the compounding imbalance of omega fatty acids and saturated fats factory farmed dairy contains. Grass fed animals produce substantially more omega 3 fatty acids than factory farmed animals do. This is important to reduce inflammation and autoimmune issues.
Some of my favorite dairy items are:
Adding healthy oils to your food is a great way to add calories and healthy fats to your diet.
Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are my favorites but there are other healthy oil options as well such as sesame, peanut and canola oil. Cooking with these oils to saute vegetables and pan fry meats are a great way to get more of these oils and the calories they bring with them into your diet.
Organic fruits are a great addition to your diet to gain weight.
They have natural sugars with them with adequate fiber so that the sugars are absorbed into your body more slowly thus reducing a spike in blood sugar.
They also pack a vast array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants necessary to maximize vitality, health and strength while gaining weight at a healthy and sustainable pace.
On the weight loss pages, I encourage those looking to drop weight to shift to a diet higher in vegetables and lower on fruits. Either way, you're getting a vast array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But a vegetable heavy diet has much lower levels of natural sugars to help drop weight.
Here, I recommend shifting the balance in favor of fruits with less vegetables to increase the caloric intake and natural sugars.
Dried fruits also serve this approach well and are even more easily transportable making them a great snack food to bring along with some nuts and seeds.
Here are some of my favorite fruits for weight gain:
There are also some good vegetables that play a role in helping those who would like to put on weight. Namely: Potatoes and sweet potatoes. These starchy roots are packed with potassium and vitamin E and are a great way to add those calories into your diet.
The starches convert to blood glucose but there is enough fiber to slow the rate of uptake to a point where you won't get a blood sugar spike like you would from wheat or sugary sweets.
A few years ago, I was on a bodybuilding routine and I used the age-old rule of thumb to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. I had read that somewhere but I don't remember where.
For the same reason as I mentioned above in the proteins section, this amount of protein was excessive. I put on a lot of muscle, but also a lot of added weight in general.
The ratio of protein in my diet was well in excess of 30-35% of total caloric intake and my body was converting it all over to energy. So I was putting on the muscle and the fat.
I had to reduce the amount of daily protein intake by using less whey protein shakes if I was going to steady my weight gain and still continue to strength train. This leaned me out a lot so that I got a more lean and muscled look rather than bulky.
You'll need to experiment with your diet along these lines to find the right mix of foods that help you put on the weight that you want and then maintain the desired physique without letting it get out of hand.
At the end of the day, maintaining a diet high in proteins, snacking throughout the day on nuts, fruits and dried fruits and staying moderate on wheat products is a great way to put on weight and do it in a way that will maximize vitality, health and strength.
This also sets your body up for building lean muscle mass which is great for a foundation of overall health and wellness or if you're ready to hit the gym.
I'd like to hear from you all as well to tell your story of how you put on weight and share it with the community!