If you have a BMI lower than 18.5, you may be underweight. While there are several reasons this may be the case – such as a poor appetite or an overactive thyroid – you’ll need to know how to gain weight safely and nutrition is the place to start.1
How to gain weight healthily
When it comes to healthy weight gain, you should aim to include foods in your diet that are both calorie-dense and nutritious. Don’t be tempted to choose foods for gaining weight based only on their calorific content, such as ice-cream, cheese or fast food as although you will gain weight, you might end up eating too much sugar and saturated fat. This can lead to an increased risk of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.2
At what rate should I aim to gain weight?
You should aim to gain weight steadily at a rate of around 2lbs per week.3 Don’t worry if your rate is slower, if you’re making progress and seeing the number on the scale go up, then that’s what’s important.
You can achieve this by adding several different foods to gain weight to your diet.
5 ingredients to add to your shopping basket for healthy weight gain
Here are five healthy foods which are naturally calorie-dense, so you can gain weight whilst giving your body the nutrients it needs to feel great.
Although oats are known as a weight-loss diet food, they can also be added to your diet for weight gain, especially when made with whole milk. Oats are a source of minerals such as manganese and zinc, as well as containing B vitamins and iron.
Make sure to choose the wholegrain oat variety over refined oats, as this offers extra health benefits such as increased fibre. The soluble fibre in oats, beta-glucan, may also help lower cholesterol.
It’s easy to make this healthy food high in calories. Just 50g oats made with 300ml whole milk packs 377 calories and 14g fat.4 Adding nuts, dried fruit, seeds or Manuka honey to your bowl will give you extra calories whilst offering even more health benefits.
As an ultra-healthy fruit, you might not think of avocado as a food to gain weight. However, despite their reputation as the ultimate health food, avocados are also one of the best foods for weight gain. Eating plenty of avocado is a great way to add healthy fats, fibre and many vitamins to your diet including vitamin C, vitamin E and potassium.
Just one avocado contains between 250 – 400 calories and around 23g fat5 depending on the size. Eating a smaller avocado or half a larger avocado each day alongside your meals and snacks will help top up your calories for steady weight gain.
You can spread avocado onto toast, make guacamole, use it as the base to a pasta sauce or add slices to salads and sandwiches. If you’re the kind of person that gets full quickly, you can even blend an avocado in with your morning or mid-day smoothie to get calories and healthy fats with every sip.
Protein helps us put on mass because it helps to build muscle tissue. However, if you’re underweight, there is a possibility that you become full too quickly when eating high-protein foods, and don’t always feel like finishing your plate.
This is where protein powder comes in, as it can help you meet your calorie deficit without having to eat large amounts of food.
A protein shake made with whole milk (either dairy or plant-based) can deliver hundreds of calories in just a few mouthfuls. Protein powders can be made from whey, soy, pea or rice proteins and come in many different types – just be careful to avoid ones with artificial colours and flavours.
Tahini is a highly effective food for weight gain. It’s a thick oily dip made from toasted ground sesame seeds. It’s very high in protein, and rich in vitamin E, B vitamins and calcium.
At nearly 100 calories per tablespoon6, you should consider adding it to your diet for healthy weight gain. Tahini can be used as a dip, a spread, mixed into hummus and added to dressings and sauces. It’s very creamy and can also be used in baking and added to protein shakes or even vegan milkshakes.
Nuts are rich in protein, fibre and healthy fats and can help you boost your calorie intake4. Nut butters especially are wonderful foods for weight gain as they are easier to consume than nuts alone, allowing you to eat more, especially if your appetite is low.
A tablespoon of peanut butter has around 100 calories and 16g fat7 as well as being a source of vitamin E and magnesium. You can choose between a wide variety of nut butters that are available including almond, peanut, hazelnut, cashew and macadamia butters. However, make sure the one you choose one that is made from 100% nuts and has no added sugar or salt.
Swirl nut butters into oats, spread onto toast, or eat by the spoonful.
Clinical Nutritionist Alex Glover suggests some meal ideas to support your diet and gain weight the healthy way.
Breakfast – 100g oats made with whole milk, 1 scoop of protein powder drizzled with peanut butter
Dinner- 100g pasta with sliced avocado, pesto spinach, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes
Snack – 50g nuts
Breakfast – Greek yoghurt with maple syrup, walnuts, goji berries and sultanas
Lunch – Toasted rye bread with avocado
Dinner – Vegan cheesy spinach pasta
Snack – 200g hummus with toasted pita strips
Breakfast – Granola
Lunch – Black bean and quinoa chilli add a handful of shredded cheese
Dinner- Spaghetti with meatballs (use meat or plant=based mince)
Snack – Low-sugar protein bar
Breakfast – Peanut butter and banana on wholemeal toast with glass of orange juice
Lunch – Chickpea and spinach dahl with naan or chapati
Dinner – Vegetable lasagne with cheese sauce
Snack – 2 hard-boiled eggs
Breakfast – Overnight oats with chia seeds, raspberries and almond butter
Lunch – Sweet potato and coconut milk curry with pilau rice
Dinner – Steamed broccoli, sausages (meatless or your choice) and roast potatoes
Snack – Scoop of cottage cheese on rye bread
Breakfast – Pancakes with maple syrup, banana and blueberries
Lunch – If you’re eating out, choose bean burgers with mozzarella cheese and sweet potato fries
Dinner – Veggie bean fajitas with guacamole and sour cream
Snack – Coconut pieces
Lunch – Veggie roast dinner
Dinner – Bubble and squeak patties with ciabatta.
Snack – Handful of dried apricots or, as a slice of vegan chocolate fudge cake as a treat
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any options you are unsure about.
Last updated: 9 July 2020