Although conversations surrounding body weight and diet are very heavily weighted (pun intended!) towards “the best weight loss foods” and weight loss diets, there are still plenty of people who are looking for “the best weight gain foods” or what to eat to gain weight.
Unfortunately, many underweight people gravitate toward processed foods like potato chips, candy, soda, ice cream, and pastries.
While these foods are high in calories, they are not nutrient-dense and certainly cannot be considered healthy foods for weight gain.
So, what are the best weight gain foods? What are some good high calorie meals and high calorie healthy foods for weight gain? What are the highest calorie foods overall? And what are calorie-dense foods vs. nutrient-dense foods?
In this guide, we will discuss what calorie dense foods are in the first place, what makes for the best weight gain foods, and then provide some ideas for the best high calorie foods so that you can put together some healthy high calorie meals to gain weight without putting on a lot of body fat or filling your body with processed junk food.
We will look at:
- What Are the Best High Calorie Foods for Weight Gain?
- What Are the Best Healthy Foods to Gain Weight Fast?
Let’s get started!
What Are the Best High Calorie Foods for Weight Gain?
Although standard nutritional advice is typically to focus on healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins, when trying to gain weight and increase your appetite, you must make some swaps in your food choices for more calorie dense foods.
But, what are calorie dense foods?
Calorie dense foods, also called energy dense foods, or high calorie foods, are foods that contain a lot of calories for the volume or weight of the food.For example, fruits and vegetables are nutritious and provide many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
However, they are high-volume, relatively low-calorie foods, particularly in the case of vegetables. This means that you will feel full rather quickly without consuming a lot of calories.
This is a great strategy for weight loss but not a good approach for what to eat to gain weight, especially if you have a poor appetite and won’t make up the rest of the calories you need because you are already physically full.
In contrast, the best foods to gain weight pack in many calories without taking up much room in your stomach.
Returning to fruits, for example, a good high calorie food for weight gain would be dried fruit versus fresh fruit.
Because the water has been removed, dried fruit is a calorie dense food and a much higher calorie food per gram than the fresh fruit version.
This is almost five times as many calories for the same volume of food in the same actual food product.
In general, the highest calorie foods that are healthy are those that contain a higher amount of fat since there are 9 calories per gram of fat vs 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and proteins.
Additionally, high calorie healthy foods for weight gain tend to have low water content and low fiber content, as just described, as they will be more calorie-dense than voluminous.
Also, fiber slows digestion and keeps you feeling full for a long time, which makes it more difficult to eat a lot of food to gain weight.
To this end, high calorie meals for weight gain should be lower in lean protein and higher in complex carbohydrates because it is easier to pack in higher calorie weight gain meals when you are consuming starchy carbs vs high protein meals.
What Are the Best Healthy Foods to Gain Weight Fast?
Here are some of the best high calorie foods for fast weight gain while still being healthy high calorie foods:
#1: Nuts and Nut Butter
Nuts and nut butter are among the highest-calorie foods and some of the best foods to gain weight quickly.
Snacking on nuts or adding nuts and seeds as toppers to meals like salads, cereals, yogurt, smoothies, etc., is a healthy way to add calories to your meals.
Just a quarter cup of almonds has 170 calories, with 15 grams of healthy fats, 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and lots of key vitamins and minerals.
Most nut and seed butters contain about 160 to 200 calories per 2-tablespoon serving and 12 to 16 g of fat, most of which is unsaturated.
Not only are peanut butter, almond butter, and other nut butters among the highest calorie healthy foods, studies have found that nut butter can help prevent diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease and may even support weight loss.
#2: Whole Milk
Whole milk has actually been used as a good weight gain food for years.
It has protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.
The whey and casein protein in milk can support muscle gains vs. fat with weight gain, especially if you are lifting weights consistently.
One cup of whole milk (237 mL) has 149 calories and 8 grams of protein per serving, while skim milk has only 80 calories per cup.
Your list of high calorie weight gain foods should focus on full-fat dairy vs low-fat dairy or fat-free dairy in order to choose higher calorie foods for weight gain.
Rice is a great food for weight gain on a budget.
Many healthy high calorie weight gain foods tend to be costly (think nuts and avocados), so cheap high-carb foods like rice is an accessible option for low-cost food to gain weight that is certainly healthier than cheap fast food.
Plus, rice is versatile, so you can add it to various weight gain meals and high calorie recipes.
One cup (158 g) of cooked white rice provides 204 calories and 44 grams of carbs.
With very little fat, protein, and fiber, rice may also not keep you full for very long, so you’ll be able to add more frequent meals, which is key for the best weight gain diet plans.
#4: Whole Grains and Starchy Carbs
A list of the best foods for gaining weight should include complex carbs like potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, corn, and beans.
These foods are high calorie foods in terms of the calorie per cost while also providing a good swath of nutrients.
Whole grains are rich in B vitamins and fiber, potatoes have potassium, and sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A and C.
To bulk up the calories in a high calorie meal for weight gain, cut back on the portion of low-carb veggies and lean protein and add more starchy carbs.
#5: Dried Fruit
As mentioned, dried food is one of the best foods for healthy weight gain because of the caloric density.
#6: Trail Mix
One of the best snacks to gain weight quickly is trail mix.
This one of our high calorie foods packs in dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, making it one of the highest calorie healthy snack options.
Our pick for the best healthy trail mix to add to your weight gain diet plan is the Second Nature Dark Chocolate Medley Trail Mix.
It is not only delicious, but contains 160 calories in just a quarter cup and is very low in sodium, unlike many unhealthy commercial trail mix options.
Hummus can be part of a good weight loss diet, but it is also a nutritious high calorie food for weight gain.
The rich Sabra Hummus has 80 calories in just two tablespoons.
Rather than having hummus with veggies, which is often recommended for weight loss, pair hummus with pita bread, whole-grain tortillas, whole-grain crackers, or whole wheat bread for a high calorie healthy weight gain recipe.
Avocados and guacamole are among the highest calorie healthy foods.
One whole avocado contains about 320 calories, with heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory fats, fiber, potassium, and vitamin E.
Cheese is a fantastic food to gain weight and build muscle. It contains protein and is more calorically dense than milk.
Just one ounce of cheddar cheese (28 g) has 110 calories and provides 7 grams of protein.
Choose full-fat cheese for your weight gain diet plan rather than part skim mozzarella or low-fat cheese.
#10: Granola and Cereal
Granola and certain cereals are surprisingly high calorie foods for gaining weight quickly.
For example, just one-half cup of Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed Flax Plus Granola has a whopping 260 calories, or 520 calories per cup.
The original Grape Nuts has 200 in a half-cup serving, 7 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 0 grams of added sugar. I
It’s also a micronutrient powerhouse, containing 90% of the RDA of iron and folate, over 50% of the RDA of thiamine, and several other key vitamins and minerals.
However, our top pick for the best granola for healthy weight gain is the Bear Naked Granola Cereal Fruit and Nut Medley flavor.
This nutritious high-calorie cereal packs a whopping 270 calories in just a half-cup serving.
Plus, it is so tasty that you won’t be able to stop at just a half cup and will likely need at least one full cup, giving you almost 550 calories.
If you add half a cup of whole milk and some sliced bananas, you can quickly have one of the best high-calorie breakfasts for weight gain—both in terms of highest-calorie healthy meals as well as best tasting weight gain breakfasts.
#11: Protein Shakes
Protein powder, protein shakes, smoothies, and protein bars can all be great ways to gain weight by adding nutritious calories to your diet. Just make sure to choose clean-label products with no artificial sweeteners.
#12: Granola Bars
Granola bars are a convenient high-calorie food, but you have to be careful to choose healthy high-calorie granola bars made from quality ingredients without a lot of added sugar and junk.
We think the Bobo’s Oat Bars are the absolute best.
They are not only scrumptious, but they help you sneak in extra calories since, technically, one serving is half the package, but there’s no way you’re going to eat only half, giving you nearly 400 calories in this delicious, nutritious food for gaining weight.
If you are struggling with your appetite, check out our guide to what to eat when you don’t feel like eating here.