How to Gain Weight: 13 Foods to Help You Add Pounds if You’re Underweight

If you're underweight—or are dropping pounds for no clear reason—your first stop should be a doctor’s office. If you get the green light to eat more, here’s what nutritionists recommend for gaining weight.

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Charlotte potatoes background which are a popular early variety potato
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Considering how many diet plans forbid potatoes in any form, it probably comes as no surprise that potatoes are an all-star food for those working on how to gain weight. Jessica Rosen, a certified holistic health coach and co-founder of Raw Generation, explains that the starchy, carb-loaded tubers are quickly digested, which causes them to create a spike in the hormone insulin. The carbs are converted to glucose, which your body uses for energy. Any glucose your body can’t use—and there will be plenty—will be converted into fat, helping you pack on the pounds. Potatoes are also a great source of potassium and vitamin C.

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Dried fruit background. Rows of dried dates, apricots,cranberries, pomelos, blueberries, nuts, prunes and figs.
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Dried fruit

Taking the water out of your favourite fruit concentrates its nutrients and sugars, explains registered dietitian and nutritionist Jill Weisenberger, author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. If you want to put on pounds, she recommends using dried fruit as a calorie-dense topping for yogurt, salads, meat, and grains.

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Fresh organic avocado at farmer's market
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Trendy and delicious, avocados turn up on toast, in scrambles, in BLTs, and, of course, as guacamole dips. Thanks to their substantial levels of monounsaturated fats, they should be part of any healthy plan for how to gain weight. Registered dietitian Kaleigh McMordie recommends eating plenty of avocados if you want to pack on the pounds.

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Fresh bananas background
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As a snack or post-workout replenisher, it’s hard to beat a banana—and it’s unlikely to add pounds to your frame. However, says Rosen, if you down several a day, you’ll start to gain weight. Bananas have more calories and sugar than most other fruits. “Bananas are great for digestive health as well as mood and sleep regulation,” she says. “A good way to consume bananas for weight gain is to add them to your protein smoothies.”

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peanut butter background, top view
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Peanut butter

Actually, any sort of nut butter is helpful in boosting your overall body weight, according to McMordie. In moderation, peanut butter can help you maintain your weight; but snack on it—or other nut butter—throughout the day, says McMordie, and the mono- and polyunsaturated fats will boost the number on the scale. Plus, you’ll also be getting good amounts of fiber, magnesium, and protein.

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Variety of cheese on table
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Here’s excellent news if you’re the type who would prefer cheese over a cheesecake: Registered dietitian and nutritionist Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, explains that most cheeses have around 110 calories per ounce, tons of calcium, and up to eight grams of protein, making them a healthy weight-gain winner. “Hard cheeses have the most calories, but soft cheeses can be helpful in larger quantities,” he explains.

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Heap of assorted nuts
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Almonds, walnuts, pistachios

Ayoob says that specific nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are weight-gaining standouts. “Almonds have a good dose of fibre, plus lots of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. The same for pistachios—and an ounce of either also gives you about six grams of protein, the same amount you would get in an egg. Walnuts are high in omega-3 fats, which are excellent for heart health,” he explains. Each of these nut varieties delivers about 160 calories per ounce (about a handful).

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An overhead image of a glass with citrus juice, surrounded by citrus fruit.
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Fruit juice

If you’re trying to gain weight, consider the calorie content of 100 per cent fruit juice. Because it can be dense in numbers but also in nutrients, Weisenberger says it’s a smart way to pack on pounds. Her best suggestion is to trade a few glasses of water for a few glasses of juice.

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Peanuts. Close-up.
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Despite the name, peanuts are more closely related to beans—they’re in the legume family, and they grow in the ground, not on trees. For heavy exercisers who need plenty of energy to maintain their weight and their demanding schedule, the concentrated calories of peanuts make them an excellent snack choice. “Peanuts, either roasted and eaten out of hand or as peanut butter, are pretty economical, as nuts go, and an ounce gives you seven grams of protein,” Ayoob explains.

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Green smoothie with spinach and kale, kiwi and lime topped with chia seeds.
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People love to share their smoothie recipes on social media. While the idea seems healthy, you can squeeze a ton of calories into these liquid meals. “Smoothies are easy to make calorie- and nutrient-dense without being too filling for those looking to gain weight,” McMordie explains. “Adding nut butter, avocado protein powder, seeds like flax or chia, oats, and full-fat milk can help add more calories and nutrition to smoothies.”

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8 ways to hate junk food trail mix
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Trail mix

This mix of weight-gaining superstars—nuts and dried fruits—makes a particularly effective snack for those looking for strategies on how to gain weight. “The nuts are loaded with healthy fat, and both nuts and dried fruit have concentrated calories while also being loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Ayoob.

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swirled yogurt
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Whole-milk Greek yogurt

This type of yogurt has just as much protein as the nonfat option, but far more calories. Since you’re looking for advice on how to gain weight, having a cup or two of this with walnuts, dried dates, honey, and fruit is an effective way to achieve your goals, according to Ayoob. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can substitute almond-milk yogurt.

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Marbling Japanese beef, raw beef, fresh meat. Wagyu beef macro. Beef wagyu with marbling texture.
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As long as you’re still a carnivore, it’s hard to beat beef’s combo of fat, protein, and iron. Ayoob explains that a healthy cut of beef can help your body produce red blood cells, deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissue, and support your goal of weight gain. “Treat yourself to a great steak and round the meal out with a big green salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar,” he says. For an added boost, throw some nuts and beans into the salad.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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