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What is a healthy way to gain weight?

Question: I am underweight and would like to gain weight in a healthy way.  Do you have any recommendations?  


As explained in my video Eating More to Weigh Less, the key to healthy longterm weight loss is understanding calorie density and eating low calorie-dense foods. When applied in reverse, the concept of calorie density can be used to gain weight. In other words, you would want to eat more foods that are more calorie dense. The idea is to not just add a single one of these foods, but to add several foods into your diet until the amount of calories you take in exceed your energy needs. Examples of higher calorie dense foods appropriate for a whole food plant-based diet include: nuts, nut butters, dried fruits, tofu, avocados, and whole grain breads/crackers/dry goods. Eating more cooked food than raw also helps with calorie intake.

You can incorporate several of these relatively healthy foods into each meal and snack, and eat primarily cooked foods. For example, a person wanting to lose weight will want to use vegetable-based sauces, but you would use nut-based sauces. While a person wanting to lose or maintain weight would include a lot of raw food, say big salads with some lemon juice as the dressing, you might eat smaller amounts of raw food and far more cooked veggies, beans, and grains.

While that’s the answer to your actual question, I would step back and ask, “Why do you want to gain weight?” Are you hoping to gain more fat? Gaining fat isn’t generally healthy unless you are severely fat deficient, which is fairly rare. On the other hand, if you want to gain more weight without gaining fat, then what you are talking about is gaining muscle, and that involves more than just changing your diet … it includes incorporating weight-bearing exercises into your workout regimen.

Image credit: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

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