Columbia University Medical Center

Healthy Snacking for Weight Gain

by Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center

healthysnackWhile many people in the United States are focused on losing weight to improve their overall health, there is another group of people who are struggling to gain weight.

If you are trying to gain weight, or are having difficulty maintaining your weight, try adding some nutrient-rich snacks to your diet to increase your daily caloric intake. I recommend having a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates about 2-3 hours after your last meal.

If you’re resistant to snacking because you get full quickly and are worried you will not be hungry for your next meal, worry no more! Many studies show that eating a snack between meals has little effect on caloric intake during the following meal. Since the studies reviewed were in healthy subjects, if you are recovering from surgery or going through chemotherapy, you may feel this does not apply to you. However, in my experience, most patients who have consistently added snacks to their diets have been able to successfully gain weight.

If you don’t need to gain weight but enjoy snacking to curb your hunger, be sure to choose low-fat sources of protein and eat smaller meals. If you add too many calories at snack time and eat large meals, this may lead to unwanted weight gain.

Suggested snacks:

First choose a serving of fruit, vegetables ,or whole grains (may choose white grains if you’re having diarrhea):

    • Banana
    • Apple
    • Berries
    • Grapes
    • Whole wheat toast
    • Whole wheat English muffin
    • Whole wheat pita bread
    • Carrots
    • Cherry tomatoes
    • Sliced bell pepper

Then add a source of protein (preferably full fat)

    • Greek yogurt – full fat (if fruit flavored are too sweet, choose plain Greek yogurt and add honey or other sweetener to achieve desired sweetness)
    • 2 dozen almonds or 1 dozen walnuts
    • 1-2 string cheese or slices of hard cheese
    • 2-3 slices turkey breast
    • ¼ cup hummus
    • ¼ -½ cup full-fat cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
    • 1 heaping spoon of nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower)
    • Glass of milk (soy or lactose free if lactose intolerant or having diarrhea)
    • Hard-boiled egg

You may also add any of the following to boost your calorie intake to a meal or snack:

To yogurt or hot cereal:

      • Granola (may also add in place of breakfast cereal)
      • Crushed nuts
      • Shredded coconut
      • Ground flax seed
      • Butter or coconut oil
      • Be sure to cook hot cereal with full-fat milk and not water

To vegetables, potatoes, grains:

      • Shredded cheese
      • Butter or olive oil
      • Crushed nuts

To pudding, applesauce, soup, mashed potato, milk, smoothies:

    • Protein powder (choose unflavored to use with a variety of foods; also may be more palatable if you are experiencing taste changes)

If you are not home or in a rush, take with you an oral supplement (such as Ensure Complete®) or a nutrition bar (I like KIND®bars, Clif Builder’s® bars, or Nature Valley® protein bars). Be sure to choose something with at least 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.

Use these tips on a daily basis to help achieve your weight-gain goals. If you are having difficulty achieving a healthy weight, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian who can give you more personalized guidance. If you are otherwise healthy and are losing weight unintentionally, see your doctor to rule out any medical problems.

This article originally appeared on the Columbia University Department of Surgery blog.

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