It can be hard to eat enough extra calories without feeling too full if you're trying to gain weight. Increasing portion sizes can help, but it may not work if you don't have a big appetite. Instead, add high-calorie foods into small meals and snacks throughout the day to help you gain weight.
You may need to put on pounds if you have a medical condition that makes it hard to maintain your weight, like hyperthyroidism or celiac disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This may also be the case if you're taking medicines that can lead to weight loss from nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite, like chemotherapy drugs.
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Below, browse a list of 20 calorie-dense foods to gain weight.
1. Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts and nut butters are a great high-calorie food option to help with weight gain. Per My Food Data, just 1 ounce of almonds (that's about 23 nuts) contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 164
- Protein: 6 g
- Fat: 14 g
- Carbs: 6.1 g
- Fiber: 3.6 g
- Sugar: 1.2 g
According to My Food Data, nut butters are similar, with 2 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter containing:
- Calories: 188
- Protein: 7 g
- Fat: 16 g
- Carbs: 7.7 g
- Fiber: 1.8 g
- Sugar: 2.1 g
Small amounts of these high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods are rich in protein and fat, both of which can help you gain weight, per the Cleveland Clinic. Eat them plain or incorporate them into snacks like salads and smoothies to add extra calories.
Just remember to opt for natural nut butters, as processed versions often contain added sugars and unhealthy trans and saturated fats that can contribute to high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Try These Nut Butter Recipes
2. Heart-Healthy Oils
- Calories: 119
- Fat: 14 g
The best part? You can easily add this high-calorie, low-volume food into other dishes to increase total calories by cooking with it or drizzling it on top of your meal, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other healthy oils include:
- Avocado oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Walnut oil
- Sesame oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
However, it's best to steer clear of oils that contain trans or saturated fats, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Palm or palm kernel oil
Another way to add extra calories to gain weight? Drink milk. Per My Food Data, 1 cup of whole milk has:
- Calories: 149
- Protein: 7.7 g
- Fat: 7.9 g
- Carbs: 12 g
- Sugar: 12 g
Gulp it plain, blend it into a smoothie or eat it with healthy cereals to stock up on calories from this protein- and fat-rich drink. As a bonus, the proteins in milk may also help improve muscle mass to help you put on weight, according to a January 2019 review in Advances in Nutrition.
Vegan or lactose intolerant? Try a dairy-free alternative like soy, almond, coconut or rice milk instead, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Milk and other dairy products can contain saturated fat, which, in excess, can increase your risk for heart disease, per Harvard Health Publishing. Limit how much saturated fat you eat by favoring sources of heart-healthy fat instead, like those in certain oils.
A 6-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt made with whole milk likewise packs in the calories, protein and healthy fats. Per My Food Data, it includes:
- Calories: 165
- Protein: 15 g
- Fat: 8.5 g
- Carbs: 6.8 g
- Sugar: 6.8 g
This high-calorie snack is perfect on it's own, blended into a smoothie or mixed with fruit or healthy cereals. And the benefits of yogurt don't stop there — it also contains essential vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin B12 to further support your health, per My Food Data.
Try These Yogurt Recipes
Another calorie-dense dairy snack? Cheese. A 1-ounce serving of parmesan includes, per My Food Data:
- Calories: 128
- Protein: 12 g
- Fat: 8.5 g
- Carbs: 1 g
- Sugar: 0.2 g
This high-calorie, low-sugar food can help you gain weight fast because it packs energy into a small package. A 1-ounce serving is only the size of a 1-inch square, per the University of Rochester Medical Center, so you can easily add calories to any dish by tossing on some cheese. Healthy cheese options include:
- Cottage cheese
- Goat cheese
However, some cheeses are high in unhealthy fats, so consider limiting how much you eat the following varieties:
Try These Cheese Recipes
- Calories: 102
- Protein: 0.1 g
- Fat: 12 g
Sautee food in butter or melt it on top of healthy whole grains like bread or pasta to add calories to a dish without increasing volume, per the Cleveland Clinic. But remember to eat it in moderation, as much of the fat in butter is saturated.
Does Salt Add Calories?
Salt — including the added sodium in some butters — does not have calories, according to My Food Data. And while excess salt can lead to temporary weight gain from water retention, sodium doesn't help you gain weight in the long run, per a June 2017 review in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.
7. Whole Eggs
Eggs are another healthy, high-calorie food to snack on for weight gain. According to My Food Data, one hard-boiled egg contains:
- Calories: 78
- Protein: 6.3 g
- Fat: 5.3 g
- Carbs: 0.6 g
- Sugar: 0.6 g
Eat them scrambled, fried or poached, or add them to a sandwich, salad or other meal to make those foods more calorie-dense.
In general, most people can eat an egg a day without any health concerns. But if you have diabetes, high cholesterol or are otherwise at risk for heart disease, stick to three eggs per week to limit eating the cholesterol in yolks, per Harvard Health Publishing.
Try These Egg Recipes
8. Red Meat
Build muscle and bulk up with the help of red meat. Per My Food Data, one 6-ounce beef skirt steak has:
- Calories: 456
- Protein: 49 g
- Fat: 29 g
According to the National Health Service, other types of red meat besides beef include:
And the high calorie content of red meat isn't the only factor that can help you gain weight: It also boasts high levels of creatine, a nutrient that can help you build muscle, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But be aware that red meat has its drawbacks — it contains lots of saturated fats and added sodium, so limit how often you eat it (much like dairy products), per the Mayo Clinic. It's also best stick to leaner cuts of meat like loins, sirloins and rounds.
Try These Red Meat Recipes
9. Dark Poultry Meat
When it comes to meats, dark poultry is another good high-calorie food to gain weight. According to My Food Data, one roasted chicken thigh with skin has:
- Calories: 318
- Protein: 32 g
- Fat: 20 g
You can also eat other types of poultry, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including these dark parts:
- Chicken drumsticks
- Turkey thighs
- Duck breast
These cuts are the most calorie-dense poultry foods, according to My Food Data, so you can easily add calories to your meal without having to overeat by opting for dark versus white meat.
10. Fatty Fish
Fatty, oily fish are also healthy, calorie-dense foods that pack tons of protein and fat into a single serving. According to My Food Data, a 6-ounce salmon fillet contains:
- Calories: 309
- Protein: 43 g
- Fat: 14 g
Other healthy fish options include:
These fish are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that may help promote muscle growth and protect against muscle loss, per a March 2021 review in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. However, the researchers note that more studies are needed to better establish this link.
Try These Fish Recipes
If you're looking for high-calorie fruits, look no further: Per My Food Data, just 1 ounce of kalamata olives (that's about eight olives) contains:
- Calories: 76
- Fat: 7.6 g
- Carbs: 1.9 g
Not only are olives one of the fruits with the most calories, but these high-fat snacks (and related products like olive oil) are a good source of fatty oleic acid, which has been linked to a reduced risk for heart attack and stroke, per an October 2014 review in Lipids in Health and Disease. However, the research established this link in olive oil specifically.
Try These Olive Recipes
- Tagine-Style Instant Pot Chicken with Lemon, Green Olives and Garlic (640 calories)
- Modern Nicoise Mason Jar Salad (665 calories)
Avocados are another high-calorie food that can help you gain weight. According to My Food Data, one avocado has:
- Calories: 322
- Protein: 4 g
- Fat: 30 g
- Carbs: 17 g
- Fiber: 14 g
- Sugar: 1.3 g
Besides being rich in healthy fat and fiber to support good digestion, avocados are also full of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and potassium, per My Food Data. Even better, they don't contain any cholesterol.
Eat them plain, make avocado toast, or add them to a smoothie or sandwich to increase the amount of healthy calories you're munching in a single meal.
Try These Avocado Recipes
13. Dried Fruit
If you have a hankering for high-calorie, low-fat foods, try dried fruits like dates. Per My Food Data, the nutritional content of one Medjool date is:
- Calories: 66
- Protein: 0.4 g
- Carbs: 18 g
- Fiber: 1.6 g
- Sugar: 16 g
Eat dates or other dried fruits as a standalone snack or mix them into trail mix to further increase the calories you're getting from nuts. Other high-calorie dried fruits include:
- Banana chips
- Dried cherries
Try These Dried Fruit Recipes
Though starches like potatoes are low-calorie and low-fat compared to meat, they're still a great source of energy due to their high carbohydrate content. They're also easier to digest for certain people, especially those with chronic medical issues. According to My Food Data, one boiled potato has:
- Calories: 118
- Protein: 2.5 g
- Fat: 0.1 g
- Carbs: 27 g
- Fiber: 2.4 g
- Sugar: 1.2 g
Other healthy starches include calorie-dense legumes and fruits and vegetables with the most calories, like:
- Sweet potatoes
- Beans like lima beans, chickpeas and pinto beans
These starches are complex carbohydrates that pack more nutrients into a single serving than simple carbs like sugar, per the Cleveland Clinic, which can better help you gain weight. Additionally, starches are typically low in cholesterol and fat, which can help balance out your intake of high-fat foods like red meat or dairy products.
Try These Starch Recipes
Load up on carbohydrates with a 1-cup serving of white rice, according to My Food Data. It also includes:
- Calories: 205
- Protein: 4.3 g
- Fat: 0.4 g
- Carbs: 45 g
- Fiber: 0.6 g
- Sugar: 0.1 g
Rice is a good base for a high-calorie meal: Eat it with meat, fish or healthy oils for a balanced, calorie-dense dish for weight gain.
16. Whole Grains
Like rice, whole grains are a healthy source of carbohydrates to up your daily calorie count. According to My Food Data, one slice of whole-wheat bread contains:
- Calories: 81
- Protein: 4 g
- Fat: 1.1 g
- Carbs: 14 g
- Fiber: 1.9 g
- Sugar: 1.4 g
Pair the bread with other high-calorie foods like avocados, olive oil or nut butters to get carbohydrates, fat and protein in the same bite. The same goes for other whole-grain products, such as:
- Whole-grain pasta
- Whole-grain crackers
Try These Whole Grain Recipes
17. Healthy Cereals
Keep up your carbohydrate intake with healthy cereals like oatmeal. Here's My Food Data's nutritional information for a cup of cooked oatmeal:
- Calories: 166
- Protein: 5.9 g
- Fat: 3.6 g
- Carbs: 28 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Sugar: 0.6 g
If oatmeal isn't your favorite, try other healthy cereal options, such as:
- Cereals containing whole grains like millet, quinoa or barley
- Cereals containing seeds and nuts
Limit or avoid processed cereals with added sugars, though, because they aren't as nutrient-rich as natural options, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Try These Cereal Recipes
18. Protein Smoothies
- Calories: 189
- Protein: 15 g
- Fat: 2 g
- Carbs: 26 g
- Fiber: 0.9 g
- Sugar: 15 g
Protein shakes are the perfect high-calorie, soft food for weight gain because you can blend any number of other calorie-dense ingredients into your drink. They also may be easier to digest for some people, particularly with chronic medical conditions. Mix high-calorie fruits and vegetables, nut butters, oats, yogurt or milk and start sipping.
Try These Smoothie Recipes
19. Protein Powder
Protein supplements are another great way to quickly add calories and nutrients to your smoothie or meal. Here's the nutritional information for 1/3 cup of whey protein powder from My Food Data:
- Calories: 113
- Protein: 25 g
- Fat: 0.5 g
- Carbs: 2 g
- Fiber: 1 g
Mix your protein supplement of choice into smoothies, yogurt or water. Besides supplying you extra calories, that added protein can also help you put on more muscle mass, per the Cleveland Clinic. Pick from protein powders that include:
- Whey protein
- Soy protein
- Milk protein
- Egg protein
- Pea protein
- Hemp protein
But make sure to get most of your protein naturally by eating foods like nuts, fish and eggs, rather than relying entirely on supplements for the nutrient, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Try These Protein Powder Recipes
20. Dark Chocolate
Feed your sweet tooth with calorie-dense dark chocolate. According to My Food Data, a 1-ounce piece of dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 to 85 percent contains:
- Calories: 170
- Protein: 2.2 g
- Fat: 12 g
- Carbs: 13 g
- Fiber: 3.1 g
- Sugar: 6.8 g
Dark chocolate is also a good source of flavonoids and minerals like magnesium, zinc and phosphorous, all of which may help promote heart health, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation, per Harvard Health Publishing.
Eat high-calorie snacks like dark chocolate in between meals to further increase your daily calorie intake, per the Mayo Clinic.
- My Food Data: "Almonds"
- My Food Data: "Peanut Butter (Smooth)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "High-Calorie Foods and Snack Ideas to Gain Weight"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Your Guide to the Best Nut Butters and Other Creamy Spreads"
- My Food Data: "Olive Oil"
- My Food Data: "Whole Milk"
- Advances in Nutrition: "The Impact of Dairy Protein Intake on Muscle Mass, Muscle Strength, and Physical Performance in Middle-Aged to Older Adults with or without Existing Sarcopenia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- My Food Data: "Greek Yogurt (Plain)"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Yogurt"
- My Food Data: "Grated Parmesan Cheese (Low-Sodium)"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Visualize Your Portion Size"
- My Food Data: "Salted Butter"
- My Food Data: "Hard Boiled Eggs"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Are eggs risky for heart health?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cuts of beef: A guide to the leanest selections"
- National Health Service: "Red meat and the risk of bowel cancer"
- My Food Data: "Skirt Steak"
- Mayo Clinic: "Creatine"
- My Food Data: "Roasted Chicken Thigh"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "What is poultry?"
- My Food Data: "Wild Atlantic Salmon (Cooked)"
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: "Omega-3 fatty acids and human skeletal muscle"
- My Food Data: "Boiled Potatoes"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cutting Carbs? Don’t Say ‘No’ to These Starchy Foods"
- My Food Data: "G L Mezzetta Inc. - Kalamata Oives"
- Lipids in Health and Disease: "Monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies"
- My Food Data: "Avocados"
- My Food Data: "Medjool Dates"
- Cleveland Clinic: "4 Kinds of Fruits You Should Choose Less Often"
- My Food Data: "Cooked White Rice"
- Mayo Clinic: "What's a good way to gain weight if you're underweight?"
- My Food Data: "Whole Wheat Bread"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How to Pick a Healthy Cereal"
- My Food Data: "Stonyfield Farm Inc - Organic Protein Smoothie"
- My Food Data: "Protein Powder Whey Based"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How to Choose the Best Protein Powder for You"
- My Food Data: "Dark Chocolate (70-85% Cocoa)"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Dark Chocolate"
- Mayo Clinic: "Does the sodium nitrate in processed meat increase my risk of heart disease?"
- Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism: "Relationship between Sodium Intake and Water Intake: The False and the True"
- My Food Data: "Table Salt"
- My Food Data: "Cooked Oatmeal"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is low-fat or full-fat the better choice for dairy products?"