Healthy Living, Nutrition

How to gain weight

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday which reminded me of my initial idea I had months ago for this post. Dietitians don’t just work with people who want to lose weight or in health promotion. Actually, before I came to Belgium, a lot of my work was helping people gain weight. Especially for dietitians who work within hospital settings, a lot of the time we help build up those who are struggling, for whatever reason, to maintain weight.

Of course this doesn’t just go for ill people in hospital, some people find it difficult to maintain weight generally. For some, maintaining or gaining weight is as difficult as it is for others to keep it off.

Energy-dense foods such as chocolate, cake and pastries may help us gain weight, but they’re not going to be providing us with many other nutritional benefits. So, how does one go about gaining weight in a healthy way?

Little and often
Small frequent meals (or SFM, for those of us dietitians who like our acronyms!). This technique is particularly helpful if you don’t have a very big appetite, or aren’t able to manage a large meal. Some people naturally prefer to graze all day rather than concentrate calories into three meals, and that’s fine, whatever suits you and your stomach!
If you are already managing three meals per day, you should try and incorporate snacks between each meal to up your calorie intake (see below for some healthy snack ideas).

Snacking
Nuts, seeds and dried fruits are all healthy snacks that are easy to pick at and convenient to have at your desk. A handful of nuts will provide you with micronutrients, unsaturated fats, protein and those much needed calories, so get snacking! You can also add seeds or nuts to your meals, they taste great on porridge and in salads. Try having peanut butter on toast as a snack or, if you haven’t already seen, check out my healthy flapjack recipes.
Of course fruit is a healthy component of any diet, but dried fruit especially is useful when trying to increase your calorie intake. Not just because it’s easy to store in your desk drawer, but compare eating 5 plums to 5 prunes…I know which I’d find more manageable!

Think full fat dairy
Sweets, cakes and goodies aren’t the only foods that are fairly energy dense. Dairy products are convenient snacks and a good source of protein and calcium. A 30g portion of cheese contains around 100 calories. Sprinkle on top of your meal, snack on some cheese and crackers, add it to your salads…the choices are endless!
If you currently use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk switching to full cream could make a difference to your total calories. Half a pint of full cream milk contains around 100 calories more than skimmed. Incorporate into your diet through making fruit and vegetable smoothies or hot, milky drinks. You can also try adding full cream milk to soups, curries or other sauces (a little cream and coconut milk may also work well here, depending on the dish!)

Good fats
You may know that there are unsaturated/’good’ fats and saturated/’bad’ fats, but do you know that calorie wise, all fats are the same? Fats are the most calorie-dense nutrient, containing 9 kcals per gram. Naturally, it would seem more healthful that rather than upping your calorie intake using saturated fats, you increase your intake of unsaturated fats, right? Well I’ve already mentioned some sources of unsaturated fats (nuts above) but the fats found in avocado, oily fish and olive or rapeseed oils will provide you with the calories and a dose of other nutrients too. Try making a guacamole dip or adding avocado to your lunch, aim to have oily fish 1-2 times per week and add an olive oil dressing to your vegetables.

Cooking methods
When I’m talking health promotion, there are certain cooking methods that I recommend to reduce fat and calorie intake. For people who are struggling to maintain or gain weight, certain cooking methods will increase the calories found in that meal. Using unsaturated fat oils, such as olive or rapeseed, and adding them in when cooking will increase the amount of calories in that meal. For example, consider frying fish or roasting vegetables, rather than baking or boiling them.

Adding in
Think about your current routine, and reflect on where it may be possible for you to add something extra in. Think about your meals, snacks and drinks. Even making those 3 coffees milky ones could make a difference. You may be able to try something relatively simple such as increasing the portion sizes of the food you eat, topping it in cheese or serving it with a side of avocado, having a snack of cheese and biscuits or even introducing something for dessert.

Not all of these tips will be suitable for everyone, and if you’re really struggling to maintain your weight I’d recommend that you seek out personalised help from a dietitian.

Nutrition

Nutrient Nugget – Vitamin C

Why do we need vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, has a huuuuuge list of functions. It’s an anti-oxidant, which means it helps to keep your cells healthy and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and inflammatory diseases. Vitamin C is also required to make collagen; a type of protein found in connective tissue (skin and blood vessels), which makes vitamin C is essential for muscle maintenance. It activates many hormones and enzymes, including those linked with bile production and liver metabolism. Plus, vitamin C plays an important role within our nervous system, aids wound healing and helps our body absorb iron. See, I said it was a long list!

citrusWhere do we get it from?

Our bodies are unable to make vitamin C, so all of what we need has to come from our diet. Vitamin C is found in lots of fruit and vegetables; oranges and other citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, blackcurrants, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potato and brussels sprouts.

 

How much do we need?

Adults are recommended 40 milligram (mg) per day* (Department of Health, 1991). Pregnant women should intake an extra 10mg for the last trimester, and breastfeeding women are advised to aim for a total of 70mg per day. Recommended intakes for other ages are outlined below:
0-1 year: 25mg
1-10 years: 30mg
11-14 years: 35mg

*People who smoke regularly use up more vitamin C and so may require up to 80mg per day.

To put this into perspective, a small orange contains 50mg of vitamin C, a medium sweet potato has about 20mg and a cup of broccoli will provide you around 80mg. As you can see, if you eat fruit and vegetables, you should have no problem reaching your recommended intake!

What if we don’t get enough?

You may have heard stories of when sailors and pirates used to suffer from a disease called scurvy. This is the name given to the disease caused when we don’t have enough vitamin C. Luckily, it’s not very common anymore apart from those who do not consume enough fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include; feeling fatigued, muscle weakness, irritability, pain in joints, bleeding gums and red/blue spots appearing on your skin. The disease is treated by the person taking vitamin C supplements and eating foods high in vitamin C.

What if we get too much?

Having over 1000mg (20 oranges!) can cause abdominal discomfort, stomach pain, flatulence and diarrhoea. Some people take high doses of vitamin C because they believe that it can help prevent the common cold. There is little evidence to support complete prevention, but high doses may help reduce the severity of some symptoms. In addition, it is likely that anything over 500mg of vitamin C at any one time won’t be absorbed.

Where can I find out more?

NHS Choices – Vitamin C
NHS Choices – Scurvy
Vitamin C and the common cold

Department of Health (1991). Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom.