Gaining weight in a healthy manner is particularly crucial for the elderly, as maintaining a proper weight can significantly impact their overall health and long term well-being. Having a higher weight in the elderly can help them live a longer life, that’s reason enough to try to gain weight! So finding the best foods to help elderly gain weight is important!
The challenge often lies in finding the right balance of nutrient-dense foods that cater to the unique dietary needs of older adults. This becomes even more critical considering the common issues that lead to weight loss in this age group, such as reduced appetite or specific health concerns.
I’m a Registered Dietitian that has specialized in the elderly population for over a decade, and I’ve compiled a list of the best foods to help elderly gain weight. Allow me to help you too!
A key strategy involves incorporating foods that are not only high in calories but also rich in essential nutrients. For instance, adding sources of healthy fats like avocado and nuts can significantly boost caloric intake while also providing vital nutrients.
Avocado, for example, are not only calorie-dense but also packed with fiber and healthy fats, making it an excellent food choice for weight gain. Similarly, nuts like almonds and walnuts offer a combination of protein, healthy fats, and calories, essential for gaining weight healthily.
In the next sections, I’ll delve into specific food recommendations and meal planning strategies to help elderly individuals gain weight safely and effectively.
Understanding Weight Gain in the Elderly
Weight gain can be a difficult goal for the elderly. More often than not as Dietitian’s, our goal is to prevent further weight loss, as most do not eat enough to gain weight. This makes finding the best foods to help elderly gain weight a very important goal when developing a diet plan!
But gaining weight can be a real benefit to the elderly, as having a higher body mass index (BMI) is a protective factor as people age. This is why I find it so important to at least try to help the elderly gain weight.
Incorporating foods that provide a balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Proteins are fundamental for muscle maintenance and repair.
Older adults could benefit from lean meats like chicken or fish, which offer high-quality protein without excessive saturated fat. Many elderly individuals have high cholesterol, so trying to avoid high fat in foods is beneficial.
Similarly, complex carbohydrates found in whole grains provide essential energy and fiber, aiding in digestion and overall health. Fiber is a nutrient typically lacking in most people’s diets. Making sure elderly individuals have enough is key to reducing constipation risk and increasing regularity.
Nutritional Needs of the Elderly
The dietary needs of elderly individuals are unique, requiring a careful selection of foods to ensure adequate nutrition and weight gain. There are five major components that I recommend looking at for elderly gaining weight.
The first focus is calories. Calorie requirements will vary by individual, based on health conditions, diagnosis, etc. But in general, as Dietitians working with the elderly, I recommend 30-35 kilocalories per kilogram of body weight per day.
For everything that an elderly individual eats, it should be packed with calories. Naturally as we age we tend to eat less, so it’s essential that every bite matters. This means fortifying foods with high calorie items such as butter, whole milk, creams, cheese and items like that where you can.
Another key component of their diet should be a higher intake of protein. Protein is essential for preserving muscle mass, which tends to decline with age. Incorporating protein-rich foods like lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products can significantly aid in maintaining muscle strength and overall health.
For instance, a serving of grilled chicken breast not only adds protein but also provides essential vitamins and minerals.
Carbohydrates are abundant in the diet of an elderly person in general. Carbohydrates can be found in vegetables, rice, grains, breads, sweets, and more. Carbohydrates provide essential calories, and are a great addition to all meals.
Fiber is a major component that I recommend focusing on in the elderly, not only for the calories, but the health addition. Fiber helps to keep elderly individuals going to the bathroom on a regular basis, avoiding the dreaded constipation that is prevalent.
Another important aspect is the inclusion of healthy fats in the diet. Fats are calorie-dense and can help in adding the necessary weight without the need to consume large quantities of food.
Sources of healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and olive oil. These not only help in weight gain but also support cognitive function and joint health.
Recommended Foods to Help Elderly Gain Weight!
Here are the top 50 best foods to help elderly gain weight that I have found in my almost decade as a Dietitian that work!
|Roasted Chicken Leg
|Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
|Mashed Sweet Potatoes
|Beef Pot Roast
|Lean Pork Chop
|Diced Chicken Breast
|Whole Wheat Pasta
|Organic, Grass-Fed Cottage Cheese
|Over-Easy or Poached Egg
|Organic, Grass-Fed Butter or Ghee
|Organic, Grass-Fed Sour Cream
|Blueberries or Cherries
|Unsweetened Soy Milk
|Full-Fat Greek Yogurt
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Meal Planning and Preparation Tips
Effective meal planning is essential for ensuring that elderly individuals receive adequate calories and nutrients. A practical tip is to add high-calorie foods to each meal and snack.
This approach ensures consistency in calorie intake throughout the day. Small, nutrient-rich portions can be more manageable and appealing for older adults who often have smaller appetites.
For example, adding a tablespoon of nut butter to oatmeal or a slice of avocado to a salad can significantly increase the calorie content of these meals.
Meal preparation can also play a vital role in encouraging weight gain. Cooking with calorie-dense ingredients like olive oil or incorporating cheese and full-fat dairy products into recipes can make meals more calorie-rich and flavorful.
For seniors who may have difficulty with certain textures, preparing soft, high-calorie foods like fortified oatmeal or smoothies can be beneficial. These meals are not only easy to consume but also provide a substantial caloric intake.
If you want some great ideas of soft foods for seniors, I have a list of 50 nutritious soft foods for you here!
There are other factors that can help an elderly individual gain weight, here are some other things that may help!
Incorporating certain lifestyle factors can greatly assist in the weight gain process for the elderly. Making mealtime a social event can stimulate appetite and make eating a more enjoyable experience.
Eating with friends or family can provide emotional support and encourage a more regular eating pattern, which is crucial for weight gain.
Addressing physical barriers to eating, like dry mouth, which can be a side effect of some medications, is also important. Using a mouth rinse or sugarless gum can alleviate this issue and improve appetite.
Medical factors can certainly play a part in an elderly individual not gaining weight. So paying attention to eating difficulties like trouble chewing and swallowing also needs to be corrected. This can be done through diet modifications. Check out this article if you think your loved one needs a diet texture adjustment.
Focus on Small Meals, Frequently!
Adopting a gradual approach to weight gain is also essential. Sudden changes in diet can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Instead, focusing on slow and steady increases in calorie intake, through small, nutrient-dense meals, can be more effective.
This method respects the typically smaller appetite of older adults and ensures that every bite is packed with nutritional value .
Exercise and Weight Gain
Exercise plays a crucial role in healthy weight gain for the elderly, particularly in building muscle mass and stimulating appetite. Strength training and yoga are excellent options for older adults.
These activities not only aid in muscle building, which is essential for overall strength and balance, but they can also increase appetite, making it easier to consume the necessary calories for weight gain.
It’s important to choose exercises that are safe and suitable for the elderly, focusing on low-impact, strength-building movements.
Incorporating regular physical activity into daily routines can complement dietary efforts for weight gain. Exercises like light weightlifting, resistance band workouts, or gentle yoga can be effective.
These activities not only help in building muscle but also improve overall physical and mental well-being. Exercise should be tailored to individual capabilities and health conditions, and it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.
Helping elderly individuals gain weight is difficult but it is certainly possible! Making sure that they are eating high calorie items at all meals and snacks is essential to making sure that they get the most from every food they eat.
Focus first on the nutrition portion, and then focus on lifestyle factors that can help to increase appetite. This includes gentle exercise, making meal times a wonderful social occasion, and managing health conditions like dry mouth.
If you need help, make sure to reach out to a Registered Dietitian that specializes in geriatrics. They can help develop a specific nutrition care plan that can help your loved one gain weight!
What kind of foods have you found helpful in getting elderly to gain weight? Drop your thoughts in the comments!
Frequently Asked Questions
Focus on nutrient-dense and high-calorie foods like avocados, nuts, full-fat dairy products, healthy oils, and lean proteins. These foods provide essential nutrients while helping increase overall calorie intake.
Making meals enjoyable through social eating and enhancing the flavor of foods can help. Addressing physical issues like dry mouth and encouraging small, frequent meals also promote a better appetite.
Simple meals like oatmeal fortified with nut butter, smoothies with full-fat yogurt, and salads with added olive oil and avocado are great options. These meals are easy to prepare and high in calories.
Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full time online entrepreneur with two nutrition focused websites.