Top 11 Foods to Help Elderly Gain Weight

For most of our lives we try to avoid gaining weight, but did you know that we should encourage the elderly to have a higher body mass index?  Having extra body weight for the elderly is actually a protective factor.  Knowing the right foods to help elderly gain weight can benefit their long term health.

By having extra weight they can reduce their risks of falls, fractures, malnutrition, and early death.  I don’t recommend eating just any foods to achieve some weight gain.  Here are the top foods to help elderly gain weight and better their nutrition health from a Registered Dietitian!

Foods to Eat

High calorie foods with a blue background.  This includes milk in bottles, feta cheese, and cottage cheese.

Nuts

Nuts are packed with healthy fats, proteins as well as essential nutrients.  They are an excellent addition to an elderly person’s diet that helps support weight gain.  Their concentrated source of calories help with muscle mass, aiding in achieving a healthy weight.  Including a variety of nuts can add flavour and nutrition for seniors seeking to maintain or gain weight.

Eggs

Eggs are such a great source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals.  They aid in muscle mass development.  Eggs are easily incorporated into meals and can help in weight gain.  Including eggs in a balanced diet, they can be a delicious and effective support for weight gain and well-being in the elderly.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a nutritional powerhouse for the elderly seeking to gain weight in a healthy way.  It is rich in protein, essential amino acids, and calcium.  They promotes muscle retention and bone health, it also helps keep a well-rounded diet for seniors.  Eggs are easy to consume, especially for seniors with chewing difficulties.  It is a convenient and protein-dense source of nutrition.

Fish

Fish is such an amazing source of protein for those wanting to gain weight.  They contain high-quality protein, which is very important for muscle growth and easily digestible compared to other heavy meats.  The omega-3 fatty acids are great for heart health. 

Yogurt

Yogurt is an easily digestible source of nutrients and protein to a senior’s diet.  Packed with protein, calcium, vitamins as well as live probiotics.  This is great for muscle preservation, bone strength and gut health.  You can add fruits or nuts to add calories and more nutrition if desired.  It is a great snack that can aide in weight gain goals.

Avocado

Avocados are a gold mine of nutrition for the elderly seeking to gain weight.  They have heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and can contain approximately 250 calories.  A food source rich in fibre and vitamins C, E, K as well as various B vitamins and minerals like potassium.  They are easy to digest and can be added to smoothies or sandwiches. 

Chicken

Chicken is universally known for being an excellent source of protein.  In a 3.5 ounce serving of cooked, skinless chicken breast, it provides approximately 165 calories but contains an amazing 31 grams of high-quality protein.  Chicken is also rich in essential vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins (B6, B12, niacin) which aid in a healthy metabolism and support energy levels.  It can be cooked multiple ways and can be tailored to an individual’s taste and preference. 

raw chicken, beef, pork and fish on a cutting board with salt and pepper beside it on a blue counter top.

Red Meats

Red meats are a great option for the elderly seeking to gain weight.  A 3.5 ounce serving of cooked beef has approximately 250 calories and a whopping 26 grams of protein.  They are also packed with vital nutrients like iron, zinc and B vitamins.  This supports higher energy levels as well! 

Whole Grains

Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa are great choices for elderly individuals looking to gain weight in a healthy manner.  They are nutrient dense as well as provide a significant source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals.  For example, 1 cup of cooked quinoa offers approximately 220 calories, has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fibre.  Fibre helps support a gradual release of energy which helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels. 

Milk

Milk is an excellent choice for elderly individuals seeking to gain weight.  It is rich in protein, calcium, vitamins D and B12. It helps maintain bone health and muscle mass.  A cup of whole milk provides approximately 150 calories, 8 grams of protein and a good amount of healthy fats.  Drinking a couple of glasses a day can be an easy way to add calories in as you proceed throughout your day.  

Oral Nutritional Supplements

As we get older it can be hard to eat enough calories to gain weight, which is why oral nutritional supplements (ONS) are useful!  Choosing a high protein high calorie option can help to get as much as 2 calories for every 1 millilitre of drink.  Look for an ONS that offers more than 350 calories per bottle, and has a good protein content such as over 15 grams.  Drinking these between meals can offer the most benefit, I recommend avoiding them as meal replacements. 

Other Tips to Help with Elderly Gain Weight

Gaining weight in the elderly can be the result of a combination of factors, that includes eating the foods above.  Here are some other helpful tips to encourage weight gain in the elderly.

Eat Snacks Between Meals

For the elderly, snacking between meals can be a practical approach to support weight gain. As seniors often have reduced appetites, incorporating nutrient-dense snacks can provide essential calories and vitamins that might be missed during regular meals.

These snacks can bridge the nutritional gap, helping them maintain a healthy weight and ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients for optimal health. However, it’s important to choose wholesome options to promote overall well-being.

Stay Hydrated

Staying adequately hydrated is vital for the elderly, as dehydration can impact their appetite. When seniors are dehydrated, they may experience a reduced sense of thirst and appetite, leading to decreased food intake.

Proper hydration ensures that their bodies are functioning optimally, including their digestive system, which can enhance their appetite and make it easier for them to consume essential nutrients. Therefore, maintaining good hydration is a fundamental step in supporting overall health and nutrition in the elderly.

Work Out to Work Up the Appetite

Even small amounts of exercise can play a crucial role in increasing appetite among the elderly, thus facilitating weight gain. Physical activity stimulates the release of appetite-regulating hormones and improves overall metabolism.

Exercise can enhance muscle mass, leading to an increased need for calories to maintain and repair muscles. These factors combined make even light or moderate exercise a valuable tool in promoting a healthy appetite and assisting seniors in their efforts to gain weight.

two elderly men stretching on the ground, they are exercising.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating nutrient-dense foods, like the ones mentioned in this article, into the diet of the elderly can be a pivotal step in supporting healthy weight gain. These foods offer a balanced approach, providing essential calories and nutrients required for their overall well-being. 

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight in older adults is not only about immediate weight gain but also contributes significantly to their long-term health. It can enhance their muscle mass, add protective weight, and reduce the risk of frailty and age-related health issues, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and active life in their golden years.

Choosing the right foods to help elderly gain weight is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s about building a nutrition profile that encourages weight gain. Once the BMI is between 23.0-29.9, they are far more likely to have health benefits!

Dietitian Takeaway Points

  • Achieving a higher body mass index (BMI) in the elderly supports improved long term health outcomes.
  • Support weight gain through a high calorie high protein diet until a BMI between 23.0-29.9 and weight maintenance has been achieved.
  • Encourage snacks between meals that are of high nutritional value, but also balance that with what they enjoy.
  • Oral nutritional supplements should only be given between meals, not during meals, to get their optimal value.

Other Articles You May Find Helpful

Top Foods for Elderly with No Appetite from a Registered Dietitian.

High Energy High Protein Diet: A Dietitian’s How to Guide.

9 Tricks to Stimulate Appetite in the Elderly from a Dietitian.

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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.

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