Information for patients
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If you have diabetes or heart disease, you may have been advised to follow a reduced fat diet to minimise your risk of developing complications, such as a heart attack or stroke.
However, in some circumstances, this may not always be the best thing to do, especially if you are trying to gain weight.
If you have lost a significant amount of weight, you may be keen to stop further weight loss or re-gain some weight. If so, it is important that you choose suitable foods to stay healthy.
Foods high in sugar and fat contain a lot of energy and can therefore help with weight gain. However, you should choose these wisely as some foods and drinks may be better than others.
To gain weight you need to be eating and drinking more calories than you are using up. If you have a poor appetite, it may be difficult to increase your portion sizes at meal times.
Because of this, you will need to increase how often you eat and increase the calorie content of meals. This booklet will advise you which foods and drinks to include to help you put on weight and be healthy.
What can I do to help myself?
To help gain weight in a healthier way, you can try adding the following to your diet:
- Starchy foods are healthier than sugary foods. Try to eat plenty of bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals instead of chocolate, sweets and cakes. Serve extra bread with meals. If you struggle with these foods, include small portions of them and you could discuss suitable ways of cooking with your dietitian.
- Fat contains a lot of calories and can help with weight gain. There are different types of fat and having too much fat (especially saturated fat) can raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk of coronary heart disease.
Unsaturated fats (healthier choice): sunflower oil, margarine, olive oil, margarine,
corn oil, margarine, rapeseed oil, walnuts, avocados, pine nuts, almonds, oily fish, cashew nut and nut butters.
Saturated fats (limit these): butter, pastries, chocolate, biscuits, cake, fatty cuts of meat and meat products (for example sausages and pies).
- Unsaturated fats are a healthier choice. Try to include foods high in these types of fat rather than saturated fat.
- Continue to follow the recommendations for a healthy balanced diet but eat as much as you feel comfortable with at meal times.
- Snack in-between meals and before bedtime. Healthy snacks ideas are provided later in the leaflet.
- Replace drinks of tea or coffee with nutritious drinks such as a glass of milk, milky drinks, fruit smoothies or fruit juice. Be aware that smoothies and fruit juice will be high in sugar, which will increase your blood glucose levels. Try to stick to a 150ml portion or less.
What if I have a poor appetite?
You should try to:
- Eat little and often throughout the day. Attempt to eat something small every 2 to 3 hours. Try not to get out of the habit of eating.
- On days when your appetite is good, try to eat whenever you feel hungry.
- Eat your biggest meal earlier in the day when you have more energy. Your last meal of the day could be a simple sandwich or cereal with milk.
- Have your drink after meals rather than before or with meals. This may help if you feel full easily. Having drinks with your meals may be filling you up, which may stop you from finishing your meal.
- Have nourishing drinks between meals, such as milk, milky coffee, hot chocolate, milkshake, malted drinks (such as Horlicks or Ovaltine). Opt for low sugar options if you have diabetes.
How can I make the food I eat higher in calories?
You can try by:
- Using enriched milk. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder to 1 pint of milk** and whisk well. Use this milk in place of ordinary milk as a drink, in cooking, on cereals and in tea and coffee.
- Adding plant-based margarine to vegetables and potatoes. Use it also to spread generously on toast or bread.
- Adding jam, honey, dried fruit, unsalted nuts and seeds (for example, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts) to cereal and desserts*.
- Using plant-based oils (for example olive or rapeseed) for frying and add extra in cooking (for example in stir-fries, curries, mince).
- Adding cheese** to potatoes, soups, vegetables, pasta, and omelettes.
- Using plain yoghurt** instead of cream, (for example, in soups and sauces).
- Adding skimmed milk powder to sauces, soups and desserts.
- Add avocado to smoothies, use as a dip or as a spread on toast or sandwiches.
- Use hummus as a dip for bread or vegetable sticks.
- Wholegrain breakfast cereal or porridge with milk**. Add fruit (e.g. dried raisins or banana), nuts (e.g. walnuts or almonds) and seeds (e.g. linseed or pumpkin seeds) to add more calories.
- Toast, crumpets or teacakes with olive or sunflower spread, jam*, marmalade*, honey*, or cheese spread.
- Beans/tomatoes on toast. Lean bacon can be included occasionally.
- Boiled/scrambled/poached egg on toast.
- Kippers with toast.
- Yoghurt or fromage frais** with fruit or muesli.
Light meal options
- Soup (homemade or tinned). Serve with bread or crackers.
- Beans or egg (scrambled, poached or boiled) on toast.
- Sardines, pilchards or mackerel on toast.
- Wholemeal or granary sandwich: tuna or egg with low fat mayonnaise or salad cream, lean ham or chicken salad, cheese and pickle or tinned salmon.
- Small jacket potato with any of the following fillings: tuna with low fat mayonnaise, beans or cottage cheese.
- Vegetable chilli or chilli made with lean mince.
- Omelette (e.g. ham and tomato). Serve with bread.
- Crackers with hummus or natural nut butter.
Main meal options
- Shepherd’s pie made with lean mince served with vegetables.
- Lean beef, chicken or meat alternative casserole with added potatoes and vegetables.
- Spaghetti bolognaise made with lean mince.
- Pasta with lean bacon/tuna/chicken, vegetables and tomato based sauce topped with cheese**.
- Ready meal** served with bread and extra vegetables.
- Chicken/beef curry or lentil dahl with rice or chapattis.
- Custard** with plain sponge.
- Yoghurt or fromage frais** with fruit.
- Jelly and fruit with ice cream**.
*Be careful with high sugar foods such as jam or honey if you have diabetes.
**Discuss with your Dietitian about whether high-fat options are suitable for you.
Many processed foods are high in salt, therefore you should try to limit processed options and choose reduced-salt varieties of all foods where possible.
Please contact your GP or healthcare professional for more information.
Information used in the development of this leaflet
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2017) Nutrition support in Adults: oral nutritional support, enteral tube feeding and parenteral nutrition NICE guideline (CG32).
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Nutrition support in adults, Quality standard [QS24] Published date: 30 November 2012. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs24
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This leaflet has been produced in partnership with patients and carers. All patient leaflets are regularly reviewed, and any suggestions you have as to how it may be improved are extremely valuable. Please write to the Clinical Governance team, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospital of North Tees, TS19 8PE or:
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Leaflet reference: PIL1257
Date for review: 13 January 2024