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60+ Foods to Help Elderly Gain Weight – A Dietitian’s Expert Recommendations
Michelle Saari MSc, RD

Reviewed By Adrian White, Certified Herbalist

By Michelle Saari MSc, RD, Registered Dietitian

Published On June 4, 2024

Geriatric Nutrition

60+ Foods to Help Elderly Gain Weight – A Dietitian’s Expert Recommendations

Having a higher body weight in the elderly can be a protective factor against health conditions such as Sarcopenia and fractures among other poor health outcomes.

As a Registered Dietitian with over a decade of experience working with elderly people eating rich diet healthy foods can help to promote weight gain, but it’s important to select these foods carefully to meet your needs. Eating healthy foods can help the elderly gain weight in a way that promotes health and longevity.

Importance of Weight Gain for the Elderly

Importance of Weight Gain for the Elderly
Source: Shutterstock

An elderly person being underweight puts them at high risk of being diagnosed with malnutrition.  Malnutrition in the elderly can lead to muscle weakness, falls, fractures, poor wound healing, increased risk of infection, and early mortality.

Having a higher body mass index in the elderly has been shown to be a protective factor in the elderly, leading to a longer chance at life.  An ideal body mass index is above 23.0 up to 29.9.  

Being underweight in elderly populations is linked with several health risks that can severely impact their quality of life. Underweight seniors are at a higher risk of developing conditions such as osteoporosis, weakened immune systems, and decreased muscle strength, which can impede their ability to perform daily tasks independently. 

Furthermore, insufficient weight can lead to increased susceptibility to infections and prolonged recovery times from illnesses or surgical procedures.

Proper nutrition plays a pivotal role in counteracting these risks. By ensuring an adequate intake of essential nutrients, elderly individuals can boost their energy levels, enhance their muscle strength, and improve their overall health. A diet rich in proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, supplemented with necessary vitamins and minerals, can help elderly individuals not only maintain but also gain weight in a healthy manner. This nutritional approach contributes to a better quality of life by improving physical functions and energy levels, allowing seniors to enjoy a more active and fulfilling lifestyle.

By having a higher body weight an elderly individual can aid in maintaining independence, the ability to engage in physical activity, and reduce their chances of living in a nursing home early.

Nutritional Considerations From a Registered Dietitian!

Nutritional Considerations
Source: Shutterstock

For the elderly diet recommendations will vary based on personal health conditions and diagnoses.  It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional to get personalised recommendations.

As metabolism slows with age, maintaining an adequate intake of calories becomes crucial to prevent weight loss and support bodily functions. Proteins are particularly important for preserving muscle mass, which tends to diminish in older adults, leading to weakness and reduced mobility. 

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Fats are essential for energy and supporting cell growth, while also aiding the absorption of certain vitamins. Essential vitamins, such as Vitamin D and B12, are crucial for bone health and cognitive function, respectively.

In general it is recommended that an elderly individual has a balance of protein, healthy fats, and whole grains at every meal.  This can help to ensure that they meet all of their dietary recommendations daily. 

This can include having 3 meals per day and 2 snacks to meet daily needs.  Having large meals is not always easy for an elderly individual so spreading out the calorie and protein needs throughout the day can help them to meet their needs.

If an elderly person struggles to meet their daily needs through their diet, they can also have a nutritional supplement drink between meals to meet their needs as well.  

Dietary supplements often play a vital role in meeting these nutritional needs, especially when dietary intake is insufficient. Common supplements for the elderly include calcium, to support bone health; Vitamin D, to aid in calcium absorption and improve immune function; and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help manage inflammation and maintain heart health. 

Comprehensive List of Foods From a Registered Dietitian!

Here is a list of elderly weight gain foods that can promote health and strength!  Each category of foods can be added to each meal to meet nutritional needs.  Whether you need help having more calories in a smaller amount, or adding high protein and fibre options to your meals.  

These categories can help you to meet your needs and fill in the gaps in your diet to promote healthy weight gain. 

High-Calorie Foods for Seniors

High-Calorie Foods for Seniors
Source: Healthy Family Project
  • Milk: A versatile source of calcium and vitamins, milk is ideal for seniors needing a calorie and nutrient boost.
Milk
Source: Heritage Foods
  • Ice Cream: While indulgent, ice cream can be a source of energy and calcium, best enjoyed in moderation.
Ice Cream
Source: Love and Lemons
  • Cottage Cheese: High in protein and calcium, it’s great for muscle maintenance and bone health.
Cottage Cheese
Source: Allrecipes
  • Sour Cream: Adds calories and creaminess to dishes, providing fats that are energy-dense.
Sour Cream
Source: Budget Byte
  • Avocado: Packed with healthy fats, fiber, and potassium, avocados are nutrient-dense and calorie-rich.
Avocado
Source: Medical News Today
  • Greek Yogurt: Offers a high protein content and probiotics, supporting gut health and muscle maintenance.
Greek Yogurt
Source: My Greek Dish
  • Smoothies: Customizable and can be packed with fruits, vegetables, and proteins for a nutritious, calorie-rich drink.
Smoothies
Source: Eating Well
  • Cereal: Many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, making them a quick, energy-dense meal option.
Cereal
Source: Shutterstock
  • Oatmeal: Provides a hearty base for adding calorie-rich toppings like nuts and honey, also rich in fiber.
Oatmeal
Source: Allreipes
  • Peanut Butter: Offers healthy fats and protein, making it excellent for energy and satiety.
Peanut Butter
Source: Pinch Of Yum
  • Nutritional Supplement Drinks: Specifically formulated to provide balanced nutrition with extra calories, proteins, and essential nutrients.
  • Butter: Adds flavor and calories to food, best used in moderation due to its saturated fat content.
Butter
Source: Healthline
  • Pudding: Can be a comforting, calorie-rich dessert or snack, often high in sugar.
Pudding
Source: The Spruce Eats
  • Cheese: A diverse food group, rich in calcium and fats, adding both flavor and calories to meals.
Cheese
Source: The Kitchn

High-Protein Foods

High-Protein Foods
Source: kaynutrition
  • Milk: Provides essential amino acids necessary for muscle repair.
  • Yogurt: Also rich in probiotics, it supports both protein intake and digestive health.
Yogurt
Source: Little Spoon Farm
  • Kefir: A fermented drink providing probiotics along with proteins, enhancing gut and overall health.
Kefir
Source: HealthifyMe
  • Chicken: Lean source of high-quality protein, crucial for muscle maintenance.
Chicken
Source: Allrecipes
  • Eggs: Contain high-quality protein and a range of essential nutrients.
  • Beef: Offers high protein content along with iron and B vitamins.
  • Tofu: A plant-based protein source, versatile in many dishes.
Tofu
Source: Nora Cooks
  • Peanut Butter: Besides protein, it offers healthy fats for energy.
  • Nuts: A snack rich in protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
  • Lentils: Provide plant-based protein and fiber, promoting fullness and digestive health.
Lentils
Source: Love and Lemons

Healthy Fat Options

Healthy Fat Options
Source: trifecta
  • Avocado: Loaded with monounsaturated fats and nutrients, promoting heart health.
  • Flax Seeds: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are key for maintaining heart health.
  • Chia Seeds: Also high in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, supporting cardiovascular and digestive health.
Chia Seeds VS Flax Seeds
Source: Basic Brands Inc.
  • Peanut Butter: Offers a balance of protein and healthy fats.
Peanut Butter
Source: ZOE
  • Yogurt: Contains dairy fats that can be beneficial for cardiovascular health in moderation.
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Fibre Options

Fibre Options
Source: Pharmeasy
  • Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries): High in fiber and antioxidants, supporting cardiovascular health.
Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries)
Source: Food Network
  • Vegetables (Zucchini, Carrots, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Peas): Provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber to aid digestion.
Vegetables (Zucchini, Carrots, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Peas)
Source: Yummly
  • Seeds (Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds): Excellent sources of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Legumes (Chickpeas, Black Beans, Red Kidney Beans, Lentils): Rich in protein and fiber, great for heart and digestive health.
Legumes (Chickpeas, Black Beans, Red Kidney Beans, Lentils)
Source: PureWow
  • Whole Grains (Oatmeal, Whole Grain Bread, Brown Rice, Flax Seed Cereal, Whole Wheat Pasta): Support healthy digestion and provide sustained energy.
Whole Grains (Oatmeal, Whole Grain Bread, Brown Rice, Flax Seed Cereal, Whole Wheat Pasta)
Source: iStock

Carbohydrate-Rich Foods

Carbohydrate-Rich Foods
Source: News Bytes
  • Whole Grains (Whole Wheat Bread, Pasta, Tortillas, Brown Rice): Provide energy and fiber, which are important for maintaining energy levels and digestive health.
Whole Grains (Whole Wheat Bread, Pasta, Tortillas, Brown Rice)
Source: Souper Sage
  • Cereals (Cheerios): Often fortified with vitamins and minerals, serving as an easy carbohydrate source.
Cereals (Cheerios)
Source: Cheerios
  • Fruits (Apples, Bananas, Grapes): Offer natural sugars and a host of nutrients.
Fruits (Apples, Bananas, Grapes)
Source: Shutterstock
  • Popcorn: A whole grain that can serve as a light, fiber-rich snack.
Popcorn
Source: Curry Tail
  • Orzo: A small pasta that’s easy to eat and can be a good source of carbohydrates.
Orzo
Source: BellyFull

Each of these food categories plays a crucial role in ensuring that elderly individuals receive balanced nutrition to support their overall health and specific conditions.

Meal Planning and Recipes

A healthy meal should include ¼ plate of protein, ¼ plate of a carbohydrate rich food, ½ plate of fruits and vegetables, and a source of healthy fats.

A healthy meal could consist of roasted chicken, whole grain rice, and assorted vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.  A healthy fat source for this meal could include the chicken being roasted in olive oil.  

Breakfast for elderly

Breakfast for elderly
Source: Senior Life
  • Oatmeal with Toppings: Start with a base of cooked oatmeal. Mix in chopped walnuts and sprinkle with ground flaxseed for a boost of healthy fats and fiber. Top with sliced bananas or berries for added vitamins and sweetness.
Oatmeal with Toppings
Source: Bon Appetit
  • Smoothie: Blend Greek yogurt with a handful of spinach, a banana, a scoop of protein powder, and a tablespoon of almond butter. This provides a balanced mix of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates.
RELATED:  Is Milk Good for Elderly? A Dietitian’s Expert Recommendations (2024)

Lunch for elderly

Lunch for elderly
Source: A Place for Mom
  • Chicken Salad: Combine diced cooked chicken breast with Greek yogurt and a touch of mustard. Add chopped celery, apples, and grapes for crunch and sweetness. Serve on whole wheat bread or over a bed of mixed greens.
Chicken Salad
Source: Licious
  • Lentil Soup: Make a hearty soup with lentils, diced carrots, onions, and celery. Season with herbs and spices for flavor. This dish is rich in protein and fiber, making it filling and nutritious.
Lentil Soup
Source: Allrecipes

Dinner for elderly

Dinner for elderly
Source: Nutrition Over 70
  • Salmon and Vegetables: Bake a salmon fillet with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of herbs. Serve with a side of steamed broccoli and sweet potato mash. This meal provides high-quality protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients.
Salmon and Vegetables
Source: Eating Well
  • Beef Stir-Fry: Stir-fry lean beef strips with a variety of vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, and snap peas in olive oil. Serve over brown rice for a complete meal rich in protein, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates.
Beef Stir-Fry
Source: Allrecipes

Snacks for elderly

Snacks for eldely
Source: Chefs For Seniors
  • Nut Butter on Whole Grain Toast: Spread almond or peanut butter on whole-grain toast for a satisfying snack that offers protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
Nut Butter on Whole Grain Toast
Source: The Monday Campaigns
  • Greek Yogurt Parfait: Layer Greek yogurt with mixed berries and a sprinkle of granola for a snack that combines protein with healthy carbohydrates.
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Source: Eating Well

If you’re looking for healthy recipes to promote healthy weight gain, you can look at Medlineplus.

Increasing Caloric Intake Safely

Increasing Caloric Intake Safely
Source: Heats at Home
  1. Incorporate Nutrient-Dense Snacks: Encourage eating small, nutrient-packed snacks between meals. Examples include a handful of nuts, yogurt with fruit, or avocado toast. These foods are high in calories and nutrients without being overly filling.
  2. Add Healthy Fats: Include sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil in meals. Drizzling olive oil over salads or adding avocado slices to sandwiches can significantly increase the caloric content of meals while providing essential fatty acids.
  3. Use Protein-Rich Foods: Enhance dishes with high-protein additions such as cheese, Greek yogurt, and lean meats. Protein is not only crucial for muscle maintenance but also helps in adding more calories to meals.
  4. Small, Frequent Meals: Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help boost calorie intake throughout the day without causing discomfort from large portions at one time. This approach can enhance overall digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  5. Prepare Appealing Meals: Make food more appealing by focusing on flavor, color, and texture. A visually appealing meal can stimulate appetite, especially important for seniors who may have decreased appetite.

Consult with Dietitians

As we conclude, it’s important for seniors and their caregivers to take proactive steps based on the recommendations provided to maintain health and independence. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional such as a Registered Dietitian in order to have a personalised nutrition care plan built for you.  A Dietitian tips for weight gain can help to promote healthy weight gain.

They will have the ability to consider your health conditions and considerations when recommending a meal plan for you!

Sources

  • https://www.news-medical.net/news/20230717/In-older-adults-a-little-excess-weight-isne28099t-such-a-bad-thing.aspx#:~:text=On%20the%20other%20hand%2C%20numerous,as%20padding%2C%20guarding%20against%20fractures.
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8984168/
  • https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-eating-nutrition-and-diet/healthy-meal-planning-tips-older-adults
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7202674/
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Michelle Saari MSc, RD

Written By

Michelle Saari MSc, RD

Registered Dietitian

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 blogger with two elderly nutrition-focused health blogs.

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