Whether you're a dedicated gym-goer looking to gain muscle, need to fuel your body to perform a physically-demanding job, or are classified as underweight according to your body mass index (BMI), adding healthy high calorie foods to your diet will help you tip the scales while nourishing your body at the same time.
To gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn each day. As a general guide, adding between 500 and 1,000 calories to your daily maintenance calories will help you gain up to 1kg per week. From whole grains to dairy and dried fruit, these healthy high calorie foods will help you meet your nutritional needs – from breakfast until bedtime:
Each avocado contains 240 calories, plus a bumper hit of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which increase your levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol. This energy-dense high calorie fruit is also the sole source of the fatty acids avocadene and avocadyne, which protect against type 2 diabetes, studies show.
2. Homemade granola
Granola is a nutritious combination of cereals, dried fruits, nuts and seeds – four incredibly high calorie foods on their own – sometimes sweetened with honey or maple syrup, and occasionally bakes in coconut oil. Each 100g portion typically contains between 400 and 600 calories, and provides a healthful mix of protein, carbs and fats.
3. Brown rice
Fill your bowl with brown rice, not white, for a high calorie food boost. While the latter contains marginally more calories – 129 calories per 100g, compared with 122 calories in the same serving of brown rice – the most nutritious parts of the grain have been removed. As a whole grain, brown rice contains far more fibre and retains its antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
4. Macadamia nuts
While all nuts contain lots of calories, Macadamia nuts are the most energy-dense high calorie variety, with an impressive 360 calories in each 50g serve. In the same portion, you'll gobble up 90 per cent of your daily manganese intake – which helps your body make connective tissue – plus 50 per cent of your thiamin requirements; a B vitamin that's needed to turn food into energy.
5. Cheddar cheese
While it's not quite the highest-calorie cheese – Parmesan takes that crown – you'll likely eat a larger portion of cheddar, which is why it's made the list. Each 100g portion contains 400 calories, along with 55 per cent of your daily intake for bone-building calcium, and 46 per cent of your vitamin b12 requirements, for a health nervous system.
Mackerel contains 227 calories per 120g fillet – plus 23g of protein – making it one of the highest-calorie fish you can buy. As an oily fish, it's a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which dampen down harmful inflammatory reactions in the body, according to research by The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
7. Whole grain pasta
Each 200g portion of cooked whole grain pasta contains 296 calories. As well as filling your stomach, whole grain foods reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to nutritional researchers from Penn State University.
8. Protein shake
Protein shakes aren't just convenient – they're an easy way to up your overall daily calorie intake. Tuck into a shake before you drift off to sleep and you'll fuel your muscles with much-needed amino acids overnight, boosting protein synthesis which results in more muscle tissue growth, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found.
9. Sweet potato
Each medium-sized (15og) raw sweet potato contains 164 calories and plenty of fibre so it's on the high calorie foods tick list. Sweet potato is also loaded with vitamin A, containing 1146 mcg (daily requirements are 900 mcg and 700 mcg for men and women, respectively). Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil for a calorie-heavy hit of healthy fats, and don't skip the skins – that's where the nutrients are stored.
Packing 273 calories into each 130g serve, chickpeas deserve a spot on our list of high calorie foods. Eating just one serving per day can significantly reduce levels of "bad" cholesterol, slashing your risk of heart disease by between five and six per cent, research from St. Michael's Hospital revealed.
Looking for a way to add high calorie foods to your breakfast? As well as being energy-dense, oats are one of the healthiest grains on earth. Each 40g bowl contains 152 calories, along with a healthy dose of antioxidants called avenanthramides (almost exclusively found in oats) which increase the production of nitric oxide, lowering your blood pressure.
12. Peanut butter
A large (45g) tablespoonful of peanut butter contains a bumper 269 calories. Pairing this protein-packed spread with Marmite – slathered over whole grain toast, for example – boosts levels of the growth hormone IGF-1 in your body, a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition discovered, stimulating muscle gain and improving endurance.
Nibble on 100g of sultanas and you'll soon have scoffed 325 calories and plenty of soluble fibre, which feeds your gut bacteria, reduces inflammation and lowers your blood sugar levels. Eat them alone, scatter them over yoghurts or porridge, or pair them with cheese.
14. Adzuki beans
Each 130g portion of Adzuki beans provides 428 calories and up to 29 different types of antioxidants, making these little red beans one of the most antioxidant-rich foods around. They're super rich in B-vitamins and minerals, providing 200 per cent of your folate needs, 158 per cent of your copper requirements, and 98 per cent of your manganese intake.
15. Extra-virgin olive oil
We gave this health-boosting oil a shout out earlier, but really extra virgin deserves a spot of its own. Each tablespoon contains 112 calories all wrapped up in a wealth of phenolic antioxidants and healthy fats. The main monounsaturated fat in olive oil is inflammation-fighting oleic acid, which has been shown to lower cholesterol.
16. Dark chocolate
It's no secret that chocolate comes under 'high calorie foods', but choosing the right kind matters. Eat 40g of dark chocolate per day – equivalent to 239 calories – and you'll boost your athletic performance, a human study by Kingston University found. It's due to high levels of a polyphenol antioxidant called epicatechin, the key bioactive ingredient in cacao.
When eaten once or twice a week, red meat can form part of a healthy diet. Each 180g steak contains 331 calories, plus 53g protein and around 150 per cent of your daily recommended b12 intake. This vitamin plays an essential role in the production of the DNA needed to make red blood cells, and aids with the digestion and absorption of macronutrients.
18. Whole milk
Each 250ml glass of whole milk contains 150 calories, plus 25 per cent of your daily calcium intake, and 15 per cent of your vitamin D requirements. Your body needs the latter to form the hormone calcitriol, which allows your body to absorb calcium. This essential mineral doesn't just support bone health – it helps your heart, muscles, and nerves to function.
19. Whole wheat bread
A single slice of whole wheat bread contains between 100 and 125 calories, depending on the brand, so making a sandwich can be a great way to fill up on energy. For high calorie food pairings, spread hummus on your freshly-toasted slice – together they form a complete protein, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids.
20. Sun-dried tomatoes
With 225 calories in every 100g portion, sun-dried tomatoes make an energy-dense aperitivo hour snack, and they're also incredibly healthful – with 10g of dietary fibre and 5g protein. Try pairing with other high calorie foods like olives and cubed cheese.
Last updated: 02-06-2021
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