From 1988 to 2008, it was noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, that the number of underweight adults in the United States between the ages of 20 to 39 decreased from 3% to 1.9%. This is a good thing because being underweight is associated with a variety of health issues, which we will explore later.
First, how do you know if you’re at a healthy weight? Healthcare professionals use a mathematical equation, such as the BMI, or body mass index. This tool assesses your weight by comparing it to your height, which assesses fatness. Health professionals use this as a screening tool to determine your overall risk for disease. However, it’s important to note that this is not meant to be a diagnostic tool for body fatness or a measure of your overall health.
According to this scale, if your BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9, you are at a healthy weight- but if your BMI is less than 18.5, you are considered underweight. Health professionals do acknowledge that this is a dated and biased tool that doesn’t account for age, body composition, race, gender, or ethnicity. However, it is still used because it’s an inexpensive and easy way to analyze potential health status/outcomes.
Measuring body composition may give you a better picture of your weight and health. This is a measurement of how much of your total weight is from lean body mass and how much is from fat. A healthy body fat percentage for men is 17.6- 25.3% and a healthy body fat percentage for women is 28.8- 35.7%.
According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, men with under 17.6% body fat and women with under 28.8% body fat are considered underweight. That being said, fit and athletic individuals may have a lower body fat percentage and still be at a healthy weight.
Health Risks Associated with Being Underweight
Most of the time, when we talk about weight and health risks, the focus is on the health issues of being overweight. Rarely do we look at health issues of being underweight- but there are several ways that being underweight can be detrimental to your health.
Issues such as vitamin deficiencies, infertility, osteoporosis, and decreased immunity are just a few of the health issues associated with being underweight.
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly. If you are underweight, you may not be getting the energy and nutrients your body needs to maintain a healthy weight, which means you’re more likely to have vitamin deficiencies.
Vitamin deficiencies affect the way your body functions and can cause health issues such as:
- Anemia due to a lack of iron, vitamin B-12, or folate
- Poor wound healing due to lack of vitamin C
- Night blindness due to lack of vitamin A
In order to carry out certain essential functions, your body needs some body fat. There is a connection between being underweight and having low body fat. Most people agree that having too much fat (being overweight) is bad for your health- but it’s also not good if you don’t have enough.
If you don’t have enough body fat, it affects the production of hormones. Therefore, if you are underweight, you may struggle with infertility. This can affect both men and women.
Osteoporosis is a serious condition that causes bones to become brittle and porous, which increases your risk of fracture. Anyone can develop this condition but being underweight increases your risk.
In order to build bone mass in childhood and maintain it as an adult, you need vitamin D and calcium. If you are underweight and not meeting your nutrient requirements, you are probably not getting adequate amounts of vitamin D or calcium. In fact, it has been proven that most people who are underweight are not getting adequate amounts of vitamin D.
The purpose of your immune system is to protect you against infections and diseases and while no certain food/supplement can boost your immunity, you do need a balanced diet to ensure that your immune system is functioning properly.
If you’re underweight, you may not be getting the nutrients you need to strengthen your immune system. This may decrease your immunity and increase your risk of catching every virus and illness that circulates.
What Foods Can Help You Quickly Gain Weight?
If you are underweight, you are probably wondering what you need to do to pack on a few more pounds. There are some foods that you can eat that can help you quickly gain weight. We’ll explore them below:
Milk provides a combination of proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. Additionally, it is a high quality source of a variety of vitamins and minerals including calcium. The primary reason it is such a good source for gaining muscle mass is the protein content in it.
In one study, participants who drank skim milk following their workout did much better than those that drank a soy-based product. In another study, female participants seemed to do better when drinking milk after workout.
Therefore, if you are interested in gaining weight quickly and safely, milk can be added to your diet throughout the day.
Protein shakes are used to help you gain weight easily and efficiently. A shake is effective for helping build muscle if consumed following a workout. However, it’s important to pay attention to the labels. The pre-made shakes typically contain additives, such as additional sugars, that you should avoid.
A one-cup serving of rice contains 200 calories and is an excellent source of carbohydrates, which facilitate weight gain. Rice is an easy food to add to your daily meals containing veggies and proteins.
Research indicates that red meat is beneficial for building muscle and weight gain. Steak contains both creatine and leucine, which are nutrients that play an important role in increasing muscle mass. Steak and other forms of red meat contain protein and fat, which have been proven to promote weight gain.
According to research, it’s advisable to limit your consumption of red meat and lean cuts are better for your heart than fatty cuts.
One study involving 100 female participants between the ages of 60 and 90 showed that adding lean red meat increased weight gain and strength by 18% while participating in a resistance training regimen.
Nuts & Nut Butter
Consuming nuts and/or nut butters on a regular basis can contribute to weight gain. Nuts are an excellent snack or addition to meals- such as for salad topping. Raw or dry roasted are better.
Nut butters that are made without sugar and/or hydrogenated oils can help. When it comes to nut butters, the only ingredient should be the nuts.
Whole-grain breads are an excellent source of complex carbs, which facilitate weight gain. Some of them contain seeds, which offer additional benefits.
Starches can also increase weight gain and improve muscle growth because they add bulk to your meals and increase the number of calories. Some of the foods that are rich in starch include the following:
- Winter root veggies
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole-grain cereals and breads
- Cereal bars
In addition to increasing the caloric intake, starches offer energy in the form of glucose, which is stored in your body as glycogen. Research indicates that glycogen improves performance and energy during your workout.
When athletes are trying to increase muscle mass, they often turn to protein supplements in conjunction with resistance training. You can find protein supplements at your local grocery store, health/fitness supplement stores and even online. It’s important to pay attention to the labels so that you know what you are getting.
A 6-ounce serving of salmon contains approximately 240 calories. It is also high in healthy fats, which means it’s an ideal option for individuals who are looking to gain weight. Plus, it contains a variety of nutrients, including protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Dried fruits are high in calories and nutrients. A ¼ cup serving of dried cranberries contains approximately 130 calories. Dried fruit is easily accessible. It can be purchased online or at your local grocery store. Most people enjoy snacking on apples, cherries, or pineapples.
Avocados are a great source of healthy fats and calories, along with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Dark chocolate is a delicious snack that is high in fat and calories, as well as antioxidants. If you are looking to gain weight, you should choose dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70%+.
Cereal bars are a convenient way to obtain the vitamin and mineral content of cereal. Be sure to choose cereal bars containing fruits, nuts, and whole grains and avoid the ones that are high in sugar content.
Many of the cereals on the market are fortified with vitamins and minerals- but there are some that are high in sugar with very few complex carbs. The second group are the ones that should be avoided.
That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with cereals, provided you make healthy choices. Be sure to select cereals that are made with whole grains and nuts that contain a healthy number of calories along with carbohydrates and nutrients including antioxidants and fiber.
Research indicates that eggs are an ideal source of protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients. However, it’s important to note that most of the nutrients are found in the yolk. The egg white, while it does contain protein, doesn’t have many other health benefits.
Fats & Oils
Oils, such as those from avocados and olives, contain calories and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. A 1 tablespoon serving of olive oil contains approximately 120 calories.
Cheese is an excellent source of calories, protein, calcium, and fat. If your goal is to gain weight, it’s important that you choose full-fat cheeses.
Yogurt, provided it is the full-fat version, provides plenty of protein and nutrients. Make sure that you avoid flavored yogurts or those that are low in fat because they often contain additional sugars, which are not necessary. You can flavor plain yogurt with fruit and nuts if you wish.
Pasta is high in calories and carbs- which contributes to healthy weight gain. That being said, it’s important to avoid pastas that are bleached. Instead, choose those that are made with whole grains.
The foods listed in this article are a healthy way to increase your caloric intake, which can help you safely, quickly, and efficiently gain weight- especially if you are underweight and need to pack on a few pounds.
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