Sometimes, people with diabetes need to gain weight. But to do this, they need to choose foods that will increase their calorie intake without causing their blood sugar levels to spike.

Many people with type 2 diabetes receive advice to lose weight because a high body mass index (BMI) can increase the risk of diabetes and its complications.

Sometimes, however, a person with diabetes may need to gain weight.

For example, a person might lose their appetite due to stress or other reasons, be unable to buy food, or have a health condition that causes weight loss, such as an overactive thyroid. Unintentional weight loss can also be a symptom of diabetes.

Anyone who needs to gain weight should do so by following a balanced diet. This will ensure that they take in not only calories but also sufficient nutrients. Eating extra chocolate and other high calorie foods will not lead to healthy weight gain.

For people with diabetes, balancing the diet is especially important, as they need to avoid blood sugar spikes.

This article looks at how people with diabetes can gain weight safely and without health complications.

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To gain weight, a person typically needs to consume more calories than they use.

However, people with diabetes must also choose what they eat carefully to avoid health complications.

Here are some considerations:

  • Adding highly processed, high carb foods to the diet can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can be hazardous for people with diabetes.
  • If a person uses insulin, they need to ensure that the amount of insulin they use is suitable for their dietary habits and current weight.
  • A diet high in calories but low in other nutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies with related health issues.
  • If a person uses fats to increase their calorie intake, they should favor unsaturated fats.

Anyone with diabetes who is considering making significant changes to their diet should speak with a doctor, a certified diabetes educator, or a dietitian who can suggest dietary adjustments that result in weight gain but do not damage health.

Here, we look at some foods that can help a person with diabetes gain weight safely. However, anyone with diabetes should talk with their healthcare team before making any dietary changes. It is essential to make a plan that will keep blood sugar levels within the individual’s target range.

Which foods help stabilize insulin and blood sugar?

Full-fat dairy products

Full-fat dairy products can help a person gain weight and also provide nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.

Examples include:

  • whole milk
  • unsweetened full-fat yogurt
  • cheese

However, dairy products contain saturated fat, which may increase a person’s cholesterol levels and risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends consuming only 5–6% of calories as saturated fat to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

If a person has a high risk of cardiovascular disease, their doctor may recommend limiting saturated fat intake.

Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and low calorie beverages

Diet sodas and caffeine can suppress the appetite and leave a person feeling full. However, sodas that contain sugar can lead to a glucose spike.

Suitable drinks might be:

  • water or sparkling water
  • pressed or squeezed fruit juice with the pulp
  • milk
  • smoothies

Water provides no calories, but it is essential for overall health. Alcoholic drinks can lead to weight gain, but they do not usually provide other nutrients and may have other harmful effects on health.

Chocolate and other snacks

Chocolate bars, cookies, and other sweetened snacks are high in calories, but they do not provide balanced nutrition.

Certain other snacks are high in calories as well as nutrient dense.

Examples of suitable snacks include:

  • full-fat Greek yogurt with granola
  • apple with peanut butter
  • half a banana and walnuts
  • whole grain toast with avocado and chia seeds

Foods that are high in sugar and other carbs can lead to a glucose spike. People should discuss how to incorporate these items safely into their diet plan with a member of their healthcare team.

Healthy oils

Various oils are available that can add both flavor and calories to food.

Examples include:

Other ideas for salad dressings include:

  • homemade mayonnaise
  • a vinaigrette of olive oil, herbs, and vinegar
  • tahini mixed with lemon juice, olive oil, and a little water to thin the sauce for pouring

Sprinkling vegetables, greens, and salads with healthy oil or an oil-based dressing can add calories and enhance flavor, which may help people with a low appetite.

What are some healthy high fat foods?

Nutritious higher-calorie foods

Processed foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats can lead to weight gain, but they do not provide balanced nutrition.

Foods containing whole grains and healthy fats provide calories and may reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and other health complications.

Nutritious high calorie foods include:

  • nuts
  • seeds, such as pumpkin or flax
  • avocado
  • nut butter
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • wholemeal bread
  • beans
  • granola
  • sugar-free nut butters, such as peanut, cashew, and almond
  • oily fish, such as mackerel, tuna, or sardines
  • olive paste

Learn more about healthy and unhealthy fats.

Protein

Protein is essential for all body functions, including muscle building. Protein in the diet can help with balanced weight gain.

Here are some examples of high protein foods:

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • eggs

Plant-based sources of protein include:

  • legumes and pulses, such as lentils, beans, and peas
  • quinoa
  • soy products

However, pulses and other plant-based proteins also contain carbohydrates. Be mindful of total carb intake when incorporating these foods into the diet.

Remember to speak with a healthcare professional before making any changes. Some research suggests that a high intake of animal protein can increase the risk of diabetes in some people, whereas consuming plant-based proteins may reduce the risk. However, more research is needed to confirm this.

To gain weight, people must consume more calories than they use. According to current dietary guidelines, adult males in the United States should aim to consume 2,000–2,400 calories per day to maintain a stable weight, while adult females need 1,600–2,000 calories.

Adding calories can help a person gain weight, but how many calories a person needs to add will vary among individuals. Factors include a person’s activity level, age, health status, and reason for needing to gain weight.

Foods that provide calories and nutrition include:

  • legumes and pulses
  • whole wheat products
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes
  • fruit
  • foods containing healthy fat, such as avocados, nuts, and seeds

A dietitian can help a person with diabetes create a meal plan that increases calories and considers their overall nutritional needs and personal dietary requirements.

Eat smaller portions more frequently

People with a low appetite might find it easier to eat small portions more frequently. If they have an additional health condition that involves abdominal discomfort, this might reduce the symptoms.

Eating little and often could help:

  • older people
  • people who are pregnant
  • those undergoing chemotherapy
  • people with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s or colitis

For example, a person can eat six small meals during the day rather than three large meals.

Try resistance training

Combined with increased calorie intake, exercise can add muscle to the body, leading to weight gain. Strength training is the best way to transform calories into muscle.

Use hand weights, resistance bands, kettlebells, and weight machines at the gym to build lean muscle. This is a more balanced way to increase weight than storing excess fat.

Exercise can also increase appetite and reduce the risk of glucose spikes.

People who use supplementary insulin should check with a doctor before starting a new exercise plan, as the additional activity may affect their insulin needs.

Some people use food or beverage supplements such as casein and whey protein to:

  • increase appetite
  • build muscle
  • gain weight

Tests on animals have suggested that, combined with exercise, whey protein may muscle mass. Some research also suggests that ingredients in whey and casein supplements could stimulate insulin production in the body.

These products are available as powders. A person can add them to milk, hot beverages, yogurt, muffins, or puddings.

All supplements are different, so it is best to ask a doctor or dietitian for specific recommendations.

What are some of the best protein powders?

People with diabetes may need to gain weight if they have other medical conditions or life circumstances that lead to weight loss, such as a low appetite, cancer or cancer treatment, or chronic gastrointestinal issues.

A doctor may adjust the person’s treatment plan to help manage weight loss. This will involve managing high blood sugar, usually with insulin.

The doctor may also investigate whether another health condition is contributing to weight loss and address this, too.