Many foods are high in calories, making consuming more calorie-dense foods a simple task to accomplish. Some options, such as avocado, nuts, and seeds are also dense in nutrients.

There are many reasons why some people may want to gain weight. For example, athletes and bodybuilders may wish to gain muscle mass.

Read this article to learn more about calorie-dense foods and nutrient-dense foods.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The term “calorie” describes the amount of energy in a food. Calories come from:

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 recommend that 45–65% of an adult’s daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. Protein should make up 10–30%, and fat 20–35%.

The term “calorie density” describes the number of calories in a food relative to its weight, usually per 3.5 ounces (oz) or 100 g. People may also use the terms “caloric density” or “energy density.”

People trying to gain weight should try to incorporate more calorie-dense foods to accomplish their goals. Alternatively, those seeking to lose weight may wish to limit the amount of calorie-dense foods they consume.

Humans need calories for survival because they provide our bodies with the energy needed to fuel metabolic pathways, physical movement, and critical thought.

Research suggests that the average adult female needs 2,000 calories each day to maintain their weight while the average adult male needs 2,500 calories each day.

However, the exact number of calories a person needs to maintain their weight is unique to them based on a variety of factors, including:

  • age
  • sex
  • height
  • activity level
  • genetics

When a person consumes more calories than their body needs, they will store the extra energy as adipose tissue or body fat.

Alternatively, if a person consumes less energy than their body needs, the body will use stored fat for energy, and that person will lose weight.

A person may want to incorporate more calorie-dense foods if they are trying to gain weight.

Some people may want a larger frame, have a medical condition, or need to gain weight while recovering from an illness.

Illnesses that may cause significant weight loss include:

People who have experienced a severe burn injury may also lose a significant amount of weight.

Sometimes people may want to gain muscle mass. Bodybuilders are another group of people that frequently aim to put on weight.

There are certain health risks associated with being underweight. These include:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that people use their body mass index (BMI) to determine if they are underweight, at an expected weight, or overweight.

Ranges for BMI are as follows:

  • Underweight: less than 18.5
  • Healthy weight: 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: 25 to 29.9
  • Obese: 30 or higher

It is worth noting that there are some limitations to BMI. It does not measure overall fat or muscle content.

If a person is concerned about being underweight or their weight in general, they should speak with their primary care physician, who may refer the person to a registered dietitian.

There are many calorie-dense foods, making incorporating these foods into the diet a fairly easy task. Some examples of calorie-dense foods include:

  • granola
  • avocado
  • oils and butter
  • nuts
  • fatty meats like sausages, lamb, and fatty beef cuts
  • fried foods like French fries, chicken wings, onion rings, and chicken nuggets
  • pastries and cakes
  • candy
  • chips
  • sugary drinks like sodas, milkshakes, and some smoothies

Many calorie-dense foods are highly processed, high in fat, and low in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. It is important for a person to pay attention to the quality of food they consume to ensure the body is getting enough of the nutrients it needs to perform at an optimal level.

Alcohol also contains calories, but people should avoid consuming it in excess. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 suggest that female adults consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day and male adults consume no more than two alcoholic beverages a day.

In the United States, an alcoholic beverage serving consists of around 14 g of pure alcohol. The following are the equivalents of one serving:

  • 12 fluid oz of regular beer, typically around 5% alcohol
  • 5 fluid oz of wine, typically around 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 fluid oz of distilled spirits, typically around 40% alcohol

The term “nutrient-dense” describes foods with a high nutrient content relative to the number of calories they supply.

While most people think of nutrient-dense foods as containing high quantities of vitamins and minerals, they can also contain other health-promoting components such as antioxidants, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. This is why nutrient-dense foods help decrease the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related chronic illnesses.

Some examples of nutrient-dense foods include:

When a person wants to increase their caloric intake, it is still important to consume nutrient-dense foods. However, many nutrient-dense foods are also very low in calories, which poses a challenge.

Some examples of calorie-dense and nutrient-dense foods include:

Calorie-dense foods are foods that contain high amounts of calories relative to their weight. Some examples of calorie-dense foods include full-fat dairy products, fatty beef, oils, nuts, and seeds.

Not all calorie-dense foods are also nutrient-dense, so people trying to gain weight need to be mindful of the quality of foods they choose to consume.