Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, Americans who are underweight don’t get any respect.
The numbers explain why: While two-thirds of the US population is overweight, only 1.8% qualifies as underweight.
People need to gain pounds for a number of reasons. Some have fast metabolisms that quickly burn calories. Others engage in strenuous activities. Still others have eating disorders or chronic illnesses such as cancer.
It’s the last group that Carolyn Lammersfeld, RD, CNSD is most familiar with in her job as national director of nutrition for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTC, www.cancercenter.com). She says, “What we hear often is that patients spent a lot of their lives trying to lose weight, and now they’ve lost weight and they can’t gain it back.”
Lammersfeld says being underweight is no excuse to eat poorly. Junk foods are “high in omega-6 fats, which we know to be immune-suppressing,” she notes. “Those foods can also increase your cholesterol.”
The key to healthy weight gain is resistance training plus extra helpings of beneficial foods. “Most people who are trying to gain weight are under-muscled,” Lammersfeld explains. “With our patients we use resistance bands. Those are good for people who travel a lot.”
Lammersfeld says CTC recommends a standard weight-maintenance diet consisting of balanced meals with complex carbs, whole produce, lean protein and low-fat dairy. She suggests consuming an additional 200 to 500 calories a day by eating every two to three hours.
“I tell people the easiest way to do it is to add one serving from each of the food groups,” she says. “That should allow you to gain a pound a week.” Foods rich in both calories and nutrients include nut butters (almond, peanut, cashew), trail mix, protein shakes made with high-calorie ingredients such as bananas, kefir, low-fat cheese and avocados (including guacamole).
A sensible diet-and-exercise plan will let you gain weight safely.
BBQ Steak and Avocado Salad
1 1/4 lbs flank steak
1 cup frozen corn kernels
16 oz assorted mixed greens
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup black beans, cooked or canned (if canned, rinse well)
1/2 cup low-fat plain kefir
1/4 cup fat-free buttermilk
1 tsp each chopped
cilantro, chopped green onion and lime juice
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 cucumber, peeled,
1/4 tsp minced garlic
salt & pepper, to taste
1. Marinate steak overnight in 1/2 cup hickory-smoke BBQ sauce, 1/8 cup lime juice, 2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp chopped garlic and salt & pepper.
2. Grill steak until internal temperature reaches 145°. Let rest for 10 minutes, then slice across the grain on a bias into 16 slices.
3. Thaw corn, place on oiled pan, spray with olive oil and roast in 350° oven for 20 minutes.
4. Wash mixed greens; divide among four plates. Peel and dice avocados, then add remaining salad ingredients plus 4 steak slices to each plate.
5. Blend dressing ingredients until smooth. Drizzle onto salad.
Serves 4. Analysis per serving: 709 calories, 57g protein, 34g fat (11g saturated), 14g fiber, 47g carbohydrate, 594 mg sodium
RECIPE PROVIDED BY CHEF JUDITH HALLISEY, DIRECTOR OF CULINARY SERVICES, CANCER TREATMENT CENTERS OF AMERICA, MIDWESTERN REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER