Not everyone's trying to shed kilos. Here's how you can gain weight

by Jennifer Bowden / 25 July, 2018

Photo/Getty Images

Jennifer Bowden has some tips for those, especially elderly people, who are trying to gain weight healthily.

Not all weight loss is desirable or intentional, a fact often overlooked in a society that praises the pursuit of thinness. It can be the result of a personal crisis or illness.

Indeed, unintended weight loss in people aged over 60 can be an early sign of prostate, ovarian, lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancers, according to a recent study in the British Journal of General Practice.

Being underweight can also be a matter of genetics. At the extreme end, British researchers found people with a specific set of genes on chromosome 16 were significantly more likely to be underweight, to the point that some children died of malnutrition and their parents were accused of neglect.

Often, however, being underweight is the result of not eating enough to fuel your body. For children who are active and still growing, one of the key risks of being underweight is long-term stunting; that is, not reaching full height potential.

The 2014/15 New Zealand Health Survey classified about 47,000 adults (1.3%) and 35,000 children (4.4%) as underweight or thin, with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less.

If food intake doesn’t meet energy needs, there’s also a good chance that nutrient needs are not being met. Older adults are particularly at risk of developing malnutrition. This can increase their hospital stays, lengthen wound-healing time and reduce the ability to complete day-to-day tasks after a hospital stay.

A study published last year in the Australasian Journal on Ageing found 23% of older adults living in north-west Auckland were malnourished, and a further 35% were at high risk of malnutrition.

Malnutrition is not an inevitable side effect of ageing. Many octogenarians are fit, healthy and active. However, changes that occur with ageing, such as decreases in taste and smell sensitivity, deteriorating dental health, reduced physical activity, isolation and loneliness, and inability to shop or prepare food can promote malnutrition.

So, although the simple answer to gaining weight and staving off malnutrition is to eat more nutritious foods, older adults need to take a gentle approach to eating more. With these tips, they can promote both their health and happiness:

Eat more often. If you get full quickly, have five to six smaller meals each day, rather than two or three large ones.

Eat nutrient-rich foods. Wholegrain breads, pasta, cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, lean meats, chicken, fish and eggs, along with nuts and seeds, are good choices.

Drink smart. Fluids can blunt your appetite, so rather than drinking before a meal, sip something with your meal or 30 minutes after a meal.

Try smoothies and shakes. These are a good way to consume more energy and nutrients without feeling full. Suggested ingredients include milk, yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, nuts and ground flaxseed.

Make every mouthful count. Add high-energy spreads such as nut butters and avocado to sandwiches, toast and muffins. Snack on nuts, dried fruit, cheese and crackers.

Find foods of the right texture. Use a food processor to grind up nuts and other foods and try cooking meat in a slow-cooker for a softer meal.

Add a dollop on top. Boost the energy content of meals by topping casseroles with grated cheese and potatoes with sour cream, adding milk powder or cheese to soups, and pouring a tablespoon or two of olive oil onto your meal after serving.

Enjoy sweets. Allow yourself ice cream, cake, chocolate or biscuits.

Get moving. Being active stimulates your appetite, so find ways to move more. Strength training, especially, is beneficial.

Be sociable. Join luncheon clubs, share a weekly meal with a neighbour or friend (taking turns as host) and accept offers of shared meals with your extended family. We eat more when we eat in company.

This article was first published in the July 7, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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