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The question: What are the healthiest foods to eat if I'm looking to gain weight?

My meal plans for clients who want to put on weight – be it to gain muscle, feel healthier or simply look better – are built around foods that are both calorie- and nutrient-dense. It's important to get your extra calories from nutritious foods rather than foods packed with refined sugar and unhealthy fats.

Theoretically, you need to eat an extra 500 calories a day in order to gain one pound a week. However, I've worked with clients who need to consume more than this – an additional 1,000 calories or more each day – to increase their weight. To get those extra calories in, it's usually necessary to eat three meals and three snacks (mid-morning, mid-afternoon, before bed) each day.

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Each meal should include a source of protein, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, egg whites, legumes, tofu and dairy products, as well as carbohydrate. Healthy carbs include whole-grain cereals (granola and muesli are higher in calories than flake cereals), steel-cut oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, sweet potato and fruit.

Be generous with portion sizes of starchy foods to increase your calorie intake. For example, make a sandwich on a large whole grain bagel (340 calories) instead of two slices of whole-grain bread (200 calories). If you usually eat one cup of brown rice at dinner, increase your serving size by one-half, and so on.

I also advise my clients to add heart-healthy unsaturated fats to meals such as vegetable oil, nuts, seeds and nut butters. It's an easy way to sneak in calories without adding bulk to your meals, which can make you feel too full. One tablespoon of olive oil, for example, adds 120 calories to a meal. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over vegetables, potatoes and pasta. Blend a tablespoon of flax oil into a smoothie.

Spread toast with peanut or almond butter (one tablespoon has roughly 100 calories).

Choose nuts for one of your snacks. One half-cup of nuts delivers roughly 400 to 500 calories along with protein, fibre, magnesium and phytochemicals.

Drinking 100-per-cent fruit juice at meals or with snacks is another way to increase your calorie intake nutritiously. Pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and purple grape juice are also good sources of antioxidants.

The key to healthy weight gain is being consistent. Stick to a consistent eating schedule – on weekdays and weekends – to get those calories in.

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Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel'sDirect (www.lesliebeck.com ).

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