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How can I boost body mass index without adding fat?

Asked by Priyanka, New Jersey

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I am a 23-year-old female. My doctor has recommended that I increase the hemoglobin level and increase body mass index. How do I do that without increasing cholesterol and fat level in the body?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Priyanka. Gaining weight in a healthy way is just as important, and often challenging, as losing weight in a healthy way. Even though it may be tempting to gorge on high-calorie foods, your desire to limit fat gain to a reasonable level and avoid increasing cholesterol is important and requires choosing the healthiest, higher-calorie foods possible. It is important to maximize the energy density of food (calories per weight). Fats have the highest energy density, and vegetables, fruits, soups, and fat-free dairy which contain a lot of water, have much lower energy densities. Your goal should be to gain approximately ½ pound to 1 pound per week. Here are a few basic principles.

1. Choose healthy carbohydrates such as whole grain cereal, bread, brown rice, or beans at each meal or snack. Try to limit sugary and highly processed foods.

2. Add good fats including nuts and seeds, olive and canola oil, and avocado to snacks, meals and recipes whenever possible.

3. Don't fill up on vegetables at meals as they may prevent you from eating more energy-dense foods. Cooking vegetables in olive oil or healthy oil-based sauces can help increase the calorie density of vegetables servings. Fruits are also filled with nutrients and have more calories so if you get full easily, eat more fruits than vegetables. Dried fruits are even more calorie dense, so try to include them in meals and snacks throughout the day.

4. Make sure to add resistance training to your exercise regimen so you gain muscle in addition to body fat. This may help increase your appetite too.

5. If you find that water fills you up, limit consumption at meals. Try drinking 100 percent juice or 1 percent milk with meals and drink water between meals.

To increase hemoglobin, you need to increase your intake of iron. Iron is best absorbed in animal foods such as red meat, seafood and chicken, so try to eat these foods on a regular basis. If you are a vegetarian, make sure that you eat plant-based iron sources with a vitamin C-rich food such as oranges or orange juice, grapefruits or grapefruit juice, strawberries, kiwi and green pepper to increase the absorption of iron. If you take an iron supplement, do not take it with coffee, tea, or milk, as this may negativately affect absorption. Here are several iron-containing foods you should try to include in your diet on a regular basis: Swiss chard, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereal, enriched grains (bread, pasta, rice) soybeans, spinach and dried fruit.

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