The internet is full of advice on how to lose a few extra pounds. But what about those of us below our optimal weights? For the past few months, I’ve been on a mission to find the healthiest way to put on a few extra pounds while still following a (mostly) wheat free, sugar free, and low dairy way of eating.

As it turns out, gaining weight is not so different from losing weight. Both depend on a healthy diet of whole foods (complex carbs, fruits, veggies, lean protein) and a healthy lifestyle for long lasting effects. The difference lies in knowing how much your body needs. Typically, those individuals below their optimal weights require more calories than those above their optimal weights. But the sources are the same.

According to EveryDiet.org, there are several steps a person should take to gain weight in a healthy way.

The Weight Gain Diet

[source: http://www.everydiet.org/diet/gain-weight]

1. Continue to eat the same healthy foods you always eat, but simply eat more of them.

2. Choose foods with a higher calorie density. You could eat broccoli and salad until your face hurts from chewing so much, but you still won’t get enough calories.

3. Eat plenty of starchy carbohydrates including whole grains, cereals, pasta, potatoes, yams, beans, rice and oatmeal.

4. Don’t be afraid of adding a little bit of fat. Keep your diet low in fat overall, but add in some of the healthy “good” fats (such as flax oil, olive oil, or a couple tablespoons of peanut butter) and you’ll gain weight more quickly.

5. Just because you’re trying to gain weight doesn’t mean you have a license to eat anything you want. Go for nutritional value as well as calorie density; avoid saturated fats, sugar and processed junk foods.

6. If you can’t seem to get enough calories from food, then a meal replacement or weight gainer supplement can make your life a lot easier. Adjust the serving size to fit your calorie needs and make sure the product has a good protein to carb ratio.

7. Don’t be afraid to drink a lot of your calories in the form of juice or supplements/shakes.

Now let’s look at some healthy additions you can make to gain weight.

Foods High in Calorie Density

On their own, calories are not evil. In fact, our bodies require calories to keep us going. It’s when we get into junk food territory that we collect the “empty calories” that lead to unhealthy weight gain. Healthy calorie dense foods include complex carbs, fruit, and juice.

Raw food bars such as Raw Revolution and Larabar offer date-based bars in flavor such as raspberry chocolate and peanut butter and jelly to pistachio that taste delicious and work as great mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks. In addition, the raw foods are gluten free, soy free, dairy free, and vegan making them suitable for all but those allergic to nuts.

rawrevolutionThe Product: Raw Revolution

Cost: $1.99 per bar or $21.99 per box of 12 (a $2.00 savings)

How Many Servings: 1 box will last 12 days

Where to Buy: Find a store by you at Raw Revolution’s website, or order directly from them by clicking on your favorite flavor at RawIndulgence.com.

larabarThe Product: Larabar

Cost: Prices vary depending on whether you’re buying online or local. Online: $2.00 per bar. $15.00 for a 12 pack of minibars. $27.00 for a 16 pack of your favorite flavor (coming out to $1.69 per bar, or a savings of $5.00).

How Many Servings: 12-16 days.

Where to Buy: Order from Larabar’s store or find at your local health food store.