If you are on a weight gain journey it can be hard to find foods that are high in calories but not high in sodium. This is because most high-calorie foods are also highly processed, and with that, comes an increase in sodium content.
However, if you can find foods that are both high calorie and low sodium it can come with some great benefits.
Consuming foods high in calories can contribute to a caloric surplus, which is key if you are looking to build muscle mass. However, if you pair high-calorie foods with low sodium, then you prevent your body from retaining water. This helps you keep your blood pressure in check, and reduce the look of being ‘puffy’.
In this article, you will learn the top 10 foods high in calories and low in sodium. But before I share these foods with you, we need to determine what is considered a “high calorie and low sodium food”.
What Defines Food High In Calories and Low In Sodium?
Defining High Calories
High-calorie food is said to have a lot of calories in a low volume (the amount of food in grams). In other words, it’s food that has a lot of calories without adding too much bulk to your diet. This is known as “energy-dense food”.
To get a better idea of energy-dense food, here is an example:
- In 100 grams of a donut, you can find an average of 417 calories. This would be considered a high-energy dense food because you’re getting a lot of calories for not a lot of food volume.
- On the other hand, a low energy-dense food is one that doesn’t contain a lot of calories (like veggies).
- To reach the same amount of the 417 calories of donuts with veggies, you would have to eat 1.2kg of broccoli (almost 12X the amount of food volume).
Therefore, a food is considered a high-calorie food when it has more than 100 calories per 100 gram of product—representing 1 calorie per gram of food. Anything above this threshold is an excellent choice as a high-energy food.
Defining Low Sodium
Now, we need to determine what is considered a low sodium food.
The daily sodium recommendation given by the American Hearts Association is a total of 2300 mg. This means that if you have 5 meals per day, you should be consuming 460 mg of sodium maximum per meal.
Nowadays, sodium intake is much higher than that though. On average, people tend to consume over 3400 mg of sodium, 1.5 times the amount recommended by the American Hearts Association. Thus, high blood pressure and heart disease have been on the rise.
What is then considered a low sodium intake then?
As a Registered Dietician, I typically recommend that food should have less than 150 mg of sodium per 100 gram serving to be regarded as a low sodium food. And no matter how much food you eat per day, you should keep the sodium intake less than 2300 mg daily
A food that is considered high in calories and low in sodium should then have more than 100 calories and less than 150 mg of sodium per 100 gram of product.
10 Best Foods High In Calories Low In Sodium
The 10 best foods high in calories, but low in sodium are:
- Chicken Thighs
- Black Beans
- MCT Oil
Nuts and seeds are, by nature, very high in calories and low in sodium. Cashews are a great option to add when you want to increase your caloric intake. In 100 g of cashews, you find the following nutritional information:
- Calories: 553
- Carbs: 30.2 g
- Sodium: 12 mg
- Protein: 18.2 g
- Fats: 43.8 g
As you can see, cashews contain only 12 mg of sodium per 100 g of product. However, you need to be careful when buying them at the store since most nuts have added salt, making them higher in sodium.
Whenever you buy any nuts or seeds, make sure to buy them as naturally as possible (i.e. unsalted).
2. Chicken Thighs
Generally speaking, proteins (like meat) tend to be low in sodium. Chicken thighs are one of the highest calorie protein sources due to the skin (where most fat is located). In 100 g of chicken thighs, you can find the following nutritional content:
- Calories: 221
- Carbs: 0.2 g
- Sodium: 81 mg
- Protein: 16.5 g
- Fats: 16.6 g
Thanks to the skin, chicken thighs are a great protein option if you want to increase your daily calories. Be careful with the condiments you add since they can increase sodium levels. Use natural spices (garlic, onion, rosemary, or another dried natural herb) to add more flavor.
3. Black Beans
Cooked black beans are a great option if you are trying to increase your calories. It contains more calories than rice (rice has 97 kcal per 100 g of product), which makes it the ideal carb option to add. In 100 g of black bean, you get the following nutritional information:
- Calories: 130
- Carbs: 24.4 g
- Sodium: 3 mg
- Protein: 8.2 g
- Fats: 0.4 g
As you can see, black beans are extremely low in sodium. It could even be said that it has no sodium since 3 mg is not a significant amount. However, the problem arises when you cook them or eat them out of a can.
Since most people will be purchasing beans out of a can, the best thing to do is to strain your beans from the can and run cold water over them. This will wash off any additional sodium that the food manufacturers use to process the beans.
Like black beans, lentils are another excellent carb option when you want to increase your calories without increasing your sodium intake. In 100 g of lentils, you find the following nutritional information:
- Calories: 116
- Carbs: 20.1 g
- Sodium: 2 mg
- Protein: 9.0 g
- Fats: 0.4 g
For those who need to increase their caloric intake without too much salt, but also follow a plant-based diet, lentils are a great option. An added benefit is that lentils have 8 g of protein per 100 g of product. This is the same as eating one large egg. So if you want to reduce your animal protein intake, lentils are the way to go.
5. MCT Oil
Fats are the most energy-dense foods found. Compared to carbs and proteins, they offer 9 calories per gram of fat (while proteins and carbs only have 4 calories per gram). Thus, if your main goal is to increase your caloric intake, fats are the way to go.
Olive oil, avocado oil, and flaxseed oil are good options but one commonly left out is MCT oil. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are the type of oil that is found in coconuts. In 100 g of MCT oil, you can find the following nutritional content:
- Calories: 800
- Carbs: 0.0 g
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Protein: 0.0 g
- Fats: 93.3 g
MCT oil provides those extra calories that you need without adding any sodium. Thanks to its structure (being a medium chain) it is easily digested and it provides fast-acting energy. Ideal for those in a keto diet that are looking to have an energy boost before working ou
- Calories: 367
- Carbs: 67.0 g
- Sodium: 4 mg
- Protein: 16.0 g
- Fats: 6.3 g
While most packaged foods contain a high amount of sodium, oatmeal is a great example of a packaged food that is actually quite low in sodium. This is especially the case if you avoid oatmeal that contains a lot of additives and flavoring. As such, raw packaged oatmeal is what I recommend.
Make sure to always read the nutrition label to ensure that your product is low in sodium (less than 150mg per 100g of product).
Everybody loves Nutella either as a treat, topping, or baking ingredient. However, since Nutella is highly processed, it must be high in sodium, right? Not necessarily.
In 100 g of Nutella, you can find the following nutritional content:
- Calories: 539
- Carbs: 62.4 g
- Sodium: 41 mg
- Protein: 5.4 g
- Fats: 29.7 g
Nutella is low in sodium, which is a great option if you crave something sweet and need to add calories to your diet. You can have it spread in a piece of toast (as long as the toast has a low sodium content) or add it to your protein shake to give it extra flavor.
- Calories: 120
- Carbs: 21.3 g
- Sodium: 7 mg
- Protein: 4.4 g
- Fats: 1.9 g
Quinoa is very low in sodium compared with rice, pasta, and grains. However, the preparation will be essential to determine if it is going to have a significant sodium content.
Make sure to cook quinoa with as little salt as possible and use a natural way of adding flavor (like spices) to reduce the sodium content. A lot of recipes will have you cooking quinoa with chicken or beef stock, which can add up to 300mg of sodium per serving.
Tuna is one of the best protein sources that you might consider adding to your high-calorie, low sodium diet. It also contains healthy fats (omega-3) that help prevent heart disease, reduce inflammation, and decrease depressive symptoms.
In 100 g of tuna, you can find the following nutritional content:
- Calories: 144
- Carbs: 0.0
- Sodium: 39 mg
- Protein: 23.3 g
- Fats: 4.9 g
Bluefin tuna is one of the fish that has a significant calorie content compared with other types of tuna. With that said, while the other types of tuna might not be as high calorie as bluefin, they are still above the 100 kcal per 100g threshold to be considered “high calorie”.
When choosing tuna, try to have it natural instead of canned. Canned tuna might be high in sodium, especially when it comes flavored, which adds calories, but also sodium.
Related Article: Top 29 Best Fish For Bodybuilding (Ranked By Cheapest Option)
- Calories: 143
- Carbs: 0.7 g
- Sodium: 142 mg
- Protein: 12.6 g
- Fats: 9.5 g
Eggs are the foods that contain the most sodium in this list. It is still within the low sodium recommendation though. However, since it is relatively high in sodium, try not to add any additional salt (either through table salt or using salted butter) when cooking eggs to control the sodium intake.
Related Article: 4 Eggs For Breakfast: Is It Healthy?
Sample Menu: High Calorie, Low Sodium
You might be wondering how to put everything together in a meal plan.
Here is a way you can distribute all of the foods seen previously.
100 g Oatmeal
100 g Quinoa
50 g Nutella
150 g Eggs
100 g Cashews
150 g Chicken thighs
250 g Black beans
25 g MCT oil
150 g Tuna
15 mL MCT oil
The caloric intake depends on your age, weight, height, and daily activity levels.
If you are looking to gain weight, your caloric needs are increased. To gain muscle you need to consume more calories than your body needs
On average, men looking to gain weight could have a daily caloric intake of 2500-3000 kcal (it can even be higher than that). Women on the other hand might have to consume 2000-2500 kcal daily to gain weight.
Remember that this table is just an example. You can add any other foods or exchange them according to your preferences. You can even increase or decrease the calories as needed.
Make sure to have carb, protein, and fat in every meal to have a well-balanced plate. Additionally, even if veggies are low in calories, you need to provide nutrients. Thus, make sure you have at least 2-4 servings of vegetables throughout the day.
Finally, remember that even if the food doesn’t have any sodium, you might increase the content by adding condiments or salt. If you are on a low sodium diet, avoid salt and use natural spices.
Check out these 30 Best Low Sodium Store-Bought Soups
Tips on How To Increase Calories Without Increasing Sodium
Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when trying to structure your diet around high calorie, low sodium foods:
Avoid Canned Foods
Salt is an excellent preservative. Bacteria and mold don’t thrive very well in very high salt environments. Thus, canned foods were created. To expand the shelf life of products like vegetables, or meats, salt is usually added. Canned food can have between 500-1000 mg of sodium, representing almost half of your daily sodium intake.
When you are looking to add veggies, fruit, or any other meat (like tuna), avoid having them canned, or make sure it has less than 150 mg of sodium.
If you need to buy canned food, make sure to rinse it. You can take away most of the sodium it contains by rinsing the food (for example, if you buy canned corn).
Choose Natural Foods
Foods naturally don’t have a lot of sodium. Hence, opt for natural foods when looking to have a large caloric intake without having too much sodium. Instead of going for processed or prepackaged foods, try to have 80% of your foods from natural ways and just 20% from processed foods.
If it comes in a package, it most likely will have a significant amount of sodium to increase taste and preserve it.
Read The Nutrition Label
When looking to add high-calorie and low-sodium foods, the most important thing is to check the nutrition label. This is going to be key in your process. Without checking the label, you might not know how much sodium you have.
Remember, make sure that it has less than 150 mg of sodium.
Check out these 15 Best Low Sodium Store Bought Salsa
Reasons To Include High-Calorie Foods With Low In Sodium In Your Diet
Someone might be looking to eat foods in calories when they are in a weight gain phase. To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than your body needs. Often, an average caloric intake for weight gain could be around 3000 kcal for males and 2500 kcal for females—a vast number of calories to fulfill.
Since you need to add a lot of food during the day, you might consume more sodium than your body needs if you are not careful. However, your body can excrete it through sweat and urine. A high sodium intake could lead to high blood pressure in the long run.
Athletes tend to have high caloric intake, especially when talking about high-performance athletes. Although they tend to lose some sodium during their sweat, they still need to control their sodium intake to prevent their blood pressure from getting too high.
An athlete that gets high blood pressure could be very risky since it could lead to fatal heart problems.
Additionally, you want to avoid water retention to prevent any further heart problems or even respiratory problems.
High Blood Pressure
For those with high blood pressure, you need to monitor the amount of sodium you eat per day.
Finding foods that are low in sodium might be hard to find. Suppose you constantly exercise, fast, or have a high caloric intake for any other condition. In that case, you might want to eat high-calorie foods but control your sodium intake.
Other High Calorie Meal Plans
- Top 10 Foods High In Calories But Low In Protein
- Top 10 Foods High In Calories But Low In Sugar
- Top 10 Foods High in Calories But Low In Saturated Fats
- 10 Best High-Calorie Low-Fiber Foods
- 15 High Calories Low FODMAP Foods
- High-Calorie Alternatives To Milk: 3 Dairy-Free Options
- 15 Best High Calorie Low Carb Foods
Other Low Sodium Food Lists
- 12 Low Sodium Store-Bought Desserts
- 13 Best Low Sodium Store-Bought Pizza & Pizza Crusts
- 10 Low Sodium Pesto Sauce Brands
- 12 Best Low Sodium Store-Bought Marinades
- 10 Best Low-Sodium Pickles
- 12 Best Low-Sodium Ice Cream Brands
About The Author
Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist. In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.