Those who are looking to gain weight need foods that are high calorie, but not completely full of junk, like sugar.
What are the benefits of high calorie, low sugar foods? Eating high-energy-dense foods that are not high in sugar prevents insulin levels from spiking. Managing to keep your insulin levels low while eating high calorie food helps avoid any fat gain. This is important when bulking, as you want the weight gain coming from muscle, not fat.
In this article, I will share with you the top 10 foods to add to your diet to increase your caloric intake without adding too much (or even any) sugar.
But first, let’s define what a high-calorie, low sugar food is…
What Defines A Food High In Calories and Low In Sugar?
The most important question is how to define a food that is high in calories and low in sugar? An energy-dense food is that which has a lot of calories for a small volume (a food that doesn’t fill you up).
I normally consider a food high in energy when it has more than 100 calories in 100 grams of product. Additionally, for a food to be classified as low sugar, in my opinion as a registered dietitian, it needs to have less than 5 grams of sugar per portion size.
Why 5 g of sugar?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended daily intake is to have less than 10% of your daily calories coming from sugar. On average, for a 2500 kcal caloric intake, this means no more than 25 g of sugar per day.
Thus, a reasonable amount for low sugar is to have 5 g per meal, which represents a 20% of your total sugar intake based on the 25 g of sugar per day.
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Added Sugar vs Natural Sugar In High Calorie Foods
There is a big difference between natural sugars found in food and added sugars.
The recommendation given previously by the World Health Organization comes from added sugars. Those that are added artificially to increase the taste of the food.
Foods tend to have naturally occurring sugars, which in most cases, don’t have the same effect as added sugars.
If food has natural sugar, the recommended intake can be slightly higher. I would recommend not having more than 10 g of natural sugars per meal when trying to control your intake.
Best Foods High In Calories Low In Sugar
The top 10 foods high in calories but low in sugar are:
- Peanut butter
- Cheddar Cheese
- Olive Oil
Hummus is a great option when looking for a snack high in calories and low in sugar. Since hummus is made from chickpeas, hummus is an excellent choice that provides carbs and has plant-based protein.
In 100 g of hummus, you can find the following nutritional value.
- Calories: 243
- Carbs: 14.9 g
- Sugar: 0.3 g
- Protein: 7.4 g
- Fats: 17.1 g
As you can see, hummus is a very energy-dense food. It has 2.4 kcal per gram of food. Since it has less than 1 g of sugar per serving size, it is also considered a low-sugar food.
Hummus is a good option for those following a plant-based diet and looking to add on calories without too much sugar. You can have it with some homemade pita chips or some veggie sticks.
Yams are an excellent carb option that is high in calories. They provide your body with the necessary energy if you live an active lifestyle.
In 100 g of yams, you can find the following nutritional value.
- Calories: 116
- Carbs: 27.5 g
- Sugar: 0.5 g
- Protein: 1.5 g
- Fats: 0.1 g
Another energy-dense food provides more than 100 calories per 100 g of product. It has less than 1 g of sugar per serving size.
However, yams are mostly carbs. If you are looking to increase your fat and protein intake, yams might not be the way to go. You need to add other options like chicken (protein) and avocado (healthy fats).
Oats have a lot of calories in a small volume. In 100 g of oats, you find the following nutritional value.
- Calories: 379
- Carbs: 67.7 g
- Sugar: 1.0 g
- Protein: 13.2 g
- Fats: 6.5 g
If you are looking to add carbs to your diet without adding sugar, oats are the way to go. It also has a lot of protein, which is ideal for those looking to add some more plant-based protein.
However, be careful about what toppings you add. Honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar (some of the most common toppings), could jeopardize what you are trying to achieve by adding sugar.
One of my favorite high-calorie and low-sugar foods is pasta. Thanks to it being energy-dense, it helps athletes achieve their total caloric intake without adding too much sugar. In 100 g of cooked pasta, you find the following nutritional information.
- Calories: 157
- Carbs: 30.6 g
- Sugar: 0.6 g
- Protein: 9.8 g
- Fats: 0.2 g
A bowl of pasta is the perfect dish for those that need to increase their caloric intake without adding sugar. Have it along with some protein and a veggie dish, and you have a complete meal that is high in calories and low in sugar.
5. Peanut butter
Fats, by nature, tend to be energy-dense and low in sugar. Peanut butter is an excellent choice when looking to add calories without too much bulk and not much sugar. In 100 g of peanut butter, you have the following nutritional information.
- Calories: 590
- Carbs: 21.8 g
- Sugar: 9.3 g
- Protein: 24.0 g
- Fats: 49.9 g
Although it has 9.3 g of sugar, those are natural from peanuts. The type of sugar we need to be on the lookout for is added sugar.
However, always make sure to read the nutrition label of peanut butter. In some cases, sugar and oils are added to the mix. Whenever possible, opt for natural peanut butter or make it homemade by adding some peanuts to a food processor.
- Calories: 160
- Carbs: 8.5 g
- Sugar: 0.7 g
- Protein: 2.0 g
- Fats: 14.7 g
As you can see, avocados have less than 1 g of sugar per serving size. It is low in carbs and high in fats. You can add it to your main meals (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), or to your snacks to increase your overall calories. Add a protein along with avocado to make the most more balanced.
Nuts and seeds are a great way to add calories without adding sugar. Since they are found in the fat group, they are mainly composed of fats with little to no sugar. In 100 g of almonds, you find the following nutritional information.
- Calories: 579
- Carbs: 21.6 g
- Sugar: 4.4 g
- Protein: 21.5 g
- Fats: 49.9 g
Almonds are one of the most energy-dense foods available. In 100 g of almonds, you get over 500 calories. The sugar found is almonds’ natural sugar.
Stay away from almonds that are covered with anything (like chocolate or sugar) since it can increase the sugar content in your diet.
8. Cheddar Cheese
Cheese tends to be very every-dense (unless it is low-fat). Cheese is usually high in protein and fats, making it an ideal food to increase calories without adding sugar. You find the following nutritional information in 100 g of cheddar cheese.
- Calories: 410
- Carbs: 2.1 g
- Sugar: 0.0 g
- Protein: 24.2 g
- Fats: 33.8 g
For those looking to increase their calories and protein intake, cheddar cheese is the way to go. It doesn’t have any sugar available, and it offers a substantial amount of calories per serving size.
- Calories: 127
- Carbs: 0.0 g
- Sugar: 0.0 g
- Protein: 20.5 g
- Fats: 4.4 g
Although it doesn’t contain as many calories as cheddar cheese, it is an excellent option to increase calories without adding too much sugar and healthy fats. The fats (omega-3) found in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce inflammation in your body—making it recover and function better.
Read our guide on the Best Fish For Bodybuilding for more choices.
10. Olive Oil
Finally, olive oil is one of the top foods you might want to add when looking to add calories without adding sugar. In 100 g of olive oil, you have the following nutritional information.
- Calories: 884
- Carbs: 0.0 g
- Sugar: 0.0 g
- Protein: 0.0 g
- Fats: 100.0 g
All of the calories found in olive oil are from fats. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about how much you consume and how much sugar it is going to have. Add olive oil to your favorite dishes to increase your caloric intake.
You can even add olive oil to your protein shake.
Sample Menu: High Calories, Low Sugar
It is very easy to build a menu that is high in calories and low in sugar. You can find a sample menu with foods high in calories but low in sugar in the following table.
100 g of oats
50 g peanut butter
75 g of cheddar cheese
50 g of almonds
200 g of yams
150 g of salmon
150 g of avocado
150 g of hummus
250 g of pasta
20 g of olive oil
150 g of ground beef
This is just an idea on how to add all top 10 foods in a day to have a higher caloric intake without adding too much sugar.
Remember to add a protein source in every meal to balance everything, and add veggies to increase your nutrient intake.
If you want high-calorie foods while eating out, then check out our resource section on Eating Fast Food When Bulking.
Tips on How To Increase Calories Without Increasing Sugar
If you are looking to include your caloric intake without adding too much sugar, here are a couple of tips that might help you out.
Choose High-fat Foods
High fats foods like nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado are very energy-dense and low in sugar. Thus, you can increase your daily calories without adding any additional sugar. Since fats are energy-dense, make sure to control the portion size to not go over your daily calories more than you need.
Opt for Sugar-free Foods
If you are looking for something sweet, like ice cream, opt for sugar-free ones. That way, you get all of the calories from the ice cream without adding too much sugar to your diet. Sugar substitutes are a great way of satisfying that sweetness without increasing your daily sugar.
Read our article on Can You Eat Ice Cream On A High Protein Diet for more ideas on sugar-free options.
Choose Whole Grains
If you are looking to add carbs to your diet, choose those less processed or refined. These foods are energy-dense but low in sugar. Thus, opt for options like sweet potato, quinoa, rice, or lentils to increase your calories without adding sugar.
Stay Away from Beverages
Beverages are high in calories, mostly coming from sugar. Thus if your goal is to stay within a daily sugar limit, you should stay away from sugary beverages. Choose beverages low in sugar (less than 5 g per serving size) or, hopefully, one that doesn’t have any added sugars.
Stay Away From Fruit Juice
What about fruit juices? If you have fruit juice, make sure to make it yourself from fresh fruit. Even if fruit juices might not have any added sugar, they still offer natural sugar that comes from fruit.
Reasons To Include High-Calorie Foods With Low In Sugar In Your Diet
You’re Looking To Gain Weight
Your caloric needs are going to be greater in a weight gain phase. Thus, you need to find foods that provide a lot of energy without adding too much volume (i.e. foods that don’t make you feel stuffed all the time). That is when foods high in calories but low in sugar come into place. They provide the necessary calories without significantly impacting your insulin levels.
For those in a weight gain phase and have diabetes, reaching their total calories without spiking their sugar levels is crucial. When consuming high sugar foods, having hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can be critical for someone with diabetes. It could potentially lead to coma due to having more sugar in your blood than your body can handle.
You’re An Athlete
Athletes tend to have a significant caloric intake. On average, an athlete’s caloric intake could reach 3000 kcal. Even if they are not in a weight gain, their calories are usually very high due to their increased activity levels.
In my experience, most athletes have a hard time finding ways to add on calories without adding too much sugar. But why? Increasing sugar levels could lead to a sugar rush, followed by a crash. This means that you get a spike in your glucose, followed by a decrease in your sugar levels. This could lead to making you feel hungry and sluggish.
Having a steadier energy release during the day is better for an athlete.
You Use Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you have windows of eating and periods where you don’t eat. It can be either 12, 16, or even 18 hours of fasting with the remaining part of the day dedicated to eating.
Since you are eating fewer meals per day, and generally have less time throughout the day to eat, you might want to find energy-dense foods to help reach your daily caloric intake.
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Other High Calorie Foods
Check out our other high-calorie food lists:
- Top 10 Foods High In Calories But Low In Protein
- Top 10 Foods High In Calories But Low In Sodium
- 15 High Calories Low FODMAP Foods
- How To Gain Weight Without Eating Sugar (Sample Meal Plan)
- Can You Eat Sugar While Bulking? (Complete Guide)
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.