People often think about losing weight and shunning high-calorie foods. But for those who have lost weight due to cancer treatments and other illnesses, healthy high-calorie foods are essential for gaining back the weight. People with diabetes benefit from nutrient-dense foods to manage blood sugar. Endurance athletes and those who have physically demanding jobs need to refuel without a sugar crash. Whether you're recovering from illness or training for a marathon, a good dose of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals at every meal keeps your body running smoothly.


Packed with protein and iron, steak is a powerhouse. Women generally don't eat enough protein, and a dearth of this nutrient leads to fatigue, especially when iron is being lost during menstruation. If you're feeling tired, a small portion of steak could be just the pick-me-up to fulfill your body's protein and iron needs and combat that fatigue. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so whether it's a filet mignon with a green salad, beef and broccoli stir-fry, or a steak fajita with fresh salsa, pair your red meat with a big side of veggies for the healthiest benefits. A serving of beef is only 3 or 4 ounces, though, so don't overdo it.

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Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is creamy and satisfying and the probiotics help the digestive system stay on track. It is packed with protein and calcium to help build muscle and maintain strong bones. If you tend to have stomach issues, Greek yogurt is a great option to help heal your gut. Blend it with fruits and vegetables in a smoothie or mix in some nuts and dried fruits. You'll get a healthier ratio of fiber, protein, and sugars than if you buy flavored yogurt. Depending on your needs, choose a nonfat or a whole milk yogurt, but pay attention to portion sizes.

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Peanut Butter

Peanut butter and other nut and seed butter, such as almond and sunflower seed, are excellent sources of protein, healthy fats, and vitamin E. They are great choices for people who need to gain or maintain weight but have sensitive stomachs that leave them unable to digest the heavier proteins in meats. The classic peanut butter sandwiches or apples and peanut butter you enjoyed as a child are a healthy snack choice as an adult, too.

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Hot Chocolate

A cup of hot chocolate feels like a warm hug on a cold day and it's tempting to turn to this comforting drink in the winter. When made from a packet of instant cocoa mix and some hot water, it's not a healthy snack. But when one makes hot chocolate from skim or low-fat milk and dark chocolate with just a bit of sweetener, it is a mug full of protein, calcium, and antioxidants. Enjoy the soothing power of chocolate without all the extra sugar.

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There's a reason a cold beer tastes so good if you've been working hard or working out, especially on a warm day. Your body wants to replenish the water and the carbohydrates it lost while sweating. When paired with lean protein and fruits or vegetables, such as a chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato, it can be part of a balanced recovery meal. Don't overindulge, though, or else the sugar in the alcohol unravels all the benefits of the workout. It's still a good idea to drink plenty of water.

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For a meal full of protein, fiber, and vitamins, look no further than the nearest taco truck. Not all tacos are created equal, however, so to reap the health benefits, choose tacos with lean meat such as grilled chicken or fish, black beans, a fresh salsa, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and avocado instead of sour cream. The meat, beans, veggies, and avocado all work together to provide a balanced, nourishing meal.

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Sweet Potato

It has the word "sweet" in its name, but that doesn't mean sweet potato is bad for you. This tuber is actually a great carbohydrate, especially for people with celiac disease who find their healthy carb options limited due to their gluten-free diet. Slow-release complex carbohydrates don't spike your blood sugar in the same way simple carbs do, and sweet potatoes have lots of vitamins and fiber. Whether, baked, roasted, or mashed, adding sweet potatoes to your plate is a healthy treat.

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Some people shy away from oatmeal for being too high in carbohydrates, but this little breakfast bowl packs fiber, protein, and nutrients into your morning, as well as complex carbohydrates. Oatmeal is good for a heart-healthy diet and is gluten-free (although check for certified gluten-free oats to be sure there's no cross-contamination). Choose unflavored oats and mix in fruit, honey, nuts, or even a bit of jam to avoid all the sugar in flavored instant oatmeal packets - oatmeal definitely doesn't have to be boring. This bowl of cereal keeps you warm and full all morning long.

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Anyone on a heart-healthy diet should make plenty of room for salmon on their plates. Salmon is an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health. These healthy fats also support brain function and benefit the body in a variety of other ways. Salmon has as much protein as most meats but can be easier to digest. For a change from some of the steamed vegetables that often accompany salmon, try pairing it with a citrus fruit salad. The oil in the fish helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins from any fruits or vegetables.

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Look beyond the American cheese singles from your childhood to find a snack full of protein and calcium. Some cheeses have healthy fats in them, too. From feta to gouda, most cheeses have a strong flavor, so a little goes a long way toward satisfying cravings without overeating. A plate of cheddar and fruit is a healthy, high-protein snack; or, sprinkle parmesan over salads and other dishes to boost the flavor and add some bone-strengthening calcium.

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