Most people associate a vegan diet with less calories and a lower body weight than a omnivorous diet, however there are plenty of high calorie vegan foods.
Some vegan foods are naturally high in calories and others are high in calories due to processing.
These are worth knowing if you follow a vegan or plant-based diet, and are looking to gain weight or are looking to maintain your current body weight or lose a few pounds.
When we talk about high calorie vegan foods, we are talking about high calorie density foods. All foods are high in calories if you eat enough of them, however its easier to consume more high calorie density foods.
You can learn more about calorie density in my post on What is Calorie Density.
Do animal products contain more calories than plants?
Animal foods often contain more calories than vegan foods, since plant foods also contain fibre. They also often have a higher water content than animal foods.
Below is a list of some of the main high calorie foods that are also considered as vegan foods.
Table of Contents
10 High Calorie Vegan Food Sources
Vegan junk foods
In general, junk foods tend to be associated with weight gain. Vegan foods are no exception. Just like non vegan junk foods, they are high in refined foods, oils and fats, and low in fibre.
Foods such as ice cream, biscuits, French fries, biscuits, donuts and confectionary are all easy to over-consume. These foods have been described as hyper palatable because they are so tempting.
Unfortunately as tempting a they are, they are generally not healthy and can contribute to weight gain through passive consumption of extra calories.
Nuts and Seeds
Some whole foods that are considered healthy, can still be high in calories.
Nut such as walnuts, almonds, cashew and pine nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are high caloire foods that are considered as healthy foods.
Nuts and nut butters such as peanut butter and almond butter tend to be low in saturated fats and higher in fats that are considered more healthy fats, such as mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats . This is similar to seeds and seed butters such as tahini.This means that they contain lots of calories for a given weight or volume of food.
Some calories in nuts come from protein and carbohydrate, but most of the calories tend to come from fat. They contain some fibre but not a lot of water, so most of their weight is made up of calorie containing macro-nutrients.
To illistrate, walnuts contain around 650 calories per 100g. The most calories you can pack into 100g is 900 calories of pure fat, so you can see that walnuts are a very high calorie density food. Seeds such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumkin seeds are also similar in calorie density and macro-nutrient make up as nuts.
Avocados are another example of a food that is considered healthy, but is high in calories. While not nearly as calorific as nuts or seeds, avocados are high in calories fora fruit. 100g of avocado contains around 160 calories. This is over 3 times the calories as the same weight of apple.
While a few slices of avocado aren’t going to make too much difference in the grand scheme of things, throwing a few avocados into a salad or eating a big pot of guacamole can add a good few extra calories to your intake for the day.
Oils that are considered healthy such as olive oil are still high in calories. Oils are in fact the highest energy density food you can consume packing 120 calories into a tablespoon.
Whether its olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oils, avocado oil or sesame oil, all plant-based oils contain a similar number of calories. You cannot pack more calories into a food source.
Fats are simply oils that are hard at room temperature. Although fats such as butter and ghee are animal based foods, these days there are plenty of plant-based fats such as margarines and other plant-based spreads. These are similar in calorie density to oils.
Oils and fats can be added to foods in several ways. They can be added during cooking, if foods are shallow fried or deep fried, or baked with the addition of oil. They can be added to salads as part of a salad dressing. They can also be added to the food in the recipe of a food such as when making cookies or a creamy curry.
High Calorie Beverages
Liquid calories can add additional calories to your day without contributing much to satiety. These can be in the form of soft drinks, milky coffees made with soy milk or other plant-based milks, fruit juices, and alcohol.
If you are in the habit of consuming these a number of times per day, or consuming a few alcoholic beverages in the evening, its easy to add several hundred additional calories on a daily basis.
Smoothies may also be defined as liquid calories. Since they are made by blending the foods rather than extracting the juice, they tend to fill you up more than a juice would, but they are also less satiating than eating the foods in their whole form.
Low calorie beverage alternatives include regular tea and coffee (non milk based), herbal teas, and of course water and sparkling water.
Dressings and Dips
The things we serve along with our food can also contain a significant amount of calories.
High fat salad dressings made with lots of oil can add a few hundred calories to a salad. Vegan mayonaisse is made with lots of oil and is high in calories. Store bought hummus made with oil and tahini is a high calorie food.
In general, dips that are made with a high fat food as a base, such as oil, tahini or a nut butters, are relatively high in calories.
The calorie content in grains can depend on how the grains are processed and also how the grains are cooked.
The calories in refined grains tend to be higher than the calories in whole grains, with the bran and germ layers being removed to leave behind the starchy endosperm. Cooked brown rice as an example, contains around 110 calories per 100g vs 130 calories for white rice.
How grains are made into foods and cooked also influences how high in calories they are. Both bagels and pasta are made from white flour, however cooked pasta only contains around half the calories per weight of food.
Pasta is hydrated during the cooking process, with the pasta absorbing the cooking water. Rice and oats also absorb lots of water when cooked with water. Starchy grains that are hydrated during the cooking process are generally less calorie dense.
Vegan Substitue Foods
These days, there are plenty of plant-based food alternatives available. These can be foods such as vegan sausages, vegan burgers, and vegan cheeses.
These foods are often similar in calories to the animal based foods they are replacing. If an animal based food, such as a burger or cheese, is high in calories, then the vegan based version is often high in calories too.
That being said, some vegan replacement foods are called the same thing as the animal based version but don’t have the same flavour profile as the animal based burger. To illustrate, a vegan beyond burger may be similar in calories to a beef burger, but a black bean burger is probably going to be lower in calories.
Various coconut products are used quite widely in cuisine these days. Coconut oil is used to fry food in, which has a similar calorie count to other oils.
Coconut milk and coconut cream are used to flavour curries and similar dishes and provide a rich creamy flavour. Both of these are very calorific, with the majority of the caloires coming from fat.
Even dessicated (or shredded) coconut is high in calories, containing around 650 calories per 100g.
Vegan Protein Powders
Vegan protein powders, just the popular not vegan protein powders that are often based on whey or casein from milk, can be a great way of adding extra protein to the diet. Although there are plenty of sourced of plant-based
protein, such as beans, lentils and soy products, if you don’t eat many of these foods, or are training and want to ensure you are getting enough protein on a daily basis, a protein powder can help to supplment this requirement.
Since these powders are almost entirely made of protein they contain around 4 calories per gram. Some protein powders also contain added carbohydrate and fat, making them higher in calories.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that consuming a calorie surplus leads to an increase in body weight. It doesn’t matter if these foods are plant or animal based in origin.
For further reading on the subject of calories, you can check out my article on Low Calorie High Volume Meals.
On the subject of vegan nutrition, you can also check out my article on the Best Vegan Protein Sources.