*This is not a sponsored post – specific brands mentioned are purely for informational purposes*
Vegan diets are typically associated with having a lower body weight, so you may be wondering if it’s possible to gain weight on a vegan diet. We all know the stereotypical image of vegans – thin, frail, and about to wither away from protein deficiency.
Alternatively, maybe you aren’t vegan but are looking for ways to gain weight while incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet.
In either case, you’re in the right place. In this article we will identify the best high calorie vegan foods and discuss strategies for eating more of them.
Can you gain weight as a vegan?
Many people turn to a vegan diet in an effort to lose weight, so it may seem difficult to gain weight with an exclusively plant-based eating pattern. However, gaining weight on a vegan diet is possible in most cases – you just need to know which foods to focus on.
When trying to gain weight, it’s helpful to focus on eating higher-calorie foods, discussed in more detail below. Eating these foods prior to lower calorie items, like fruits and vegetables, can be a helpful strategy.
That being said, for some people it may be quite difficult to gain weight, and a more realistic strategy may be to prevent or mitigate further weight loss. This can be the case for individuals with health conditions like certain cancers, HIV, or COPD, where the disease itself leads to the loss of fat and muscle, a condition called cachexia. In these situations, more aggressive interventions by a healthcare team may be warranted.
Reasons for including high calorie foods on a vegan diet
People may need to include more high calorie foods in their diet for a variety of reasons:
- They are underweight
- To stop or prevent further unintentional weight loss
- Low appetite, which can occur in older adults, pregnant women, cancer patients, or individuals suffering from depression
- To build muscle, in which case it is also important to eat foods higher in protein
- Hectic personal or work schedules with minimal time available to eat
The best vegan high calorie foods
There are three types of macronutrients present in all foods: fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
The most calorie-dense vegan foods tend to be those with a high fat content, such as oils, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, avocados, and coconut products. This is because fat has 9 calories per gram, as opposed to carbohydrates and protein which have 4 calories per gram.
Foods that are very dense can also be higher in calories per serving. One example is a bagel, which is much more dense and contains less moisture than a regular slice of bread.
Another example is tempeh, a product made from fermented soybeans that are pressed very tightly together. A serving of tempeh contains more beans in a serving than the same serving size of drained canned beans, and therefore contains more calories and protein.
I’ve listed the best high calorie vegan foods for weight gain below, based on common portion sizes. All data has been obtained from the USDA FoodData Central website unless otherwise noted. The best vegan high calorie foods include:
- Whole wheat bagel – 328 calories (1 large bagel)
- Tempeh – 320 calories, 34g protein (1 cup)
- Coconut cream, sweetened* – 265 calories (¼ cup)
- Select commercial meat alternatives* – 220-270 calories (1 serving)
- Macadamia nuts – 241 calories (¼ cup)
- Tofu, firm – 234 calories, 28g protein (½ block)
- Quinoa – 222 calories (1 cup)
- White rice – 204 calories (1 cup)
- Peanut butter – 200 calories (2 Tbsp)
- English walnuts – 200 calories (¼ cup, pieces)
- Tahini – 178 calories (2 Tbsp)
- Dark chocolate (70-85% cacao) – 170 calories (1 oz)
- Vegan pesto – 160-180 calories (1/4 cup; based on Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale, Cashew, & Basil Pesto and HEB Vegan Pesto)
- Pumpkin seeds – 158 calories (1 oz, or a handful)
- Cashews – 157 calories (1 oz, or a handful)
- Hummus (store-bought) – 146 calories , 5g protein (¼ cup)
- Extra-virgin olive oil – 120 calories (1 Tbsp)
- Expeller-pressed canola oil – 120 calories (1 Tbsp)
- Vegan protein powder – 120 calories (1 scoop) – this is an average, may vary based on the brand
- Avocado – 114 calories (½ California avocado)
- Dates – 113 calories (¼ cup, or 5 dates)
- Raisins – 108 calories (¼ cup)
- Vegan buttery spreads* – 100 calories (1 Tbsp)
* Coconut cream is very high in saturated fat, so be cautious about including it too frequently or as the main source of added fat in your diet.
* Some of the highest calorie commercial meat alternatives include:
- Tofurkey sausages: 250-260 calories, 24 grams protein in 1 link
- Beyond/Impossible burgers: 220-270 calories, 19-20 grams protein per patty
- Field Roast sausages: 220-240 calories, 23-28 grams protein in 1 link
*Various brands of vegan butter alternatives include:
- Earth Balance (has an olive oil-based version)
- Good & Gather Organic Non-Dairy Buttery Sticks/Spread (Target)
- Country Crock Plant Butter (has olive oil and avocado oil versions)
- Miyoko’s Cultured Vegan Butter
Practical strategies for adding more calories to your diet
- Cook vegetables in extra oil or vegan butter
- Make mashed potatoes with extra vegan butter
- Add protein powder or silken tofu and vegan fats like avocado, flaxseed oil, almond butter, or chia seeds to smoothies
- Spread plenty of avocado, vegan pesto, or hummus on sandwiches
- Add peanut or almond butter to oatmeal, toast, and bagels and top with dried fruit
- Top pancakes and waffles with vegan butter and peanut or almond butter
- Snack on trail mix made with nuts and dried fruit
- Snack on pitted dates filled with peanut butter
- Use pesto as the sauce in pasta dishes
- Add coconut cream to curries or on top of desserts
- Add avocado and cashew “queso” to burrito bowls and tacos
- Saute tempeh in your favorite cooking oil and use it as a base for Buddha bowls, bolognese sauces, tacos, etc.
- Dip vegetables in tahini-based “ranch” dressing
- Drizzle dark chocolate on fruit
- Eat higher calorie foods first before lower calorie foods, like fruits and vegetables, if poor appetite is an issue
It is possible to gain weight on a vegan diet by focusing on eating more calorie-dense foods. These tend to be foods higher in fat, although dried fruit, soy-based foods like tempeh and tofu, and some grain-based foods like bagels and quinoa are also higher in calories for their serving size.