Whether you want to avoid them or include them, you can find plenty of high-calorie foods for your vegan diet. It's a popular misconception that vegans subsist solely on fruits and vegetables, but a whole other world of legumes, grains, tubers and other foods can contribute plenty of calories without animal products. Fat, the biggest contributor, has more than twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbohydrates. The good news is that the fat found in a vegan diet is almost entirely the healthy, unsaturated kind. But fat isn't your only calorie-laden avenue, either -- plenty of grains and certain fruits and vegetables can pack a calorie punch as well.
Nuts are the easiest way to add calories to a vegan diet. A single ounce of almonds, peanuts or pistachios has about 164 calories, while an ounce of macadamias or pecans can have approximately 200 calories. Sprinkle them over a salad, munch them as a snack or enjoy any variety of all-natural nut butters, and watch your calorie consumption skyrocket. Nut fats are overwhelmingly unsaturated and provide some extra protein as well. (See References 1)
Plant-based oils like olive, canola and coconut are another good way to add calories to your diet, each carrying around 120 calories per tablespoon. Although they're not exactly foods themselves -- though in solid form with a little sweetener, you could eat coconut oil by the spoonful -- they add calories during cooking when they absorb into your food. Use them in stir-fries and in place of butter when sauteing. A drizzle of olive oil complements an aged balsamic vinegar on your salad, and a dash of sesame oil adds flavor and calories to miso soup. (see References 1)
Soy is generally considered a healthier meat substitute, and it is -- lower in sodium, cholesterol and fat, but not in calories. A cup of edamame has 376 calories -- it's easy to forget that it's a legume, not a vegetable, despite the green bean appearance. A cup of tempeh, which is fermented soy, has 320 calories. (See References 1) Processed forms of soy like vegetarian hot dogs and soy cheese may be even higher in calories, depending upon the brand. In fact, Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky recommends limiting meat substitutes in favor of whole foods to avoid weight gain (see References 2).
Grains pack a double calorie punch. First, they can be high in calories themselves. Second, they're the foods that most people eat with high-calorie condiments. Quinoa is a healthy grain that doubles as a complete protein source, but it also contains a whopping 635 calories per cup. Amaranth comes in at 729 calories per cup. The more common grains like corn, wild rice and brown rice contain a more reasonable 165 to 200 calories per cup. If you're trying to gain weight, plan your meals around a main dish of grains. To lose weight, treat grains more like a side dish. (See References 1)
Fruits and Vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables are low-calorie, but not the avocado, with 240 calories per cup (see References 1). The preparation method matters, too -- potato chips are vegan, but they're definitely not low calorie. Other fruits and vegetables are water-heavy and calorie-light, but the savvy vegan uses them to her advantage. To lose weight, enjoy your fruits whole to get all the flavor, fiber and nutrients in a low-calorie package. To gain weight, juice your fruits and vegetables to enjoy a more concentrated form that packs several servings' worth of produce into a single glass of juice. You don't get the fiber in the juice, though, so eat plenty of high-fiber grains and whole fruit to balance the deficiency.
Angela Brady has been writing since 1997. Currently transitioning to a research career in oncolytic virology, she has won awards for her work related to genomics, proteomics, and biotechnology. She is also an authority on sustainable design, having studied, practiced and written extensively on the subject.