High-calorie vegan foods

High-calorie vegan foods

By Jinan Banna, PhD, RD

Lots of people have gone vegan these days. The vegan diet is touted for being healthy for the body and the planet, and some of those who have gone vegan report weight loss, glowing skin, and lots of energy. When thinking of a vegan diet, images of fruits and vegetables come to mind easily. You might think of going vegan as being “on a diet”, as you might think you are going to cut your calories. But, did you know that many vegan foods are actually pretty high in calories? This article will give you a long list of examples of these foods so you can be aware as you are planning your diet if you choose to go vegan.

Let’s start off by saying that there’s nothing wrong with consuming high-calorie foods. Many of the high-calorie foods on the list below are rich in nutrients. In fact, when I select foods, I generally pay very little attention to the calorie content. Instead, I look at the ingredients list, as well as at the content of various components of the diet, such as saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol and added sugar (we should limit these in the diet), as well as unsaturated fat, fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals (important for health). High-calorie foods can be part of a diet for weight loss as well. 

It’s good, however, to have a general understanding of which foods are high and low in calories. A healthy diet has a mix of these foods–fruits and vegetables (generally low in calories in comparison to other foods) are important, as well as foods from all other food groups, some of which may be higher in calories. You’ll also want to note that high-calorie foods are often rich in fat, as fat provides more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrate. In this article, I’ll name foods from all the food groups that are generally higher in calories than others, including some fruits and vegetables.

Protein

Nuts:

Nuts are high in fat, which contributes to the high caloric content. The fat found in nuts, however, is mostly unsaturated fat, which is heart-healthy. Nuts also provide many other important nutrients, such as protein, vitamins and minerals. They also are a source of fiber. I use nuts in so many different ways in the diet, such as in my oatmeal at breakfast, in recipes like a mushroom loaf I often make, and as part of desserts.

Nut butter:

Nut butter has all the nutritional qualities of nuts, of course. On top of nuts, however, you might find other ingredients in nut butter that contribute calories, such as added sugar. A couple of tablespoons of nut butter generally contribute about 200 calories to the diet, depending on the type. For a breakdown of the nutritional info, check out this article on nut butter.

Grains

Quinoa:

One cup of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, about the same amount you might find in a couple slices of bread. However, quinoa is very nutritious. It contains 8 grams of protein per cup, along with 4 grams of mostly unsaturated fat and 5 grams of fiber. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals, with nearly 3 mg iron per cup, as well as manganese, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Quinoa is great for salads, as well as for breakfast cereal.

Bagels:

Bagels provide quite a bit in the way of calories and carbohydrates, with one mini bagel providing 110 calories and 20 g carbohydrates. You’ll get just 1 g fiber out of the mini bagel, but it also contains 4 g protein. The bagel will also provide iron and calcium, as well as B vitamins. 

Cereals:

Ready-to-eat cereal. Some of these can contain quite a bit in the way of calories. One cup of Raisin Bran, for example, contains 191 calories. From that cup, you’ll get 4 g protein, 46 g carbohydrate and a small amount of fat. This cereal is rich in fiber, with 8 g per cup. It’s rich in vitamins and minerals, with 10 g iron, 2 mg zinc, as well as others. While ready-to-eat cereal is generally vegan, the calories can add up if there is a lot of added sugar. You’ll want to check the label carefully. For a list of all my favorite nutritious cereals, check out this post on healthy cereals

Dairy

Note that products sold as “milks” but made from plants (e.g., almond, rice) are not included as part of the dairy group since they are not nutritionally similar to dairy and soy milk. Thus, I have included the vegan options here that are considered part of this group. 

Calcium-fortified soy milk:

One cup of soy milk contains 105 calories. A cup of nonfat milk, for comparison, contains just 83 calories. While the calorie content of soy is not as high as some of the other dairy substitutes, it’s worth noting. Sweetened soy milk is of course even higher in calories, with 120 calories per cup. If you buy the unsweetened version, soy milk is a good choice nutritionally as a complete protein. 

Calcium-fortified soy yogurt:

A container of soy yogurt contains 150 calories. Just as with soy milk, you’ll want to be aware of any added sugar, which adds calories. Soy yogurt is a great source of protein, just like soy milk. Soy also is a source of antioxidants, which help protect against disease. 

Fruit

Dates:

I’m a huge fan of dried fruit for the natural sweetness and nutritional punch without the added sugar. Half a cup of dates is considered the equivalent of a cup of fruit on MyPlate.gov. A half cup serving provides about 200 calories, with 2 g protein, a small amount of fat and 55 g carbohydrate. Dates contain minerals such as iron, as well as vitamins such as folate. 

Dried figs:

Dried fruit is generally high in calories, as the water has been removed and the energy is concentrated. Ten dried figs is considered the equivalent of a cup of fruit on MyPlate.gov. This serving size contains about 200 calories, which is mostly carbohydrate. You’ll get about 8 g of fiber from that serving size. Figs are also a source of iron, calcium, as well as vitamins. 

Bananas:

One banana contains around 100 calories. Most of that is carbohydrate, with about 25 g per banana. There are also a couple grams of fiber in one banana. Bananas of course provide minerals such as potassium, as well as B vitamins and others. 

Fruit cocktail:

I included this here to illustrate that not all vegan foods are quite that “healthy” and may include a lot of calories in the form of added sugars. While canned fruit cocktail without added sugar is pretty reasonable in terms of calorie content, this same fruit cocktail in heavy syrup contains 150 calories per cup. The total sugar content is 36 g. This food does have some nutritional benefits, however, with a few grams of fiber as well as some vitamins and minerals. Be on the lookout for added sugar as a source of empty calories as a vegan. 

Vegetables

Avocado:

This food makes up part of the vegetable group. Avocados are high in fat, which contributes to the high calorie content. One avocado contains 227 calories, as well as 21 grams of mostly unsaturated fat. They are a great source of fiber, with 9 g per avocado. Avocados are also rich in vitamins and minerals. I create some delicious vegan desserts with avocado, such as the avocado chocolate pudding featured as a quick easy dessert here

Potatoes:

One medium white potato contains 159 calories. Both white and sweet potatoes are very nutritious. One medium white potato contains about 3 g of protein and fiber and various vitamins and minerals. They are also a source of phytochemicals, which provide disease protection. It’s good to be aware of the carbohydrate content of potatoes and consider how they fit into your diet. A meal that includes potatoes, bread and rice generally doesn’t make too much sense nutritionally. 

Plantains:

One cup of yellow baked plantains contains 215 calories. This amount provides 2 g protein, a small amount of fat and 3 g fiber. The carbohydrate content of plantains is pretty high, with 57 g in a cup. Like the other foods on this list, these are rich in vitamins and minerals, including quite a bit of folate. 

Breadfruit:

One and a half cups of cooked breadfruit counts as one cup of vegetables on MyPlate.gov. That serving size contains about 300 calories, which is quite a bit for a food in the vegetable group. If we look at the nutritional content of just 1 cup of breadfruit, we see it provides about 2 g protein and 5 g fat, as well as 8 g fiber. Breadfruit also contains a host of vitamins and minerals. I got creative with breadfruit when it was in season in Hawaii and created some bars with coconut milk. 

Hominy:

One cup of hominy contains 119 calories, so it’s not quite as high in calories as some of the other vegetables, but still worth noting. This serving size provides a couple of grams of protein and fat, 23 g of carbohydrate, and 4 g fiber. It provides numerous vitamins and minerals, including some iron, at 1 mg. 

Corn:

A cup of corn has 143 calories. It weighs in at 5 g protein per cup, 2 g fat, and 31 g carbohydrate. It also provides about 3 g fiber. It’s a source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, B vitamins and potassium. 

Green peas:

A cup of green peas contains 134 calories. You’ll find an impressive 9 g protein per cup, as well as a small amount of fat and 25 g carbohydrate. One cup also provides 9 g fiber. A serving provides a couple of grams of iron, as well as other minerals such as potassium. Green peas also provide folate and other vitamins. 

Oils:

Now that we’ve gone through all the food groups, it’s worth mentioning too that oils are part of a vegan diet and are high in calories due to the fat content. Oils, however, are generally a source of mainly heart-healthy unsaturated fat, with the exception of some such as coconut oil. Heart-healthy choices include olive, avocado and sesame, among many others.

Final Thoughts

Be aware that vegan foods vary greatly in terms of calorie content, and that not all vegan foods are necessarily healthy. I’ve provided a list of nutritious high-calorie vegan foods here, but I could have just as easily put together a list of ultra-processed vegan foods. Remember, it’s very important to look beyond calories and check the ingredients list as well as nutritional content. It’s equally as important to enjoy your food, so keep that in mind as you make your choices as well!

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