- January 24, 2023
- by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
- 0 Comments
The 10 Best High Calorie Plant-Based Foods
Trying to gain weight? Try including these high-calorie plant-based foods in your diet! Each is a nutritious option for your body.
If you want to gain weight, then it’s unlikely that plant-based foods are the first options to come to mind.
But you may be surprised to know that not only can you gain weight by eating high-calorie plant-based foods, you can do so in a healthy way by choosing nutritious foods.
You have a lot to consider when upping calories in your diet for weight-gain purposes. And these high-calorie vegan foods can help you get started on achieving your weight-gain goal. They also pack nutrients into every bite!
Calories: 356 calories per 1/4 cup
Tahini is a sesame paste used in traditional hummus and baba ganoush recipes, and it’s gotten more popular as a base for dressings and a drizzle over build-your-own bowl style meals.
With a consistency similar to peanut butter, tahini is made by blending sesame seeds into a paste. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular high calorie vegan foods, given that it’s a delicious option to replace nut butters for people with nut allergies.
In addition to increasing the calories of your meal, tahini also boasts other benefits: It provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats, as well as essential nutrients including iron, magnesium, and calcium.
Enjoy tahini in your diet:
- Mix it into a dressing to use on a salad.
- Add it to a smoothie.
- Mix it into baked goods in place of peanut butter or almond butter.
- Add it as a spread on whole-grain toast.
- Use it in a homemade granola bar recipe.
Calories: 307 calories per 1 cup dry
Oats are a whole grain and a source of fiber, magnesium, and zinc.
They boast a really big heart-health benefit: Because they contain beta glucan, oat products, like oatmeal, are allowed to display the FDA-approved claim that eating oats is connected with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease.
Indeed, research in International Journal of Molecular Medicine shows eating beta-glucan soluble fiber is connected with a reduction of total and LDL “bad” cholesterol.
In addition to their heart-health benefits, eating oats is associated with the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Oats are extremely versatile and an inexpensive pantry staple.
Make oats a part of your diet with these simple recipe ideas:
- Blend them into a smoothie.
- Add oats to a lentil loaf or “meat” balls.
- Cook a bowl of oats, and top with fruit and nuts or nut butter.
- Add oats to baked goods.
- Looking for more recipes? Pick from one of these 49 recipes featuring oats.
3. Dried fruit
Calories: About 250 calories per 1/2 cup, depending on dried fruit variety
Dried fruit is a great pick when it comes to high calorie plant-based foods. It offers a convenient way to boost calories and fiber in your diet. When fruit is dried, the food’s water content is reduced––and so the food becomes more concentrated in calories.
This can make dried fruit a great choice for anyone looking to up their total daily calorie intake.
Unsweetened dried fruit is naturally high in fructose, aka fruit sugar. This sugar is different from the added sugar used to sweeten dried fruit.
Considering that dried fruit is sweet on its own, skip the sweetened versions and opt for those unsweetened or seasoned with spices such as cinnamon.
Add dried fruit to the diet:
- Make a DIY trail mix with your favorite dried fruits and nuts.
- Sprinkle dried fruit onto a salad.
- Add dried fruit to yogurt.
- Mix dried fruit into oatmeal or cereal.
- Add it to homemade granola or granola bars.
4. Hummus and other bean dips
Calories: 100 to 200 calories per 1/4 cup, depending on dip variety
Beans are an excellent way to add nutrient-dense calories to a plant-based diet. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, beans are both a vegetable and a protein. This makes them one of the go-to high-calorie vegan foods.
Beans are a source of soluble fiber and contain magnesium, folate, potassium, and other essential nutrients.
Potassium is considered a “nutrient of concern” by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as it’s an under-consumed nutrient in the American diet.
Potassium is present in every cell in the body and plays an important role in fluid balance and blood pressure management.
Hummus, black bean dip, fava bean dip, and others are convenient for snacking, adding to dressings, or adding to a sandwich as a spread.
Add hummus and other bean dips to your diet:
- Use hummus as a dip for vegetables or crackers.
- Add hummus or a bean spread to toast for breakfast.
- Make a veggie burrito with hummus.
- Stir bean dip into a soup for extra creaminess.
- Pair edamame hummus with sliced vegetables.
Calories: 368 calories per 1 cup mashed
Avocado has increased in popularity over the last 20 years. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, per capita avocado consumption in the United States has tripled since 2001.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat, a type of unsaturated dietary fat associated with reduced inflammation and improved heart health.
These heart-health benefits are especially true when saturated fats are swapped with unsaturated fats in the diet, according to an advisory from the American Heart Association.
Add avocado to the diet by:
- Mashing and spreading it on a sandwich.
- Making guacamole and using this as a dip for vegetables.
- Blending it into a smoothie.
- Slicing and eating it alongside eggs or a tofu scramble.
- Using it in a deviled eggs recipe.
6. Olive oil
Calories: 238 calories per 1/4 cup
Olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and is a nutritious way to boost your daily calories. It’s made by crushing the olive fruit and separating the pulp from the oils.
This oil is a natural source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. In fact, a 2020 study found that people who consumed greater amounts of olive oil were more likely to have a lower risk of heart disease, per research in Circulation.
The study authors estimate that replacing a certain amount of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with olive oil could lead to a 5 to 7 percent lower risk of heart disease.
In addition to healthy fats, olive oil is also rich in polyphenols. One of these, called oleocanthal, is linked to many health benefits. According to research in Nutrients, oleocanthal has strong anti-inflammatory properties and may also boost brain health.
Try including olive oil in these ways:
- Sauté vegetables in it.
- Stir a Tablespoon or two of olive oil into cooked pasta or rice.
- Make homemade salad dressings.
- Prep homemade pesto, and use it on pastas or potatoes.
- Drizzle some over coconut-or fruit-based ice cream.
7. Soy milk
Calories: 110 calories per 1 cup
Plant-based milks are abundant on grocery-store shelves, but not all are equal. Soy milk is comparable to dairy milk, with 8 grams of protein per cup. Thus sets it apart from many plant-based milks that are lower in protein.
Research, including a study in Circulation, have found an association between soy in the diet and reduction of LDL cholesterol.
While soy milk doesn’t contain much fiber, other whole-food sources of soy like edamame are a significant source of fiber––as one cup of cooked edamame offers over 30 percent of the recommended daily value for fiber.
This, plus soy’s unsaturated fat content, plays a big role in the cardiovascular benefits that soy offers.
How to add soy milk to your diet:
- Use it as a base for cooking oatmeal.
- Use soy milk as a base for smoothies.
- Add it to soups for extra creaminess.
- Use it as a coffee creamer.
- Make a creamy soup with it.
278 calories per 1 large potato
‘Taters often get a bad rap, since most of the potato consumption in the American diet comes from fried potatoes––including fries, hash browns, and potato chips.
However, potatoes themselves, before they’re fried, are a nutritious addition to the diet.
You can shop a wide variety of potatoes, and all offer slightly different nutrients. For example, sweet potatoes are a source of beta carotene, while purple potatoes contain anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds found in purple fruits and vegetables.
Still other potatoes, like the more common russet potato, are rich in potassium.
These calorie- and nutrient-rich root vegetables are versatile and can easily be added to the diet in a variety of ways. Steer clear of the fried types that are often high in saturated fat and opt instead for baked, roasted, mashed, or other preparations.
Try adding potatoes to the diet:
- Make baked fries.
- Bake a potato, and stuff it with beans and veggies.
- Add it to a soup.
- Add sweet potato wedges to a plant-powered bowl.
- Make potato milk.
9. Peanut butter
Calories: 376 calories per 1/4 cup
Peanut butter offers a cost-effective way to increase calories in a plant-based diet. Plus, the unsaturated fats and protein it offers makes it a filling addition to snacks and meals.
If that’s not enough reason to add it to your diet, then consider this: Research in Journal of the American Heart Association shows that eating nuts, like peanuts, is connected with a lowered risk of heart disease.
Plus, peanut butter also provides magnesium and potassium––and is a surprising source of fiber, with close to 4 grams of fiber in a quarter-cup serving.
Think beyond the peanut butter and jelly sandwich:
- Add peanut butter to smoothies.
- Use peanut butter as a dip for fruit.
- Add peanut butter to baked products like muffins or quick breads.
- Stir peanut butter into oatmeal.
- Make these delicious peanut butter cookies.
Calories: 230 calories per 1 cup cooked lentils
Lentils are a staple in Indian and Mediterranean cuisines but are versatile enough to boost the calories of any dish. They’re a type of legume and belong in the same family as beans, while offering many of the same nutritional benefits.
Lentils are high in protein and fiber, with one cup of cooked lentils offering 18 grams and 16 grams, respectively. Additionally, lentils provide potassium and folate, two nutrients that many Americans don’t consume enough of in their diets.
Lentils also provide plant-based iron, which can often be challenging to consume in adequate amounts when following a vegan or vegetarian diet. Including iron-rich plant sources daily can help ensure total daily iron needs are met.
Go ahead and add lentils to your high calorie plant-based foods list!
Include lentils in the diet:
- Make lentil burgers or lentil “meat” loaf.
- Add cooked lentils to a leafy green salad, or combine lentils and fruit.
- Make a grain and lentil pilaf.
- Blend lentils into a soup.
- Make a side dish featuring lentils and fruit.
- Make lentils with egg toast.
Instead of relying on high-calorie foods that don’t pack in the nutrients, choose calorie-rich, plant-based, and nutritious options to improve your diet quality while also reaching your weight-gain goal.
Plus, these high-calorie vegan foods are really tasty!
- Research in International Journal of Molecular Medicine
- The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service
- An advisory from the American Heart Association
- Research in Circulation
- Research in Nutrients
- A study in Circulation
- Research in Journal of the American Heart Association
Let me know what you think about these high calorie plant based foods! Would you add anything else to the list?
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