Want to gain weight on a vegetarian diet? While meat and dairy products contain more calories, you can still get enough calories from plant-based foods. This article will discuss 15 high-calorie vegetarian foods perfect for weight gain.
High-calorie foods are often associated with unhealthy eating. But for some, like athletes, growing teens, and underweight individuals, more calories are key for building muscle and maintaining energy levels.
Luckily, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds can easily be added to your diet. Packed with protein, carbs, healthy fats, and calories, these foods make it easy to meet your higher-calorie needs on a vegetarian diet.
High Calorie Veg Foods: Why Do Some Need More Calories?
Many vegetarians have lower calorie intakes than non-vegetarians. Without meat and dairy, hitting higher-calorie goals can be challenging.
Here are some reasons a higher-calorie vegetarian diet may be recommended:
- Underweight. Being underweight comes with health risks like nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, weakened immunity, and irregular menstruation. Weight gain is key.
- High metabolism. Some have a naturally high metabolism and burn calories quicker than others, making weight gain difficult. More calories are needed.
- Teens and growth. During puberty and growth spurts, caloric needs increase dramatically to support development.
- Athletes and active individuals. Athletes need extra calories to fuel workouts and build muscle mass. Active lifestyles burn more calories too.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding. During pregnancy, calorie needs ramp up to nourish the growing baby. Breastfeeding also requires taking in more calories.
If low body weight is an issue for you, speak to your doctor. They can help determine your ideal weight and daily calorie needs for gaining weight safely.
15 High-Calorie Vegetarian Foods
When it comes to high-calorie vegetarian options, nuts, seeds, oils, avocados, soy products, starchy vegetables, and whole grains are your best bets.
Here are 15 of the top high-calorie vegetarian foods to add more calories to your diet:
1. Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts and nut butter are calorie bombs, thanks to their high-fat content.
- Almonds – 164 calories per ounce
- Cashews – 157 calories per ounce
- Walnuts – 185 calories per ounce
- Peanut butter – 188 calories per 2 tablespoons
Snack on nuts by the handful or toss them into cereal, salads, stir-fries, and baked goods. Nut butter can be spread on toast or added to smoothies too.
2. Tahini (Sesame Seed Butter)
Made from ground sesame seeds, tahini packs a major calorie and nutrition punch.
- 2 tablespoons – 178 calories
Use tahini to make hummus, salad dressings, sauces, and more. It’s delicious drizzled over roasted veggies as well.
3. Chia Seeds
These tiny seeds are an easy way to add protein, fiber, and calories.
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) – 138 calories
Sprinkle chia seeds onto cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, and salads, or add to smoothies, muffins, and bread.
4. Dried fruit
With the water removed, dried fruits become calorie-condensed versions of fresh fruit.
- Raisins – 123 calories per ounce
- Dried apricots – 78 calories per ounce
- Dried figs – 93 calories per ounce
- Dates – 82 calories per ounce
Keep dried fruit on hand for snacking or add to trail mixes, cereals, baked goods, and salads. Stick to a 1⁄4 cup serving to keep added sugar in check.
Avocados are creamy, versatile, and packed with calories.
- 1 medium avocado – 234 calories
Mash it up for a toast, add slices to sandwiches, blend into smoothies, or dice it over salads, grains, chili, and tacos.
6. Full-fat coconut milk
A staple in many Asian cuisines, coconut milk adds a creamy richness along with calories.
- 1 cup – 552 calories
Use coconut milk in curries, stews, soups, and stir-fries, or blend it into smoothies.
With oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, homemade granola can be a calorie heavyweight. Or opt for store-bought high-calorie varieties.
- 1⁄2 cup – 200 to 300 calories
Eat granola with milk or yogurt. You can also sprinkle it onto fruit salads.
8. Nutritional yeast
This inactive yeast is a vegan source of vitamin B12, protein, and other nutrients. It also provides calories.
- 2 tablespoons – 60 calories
Sprinkle nutritional yeast onto pasta, potatoes, popcorn, soups, and salads for a savory, cheesy flavor.
Starchy and versatile, potatoes can be prepared in many high-calorie ways – baked, mashed, fried, roasted, sautéed, and more.
- Medium baked potato – 161 calories
- 1 cup mashed potatoes made with milk and butter – 226 calories
All types of beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas provide a healthy dose of carbs, protein, and calories.
- 1 cup kidney beans – 225 calories
- 1 cup black beans – 227 calories
- 1 cup chickpeas – 269 calories
- 1 cup green peas – 125 calories
Add cooked legumes to soups, stews, burritos, rice dishes, pasta, salads, and veggie burgers. Refried beans and hummus are very calorie dense too.
These fun-to-eat young soybeans make the perfect high-protein vegetarian snack.
- 1 cup – 188 calories
Boil or steam edamame in the pods and sprinkle with salt before eating. Shelled edamame works too.
Made from soy milk, tofu is a versatile high protein, high-calorie addition to many vegetarian dishes.
- 1⁄2 cup firm tofu – 88 calories
- 1⁄2 cup fried tofu – 154 calories
Try baked, sautéed, fried, or blended into smoothies, scrambles, and more.
13. Whole grains
Choose whole-grain bread, rice, quinoa, oats, pasta, and cereal for an energizing carb boost.
- 1 cup cooked brown rice – 218 calories
- 1 cup cooked quinoa – 222 calories
- 1 cup cooked oatmeal – 166 calories
14. Olive oil
While high in calories, olive oil provides healthy fats with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- 1 tablespoon – 119 calories
Saute veggies, dress salads, and roast potatoes with liberal amounts of olive oil. Just be mindful of portions.
15. Nondairy milk
Nondairy milk like soy, almond, and oat are naturally higher in calories than skim milk.
- 1 cup soy milk – 80-100 calories
- 1 cup almond milk – 60-90 calories
Use nondairy milk in smoothies, oatmeal, soups and anywhere else you’d use regular milk.
Read also: Vitamin B12 Vegan Sources: A Complete Guide
Sample High Calorie Vegetarian Meal Plan
To gain weight, aim for 500 extra calories per day on top of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
This sample 2,500-calorie meal plan highlights high-calorie vegetarian foods for healthy weight gain:
- 1 cup oatmeal cooked in nondairy milk with chia seeds, banana, walnuts (500 calories)
- Green smoothie with nondairy milk, 1⁄2 avocado, granola, and peanut butter (450 calories)
- Veggie and hummus sandwich on whole grain bread with avocado slices (500 calories)
- Chickpea salad with beans, quinoa, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds (550 calories)
- Trail mix with dried fruit, seeds, and dark chocolate (300 calories)
- Apple with almond butter (250 calories)
- Green smoothie (350 calories)
- Burrito bowl with rice, black beans, sautéed veggies, guacamole, cheese (650 calories)
- Veggie curry with chickpeas, sweet potato, and coconut milk over rice (600 calories)
8 Tips for Gaining Weight on a Vegetarian Diet
Follow these tips to help bump up your total calorie intake and gain weight as a vegetarian:
- Eat more frequently – Have 5-6 meals and snacks throughout the day.
- Choose higher-calorie foods – Pick the options on this list of 15 high-calorie vegetarian foods.
- Add healthy fats – Use olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and full-fat coconut milk.
- Drink your calories – Make smoothies with non-dairy milk, nut butter, protein powder, granola, and fruit.
- Workout – Lift weights and do resistance training to help build muscle.
- Use bigger plates – You’re likely to eat more with bigger portions.
- Slow down – Eat more mindfully so your brain has time to register fullness.
- See a dietitian – Get expert guidance specific to your needs and health goals.
With the right vegetarian diet, getting enough calories, protein and nutrients for weight gain is certainly achievable.
Focus on incorporating more nuts, seeds, avocados, oils, soy foods, starchy veggies, whole grains, and legumes if you need those extra calories.
Pair your high-calorie diet with regular strength training too. Lifting builds and preserves calorie-burning muscle mass to help boost your metabolism.
Most of all, speak with your doctor to make sure weight gain is recommended for your unique situation. They can help determine healthy calorie needs and the safest path to reaching your weight goals.