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Calorie dense vegan foods is the secret key to healthy vegan weight gain! In this guide you will learn, what calorie dense foods are, the 3 different types, and the best type to consume for your curvy vegan goals.
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In my vegan weight gain article, I listed 7 Tips on How to Build Curves on a Vegan Diet. Eating enough calorie dense foods was the first tip because in order to gain healthy weight, you have to take in more calories than you burn.
Calorie dense foods allows you to meet your caloric needs and it is a game changer when it comes to gaining healthy weight as a vegan. In this article, we are going to dive deeper into this topic so that you fully understand how to utilize this technique in your curvy vegan goals.
What Are Calorie Dense Foods?
Calorie density is a term used to describe how many calories (a unit of energy), are in food via weight or volume. So calorie-dense foods are foods that have a high-calorie density but are smaller in portions, weight, and/or volume.
So for example, say I have food the size of an almond. That small amount of food can pack a lot of calories even though it’s small in volume. This is the secret to what I call comfortable weight gain.
Because you aren’t depending on overeating large amounts of food (which is physically uncomfortable), but rather eating enough calories in the meals you are already consuming. It’s quality over quantity.
The key is to eat the right type of calorie dense foods as they are not all equal. I categorize them down to 3 main types:
- Empty Based
- Animal Based
- Plant Based
You’re probably no stranger to Empty Based “Foods”. Some examples of these include…
- potato chips
- fast food
- pasteurized fruit juices
- high sugared cereals
These foods are dense but nutrient-poor which makes them “empty”. They lack vitamins, minerals, fiber, and anything else that might be beneficial for your body. All that they contribute are calories.
In fact over long periods of time, when eaten in abundance, those types of foods cause inflammation and can leech vitamins and minerals from your body.
Luckily, us curvy vegans tend to get rid of those type of foods when going vegan in order to be healthier.
But wait there is a problem. Once those empty calories are dropped, so does the weight and curves and you might want to blame that entirely on a vegan diet.
But realize that if it was the junk food that gave you curves, it wasn’t healthy weight in the first place. This is what I call “Dangerous Curves” because it’s weight that was build on a foundation of junk food.
If you stop eating that stuff in abundance, and you “loose your curves” you didn’t really loose because it was “excessive waste” that needed to leave your body.
You actually gained health and a better foundation to rebuild your body. So what you must do is replace those foods with a healthier plant-based option which will get into later.
And then you have Animal Based. Obviously this is a vegan blog so I don’t advocate eating the flesh of animals. Animals are NOT food nor are they on this planet for our consumption.
Related: Important Reasons to Go Vegan -Part 2 (Coming Soon!)
I must point out though that animal flesh does carry more density than plant-based foods.
And one of the biggest common mistakes you can make is applying the same concepts of “health” while eating animals, over to a vegan diet.
One of those concepts is restrictive portion control. For example:
- Typical “Healthy” Omnivore Meal: Limit to only 4 ounces of grilled chicken breast, ½ cup of cooked brown rice, 2 cups of steamed broccoli
- Typical Substitute Vegan Meal: Limit to only 1/2 cup of black beans (to substitute for the chicken breast), ½ cup of cooked brown rice, 2 cups of steamed broccoli
So what’s wrong with this substitution?
It won’t be as filling as the omnivore’s meal because beans are not as dense as chicken. So with this type of thinking, you can end up losing more weight than desired PLUS still feel hungry and unsatisfied.
Again, instead of realizing this flaw, you might think you need to add back the bacon, ham, and steak to keep your butt and hips.
But that is not true. There is another way.
So based on the information above, you don’t want to use empty calories nor animal flesh. This brings me to the 3rd type which is, Plant Based. These types of foods are both nutrient-dense and calorie-dense.
And what is the best source of Vegan Density Foods?
Healthy Vegan Fats.
Related: What Are Healthy Vegan Fats and Why You Need Them? (Coming Soon!)
Density in Fats
Now I notice that fats are often a macronutrient that is often either not emphasized or shunned in the vegan community. However as an ex paleo eater, I have learn to appreciate the important of fats in a plant based diet.
I coin the term “Fat Full” (instead of Fat-Free) because fats make you feel full and satiated. Plus fats are full of nutrients and calories. You can have high calorie plant-based foods that are carbohydrates or protein based, but fats trump them both when it comes to density for the following reason:
- Protein and Carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram
- Fat contains 9 calories per gram
For instance, if there are 10 grams of carbs and protein in a dish, that’s 400 calories (4 multiply by 10). However, if there are 10 grams of fat in a dish, that’s 900 calories (9 multiply by 10)!
So with the example, I gave early with the chicken vs beans, the reason you feel fuller with the chicken is that it has saturated fat (and cholesterol which is a sterol aka a type of lipid/fat). Beans have zero fat and are just protein and carbohydrates. So you add healthy fats to your dishes like avocado slices, or tahini dressing to bulk it up.
Thermic Effect (TEF) in Fats
Outside of the density ratio of fats to carbohydrates and protein, fats has a lower thermic effect than other macronutrients.
What this means is a certain percentage of any macronutrient is used to digest food and never reaches your body for storage. It’s equivalent to how much it cost to digest and process different macronutrients.
Different thermic effect studies have been conducted and there are varying factors (and percentage ranges), but overall here is a general idea of how much each macronutrient “costs” to be processed in your body.
- Protein: 20-30% TEF
- Carbohydrates: 5-15% TEF
- Fats: 0-5% TEF
If you ate 100 calories worth of protein that day, 20 to 30 of those calories would be used up in the digestion process and wouldn’t count for your overall calories.
If you ate 100 calories worth of fat that day, 0 to 5 calories of that is used up in the digestion process. So you will be getting almost all the fat you take in as calories. Fat doesn’t “cost as much” or “doesn’t cost you calories” in the digestion process.
This is key for bulking and gaining weight, particularly because us curvy vegans exercise which naturally burns calories. Fat’s density and TEF, gives us the best boost to get in the needed amount of calories need to gain and/or maintain our curves.
Though I DO NOT advocate fats being the majority of you diet (carbs should be), adding fats to some of your meals will make them more filling and help you gain or maintain a healthy weight.
List of High-Calorie Vegan Foods
Here is a list of the vegan calorie-dense foods I add to my diet regularly to keep my curves. All these foods are high in healthy fats. Read 7 Vegan Foods for Weight Gain for more information.
- Coconut Milk/Cream
- Nut/Seed Butter (particularly peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower seed butter, walnut butter, etc.)
- Nuts and Seeds (all kinds especially hemp seeds!)
- Some Oils (mainly grapeseed, olive, avocado, and coconut oil)
A Note Regarding Oils
I am not advocating oils as a health food and you do not need to consume oils in your diet to maintain weight. I only included it in this section because at the time of this writing I still consume oils and wanted to share with you the types I do consume. If you are oil free, simply omit this item from the list.
Vegan Calorie Dense Recipes
Recipes with Avocado, Olives, & Oils
Recipes with Coconut Milk or Coconut Cream
- Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
- Vegan Chickpea Curry
- Vegan Yellow Split Pea Soup
- Alkaline Pasta
- Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese
Recipes with Peanut Butter
- Peanut Butter Chickpea Curry
- Crockpot Steel Cut Oats
- Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars
- Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
- Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream
Recipes with Nuts and Seeds
- Parsley Smoothie
- Almond Green Beans
- Vegan Candied Pecans
- Cajun Peanuts
- Instant Chia Pudding
- Cashew Cheese Recipe
- Take in more calories than you burn. Remember, overall weight gain is caused by taking in more calories than you burn. These foods alone will NOT help you gain or maintain weight. However, adding them to your meals will help bulk up your calories, promoting healthy weight gain/maintenance.
- Don’t rely on empty calories for density. The weight that these foods give you is nothing but inflammation and excessive waste disguised as curves.
- You don’t need animal flesh to fill satiated. Stick to your curvy vegan goals! Animals are our teachers and guides, NOT FOOD. Leave those previous ideas of healthy eating as an omnivore (like strict portion control) in the past and embrace your new lifestyle.
- Embrace healthy fats. This is your saving grace. This will not only give your vegan meal a calorie boost, but also help you stay full. It’s the KEY to vegan weight gain.
More Vegan Weight Gain Articles You Will Love
- 7 Tips on How to Build Curves on a Vegan Diet
- 7 Vegan Foods for Weight Gain
- Vegan Weight Gain Meal Plan
Update Notes: This post was originally published on February 20, 2019, but was republished with new photos, additional tips, a video, and audio on December 19, 2020.
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© Gina Marie Hoskins. Vegan With Curves. All Rights Reserved. Unless noted otherwise, all images, recipes, & content are copyright protected and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. My images and written content are NOT to be used without prior permission. Read full Copyright Disclosure.