A common assumption is that vegan desserts are healthier and lower in calories compared to desserts made with dairy and animal products. As someone who’s been vegan for many years and has watched my calories at times, I have a lot of first-hand knowledge about vegan desserts and their calorie counts.
Vegan desserts do not necessarily have fewer calories. Even healthy raw vegan desserts usually include high-calorie ingredients like nuts and dates. Vegan desserts at restaurants and stores usually include oils and refined sugar, too. So there’s no guarantee vegan desserts will have less calories.
Typically, a vegan diet can help you eat lower in calories and lose weight without even trying. But as I’ll explain below, this is not always the case. It depends on which specific foods you eat. The same goes for getting long-term health from your vegan diet. It all depends on the specific foods.
FREE Plant-Based 101 Class
Learn the 4 big nutrition lies that keep most people stuck... Plus 10 keys to your plant-based transformation!
Why Vegan Desserts Don’t Necessarily Have Less Calories
The most common vegan desserts you see, whether they’re homemade raw vegan desserts made from whole foods or store-bought processed junk, still include very rich, high-calorie ingredients. So if decreasing your calories and losing weight is your goal, you should be aware of this.
This is common sense if you think about some of the “accidentally vegan” junk foods such as Oreos and Nutter Butter cookies. Nobody would assume that those cookies are lower in calories, even though they are vegan. They’re loaded with processed oil and sugar.
In raw vegan desserts, the ingredients are healthier and less processed, but they’re still high in calories. Nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters are some of the highest-calorie foods because they’re very high in fat. Same goes for avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil.
Fat has 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein only have 4 calories per gram. So “healthy fats” can add a lot of calories to your plate pretty quickly.
Personally, peanut butter is the healthy vegan food that racks up calories for me. At about 100 calories per tablespoon, the calories add up fast with peanut butter, even if it’s a “natural” version of peanut butter that’s just made from peanuts.
Dried fruits can also pack a lot of calories in a small space because so much of the water has been removed. Any time you remove water and/or fiber from a food, you’re removing calorie-free parts of the food that help fill you up. So the caloric density goes up.
Vegan, Low-Calorie, and Healthy All Mean Different Things—But They Do Overlap
Remember that these terms are all independent from each other.
• Vegan doesn’t always mean healthy. You could eat Coca-Cola and Frosted Flakes all day on a vegan diet. Not healthy.
• Low-calorie doesn’t always mean healthy. You could eat Diet Coke and some sugar-free dessert, stop yourself when you reach a certain number of calories. Not healthy.
• Vegan doesn’t always mean low-calorie. You could eat peanut butter and vegan snacks all day and you’d gain weight. Many vegan athletes intentionally eat to gain weight. It’s not low calorie.
• Healthy doesn’t always mean low-calorie. You could eat whole foods like avocado and nuts, or big servings of whole grains and fruit, and you could still gain weight if you eat enough. Not low calorie.
Eating vegan matters if you care about helping animals or the environment. Typically it will also lead you to make healthier, lower-calorie choices—but not always.
Eating healthfully matters if you care about your long-term health. Usually, pursuing health will probably lead you to more vegan, low-calorie options—but not always.
Eating low-calorie matters if you care about weight loss. Choosing low-calorie foods can overlap a lot with choosing vegan, healthy options—but it doesn’t have to.
Do you see how these can all be goals that support each other, but they are actually separate, when you get into the details? One does not imply the others.
How to Make Your Vegan Desserts Lower in Calories
The following are two overarching tips that will help you find low-calorie vegan dessert options and tweak your existing desserts to be lower in calories.
Tip 1: Focus on whole foods containing the original fiber and water.
To make your vegan desserts lower in calories, you want to make sure you’re not removing water or fiber from the foods. When foods are processed, the fiber and water weight is often lost, making the same amount of calories much less filling.
Think about what happens with fruit juice: You take a healthy, low-calorie food like an orange, and then you squeeze the juice out into a glass. Then you take something like four more oranges and squeeze the juice into a glass. You discard the fibers of the fruit itself.
We all know that we can chug down a big glass of orange juice pretty quickly and easily. But it would take us much longer to eat 5 whole oranges. And the fiber from the oranges would fill you up a lot more than orange juice if you did.
So one key to making low-calorie vegan desserts is to keep foods in their whole form. Just eating whole fruit is one simple vegan dessert. Another option is making smoothies with fruit. Smoothies include the original fiber, although it is blended up—the fiber is not removed like it is during juicing.
Note: Smoothies can still lead you to consume excess calories just because of how quickly you’re able to drink them. So you might want to pace yourself. Sip the smoothie over the course of 20-40 minutes rather than chugging it down. That will allow your stomach to better register fullness from it.
The How Not to Die Cookbook has some healthy vegan desserts, and one technique they use to achieve this is to make “date syrup.” You simply soak dates in hot water for an hour, then blend them up (with the same water). The result is a sweet syrup you can add to many recipes as a sweetener. Since it keeps the fiber and water, it’s not quite as calorie-rich as other sweeteners.
Other low-calorie vegan dessert recipes will use whole oats rather than flour—or ground up beans rather than flour. These replacements add fiber, which is filling without the calories.
Tip 2: Don’t focus as much on fats.
As mentioned above, fat is 9 calories per gram, compared to the 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein. So if you’re set on having a lower-calorie vegan dessert, consider removing some of the nuts, seeds, avocado, oils, or other high-fat ingredients.
The counter-argument I’ll mention to this point is that some people feel that fats help them feel satiated more than just eating all carbohydrates. So maybe you still want to include some healthy fats. But just be aware that they can add calories pretty quickly.
Please remember: Most people agree that nuts and avocado are very healthy to include in your diet. All I’m saying is that they will add calories to your dessert more quickly than carbohydrates or protein. So if you need to lose weight, don’t go overboard with these “healthy fats.”
One of My Favorite Homemade Low-Calorie Vegan Desserts
One of my favorite low-calorie vegan desserts is fruit popsicles made with real fruit at home. This is really simple and something you can enjoy all the time in the summer. The one-sentence explanation is just this: Make a fruit smoothie, then pour it into a popsicle mold in your freezer. A few hours later, you’ve got a healthy fruit popsicle!
You can explore so many different flavors with this. Ripe bananas are usually going to be the base of a good creamy smoothie, but you could add some other fruits for flavor, you could add some cocoa powder and cinnamon (or vanilla!), or you could add PB2, the low-fat peanut butter powder available at most grocery stores.
You can also try different fruits just blended up with water or plant-based milk. Or just blend up chunks of watermelon, and then freeze that into popsicles. It’s just healthy fruit in any case, but the popsicle form makes it more exciting.
If you want to order some popsicle molds right this instant, I would recommend the ones by Zoku. They have a drip guard for when your popsicle starts melting, and they also are BPA-free! Click here to check the current price on Amazon.
Are vegan cookies healthier than regular cookies? Usually, they are not. Popular brands like Oreo and Nutter Butter are accidentally vegan, but they are not any healthier than other brands. Processed sugar and oil are just as unhealthy in vegan cookies as in non-vegan cookies.
Is vegan food less fattening? Vegan food can be less fattening, but not always. What makes a food fattening is primarily its calorie count. Vegan foods tend to be lower in calories, but they are not always. Nuts, oils, soda, and dried fruits are potentially fattening vegan foods.
Do vegans eat less calories? On average, vegans do eat less calories. Plant-based foods tend to include more water and fiber, which makes it easier to feel full on less calories. But vegans can still eat higher in calories and gain weight depending on the specifics of their diet.
Finding Your Favorite Low-Calorie Vegan Desserts
Finding healthy desserts to enjoy on your vegan diet can be very exciting. It can feel like you’re getting away with a big secret or cheating the system. You’re eating something so sweet and delicious, but it’s not actually many calories—how sneaky!
If you search for low-calorie vegan dessert recipes, there are a ton of delicious-looking options to choose from out there. You can also tweak existing recipes you already know to make them healthier and lower in calories using some of the tips above.
Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey
1. This is the best free video training I’ve found on plant-based nutrition. You’ll learn how to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity—all with plant-based food. Watch the free “Food for Health Masterclass” here.
2. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in my 14 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).