Can cake ever really be healthy? In my search for carrot cake recipes, I stumbled upon quite a few sites that claimed to offer healthy versions. I usually prefer to make sweet breads rather than cakes, because they seem (if only slightly) ‘healthier.’ Today, I wanted to bake something with the carrots in the refrigerator, but didn’t want to make bread as my last carrot bread creation did not turn out to be a favorite of mine (more here). So, instead, I set out on a quest to make the ‘healthiest’ carrot cake the internet had to offer.
What makes a cake unhealthy anyway? While this may sound like a stupid question, I was wondering what the key differences would be between a ‘healthy’ and an ‘unhealthy’ carrot cake. For comparison, I found two recipes; the one I ended up making is a gluten-free, paleo-friendly recipe, the other is a popular recipe that I found on allrecipes.com.
|“Healthy” Carrot Cake||“Unhealthy” Carrot Cake|
Almond flour/ Coconut Flour
Ground cinnamon/ Nutmeg
Tahini (I used almond butter)
Unsweetened almond milk
The ingredients are not so different. The main deviations seem to be that the “healthy” version uses almond flour and coconut flour instead of all-purpose flour and incorporates maple syrup in lieu of white sugar.
All-purpose Flour vs. Almond Flour
White flour is wheat that has been stripped of its essential nutrients. While there is nothing inherently unhealthy about white flour, its lack of nutrition makes the consumption of refined flour nothing more than ‘empty calories.’ Additionally, white flour can cause your blood sugar to spike which raises insulin levels after meals. In the short term, this can lead to lethargy and further hunger, however, in the long term, this can raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other diseases. Almond flour, on the other hand, is high in protein and nutrients to support good health, however, it may not be suitable for all recipes.
White Sugar vs. Maple Syrup
We all know that too much sugar is bad for you. Too much sugar over time can lead to higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease, but is sugar inherently bad even in moderation? The American Heart Association suggests that one should consume no more than about 150 calories (dependent on gender) of added sugar per day, which is about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams, i.e. about a 12-ounce can of soda. This declaration would suggest that, yes, a little added sugar is a-okay! But, if you want more than just a little added sweetness, then maple syrup can be a healthier alternative to sugar as it packs in fewer calories and is more nutritious than refined sugar.
I ended up making the “healthy” carrot cake recipe. The taste and texture was…um…less decadent than I would want from a cake, but it was still nice and sweet tasting. I think I would have preferred a cake with all-purpose or wheat flour though, as the almond flour made the cake really crumbly.
After reviewing both recipes I have come to the conclusion that neither of these cakes are ‘healthy.’ While the “healthy” version is certainly more nutritious, it certainly packs in a lot of calories and sweetness (the icing using quite a bit of powdered sugar!). At the end of the day, if you plan to indulge in any sort of cake, consuming in moderation is probably the “healthiest” option!