Pictured recipe: Unicorn Cupcakes
Homemade cupcakes are cupcakes you whip up from scratch—flour, butter, eggs, sugar and all. The number of calories in homemade cupcakes depends on how much batter you're making and how many cupcakes you're dividing that between—for example, are you using a standard 12-cup muffin tin or something else? And then there's the frosting. Homemade cupcakes are high in sugar, but ingredients-wise they're "clean" because they don't contain any additives or preservatives. The ingredients are usually just butter, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, vanilla and milk.
Get more: Healthy Cupcake Recipes
While no one considers cupcakes a health food, it can be difficult to know how many calories a cupcake actually has, depending on if it's homemade, store-bought or from a bakery. We break down the differences here and tell you which nutrients matter most.
Total calories are important, but the type of calorie is important too. Cupcakes are high in sugar and saturated fat, two nutrients that should be consumed in moderation. Women should stay under 24 grams of added sugar per day, and men should aim for less than 36 grams per day. Added sugar is any sugar that's not found naturally in foods (like the natural sugar in fruit or milk). Cupcakes can be made with a little milk, but the rest of the sugar in cupcakes is added sugar. The Dietary Guidelines still recommend limiting saturated fat in your diet to less than 10 percent of your daily calories (and instead eating more healthy unsaturated fats).
Ingredients are important, too, and can vary greatly depending on how a cupcake is made. The more whole foods in the ingredients list and the fewer the ingredients, the better.
Pictured recipe: Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes
A note on calories in homemade cupcakes: The calorie total will vary depending on the recipe you choose and how much frosting you add to your cupcake. One of the biggest factors in determining how many calories are in your cupcake is whether you use frosting and how much you use.
Total Fat: 18 g
Saturated Fat: 12 g
Sugar: 46 g
What you get: No preservatives or artificial flavors and a sweet treat.
Total Fat: 23 g
Saturated Fat: 14 g
Sugar: 58 g
What you get: A little more saturated fat and sugar than a vanilla cupcake, due to the chocolate.
Total Fat: 13 g
Saturated Fat: 8 g
Sugar: 13 g
What you get: You'll get fewer calories and sugar without the frosting, but would likely have some disappointed cupcake eaters.
Total Fat: 15 g
Saturated Fat: 9 g
Sugar: 24 g (22 g added sugar)
What you get: An ingredient list you can pronounce and much less added sugar than a bakery cupcake. Many of our cupcake recipes have about 300 calories—we use healthy tricks to keep our cupcakes healthier and still tasty, like using slightly less sugar or adding a little whole-wheat flour to the cake batter and yogurt to the frosting.
Pictured recipe: Easy Carrot Cake Cupcakes
These are the cupcakes you get from your favorite café, boutique cupcake shop or the bakery section of the supermarket. In general, they're higher in calories, sugar and saturated fat because they're usually bigger than a homemade cupcake and have those giant frosting swirls on top.
Total Fat: 23 g
Saturated Fat: 14 g
Sugar: 34 g
What you get: Too much sugar and saturated fat and a long list of ingredients. There's some natural sugar from the milk, but the rest is added sugar in the form of corn syrup, brown rice syrup, sugar and liquid sugar.
Total Fat: 3 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Sugar: 10 g
What you get: A smaller portion means fewer calories and less fat and sugar (if you can eat just one!). But, these prepackaged cupcakes have a long ingredient list with numerous preservatives.
If you want to make cupcakes but not from scratch, you'll head down the baking aisle to find a box of cake mix, which can then be divided into a cupcake pan to make cupcakes.
Total Fat: 4 g
Saturated Fat: 2 g
Sugar: 10 g
What you get: The nutrition facts aren't bad for just the cake (keep scrolling to see the totals when you add frosting). But boxed cake mix comes with ingredients like Yellow 5, Red 40 and artificial flavor.
Total Fat: 5 g
Saturated Fat: 2.5 g
Sugar: 19 g
What you get: Almost a day's worth of added sugar and more artificial flavors and ingredients.
Total Fat: 9 g
Saturated Fat: 4.5 g
Sugar: 29 g
What you get: Less saturated fat and sugar than a bakery cupcake but more artificial ingredients.
Homemade cupcakes are the healthiest option. You'll control the ingredients and the portion size. But, we don't always have time to make cupcakes from scratch when rushing to a birthday party. With that in mind, we researched healthier store-bought cupcake mixes to find the best ones. We also have tried-and-true Test Kitchen tips for a healthier cupcake.
Remember—a cupcake is a cupcake. You don't need to feel guilty for eating a cupcake, or stress about the calories. But it may be helpful to know there is a lot of variation in calories between different types of cupcakes depending on how you make them or where you get them.