5 Tips to Make Carrot Cake Healthy and Even More Delicious

By: Megan O. Steintrager

Make a better-for-you—and better-tasting!—carrot cake with a few simple swaps and ingredient upgrades.


Carrot cake is one of those sneaky little desserts that make you believe you're being virtuous (it's got carrots!), but it can be quite high in sugar and calories. One generous slice of traditional carrot cake with cream cheese frosting has around 650 calories. But that doesn't mean you have to write it off. With a few easy substitutions, you can make a delicious carrot cake that is actually good for you. And the best news: our tweaks cut sugar, boost fiber and add nutritious ingredients while still producing a delicious and moist carrot cake you'll be proud to serve to family and friends.

Gluten-Free Carrot Cake
Pictured Recipe: Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

1. Use Fruit to Add Sweetness

Everyone expects carrot cake to be sweet, but you don't have to get carried away by using copious amounts of added sugar. We cut back on the overall amount of added sugar in a traditional carrot cake and instead use canned crushed pineapple to sweeten our EatingWell Carrot Cake. The benefit is that you get a great (sweet!) taste from the pineapple, plus some added fiber and antioxidants—something you don't get with regular sugar. Raisins, applesauce and prune puree can also be used to naturally sweeten carrot cake with less added sugar.

2. Swap Out White Flour for Whole-Wheat Flour

Easy Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Pictured recipe: Easy Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Typical carrot cake recipes call for all-purpose flour. To give carrot cake a little boost of fiber while still keeping it tender, we use whole-wheat pastry flour in our classic cake, as well as in the cupcakes pictured above. It has more fiber than white flour and has a mild, nutty flavor that's very hard to detect when it gets mixed up with the carrots and spices that flavor the cake.

3. Try Some Frosting Swaps

We would never take your frosting away, but there are ways to make it a smidge healthier and still keep lots of delicious sweet flavor. For a lighter cream cheese frosting with the same tang, we like to use reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel). Adding some Greek yogurt to the mix further increases the tangy flavor and creamy texture—plus it adds a little protein and gut-healthy probiotics! It doesn't take a ton of sugar to make a frosting that's plenty sweet—for example, this Diabetic Carrot Cake calls for just 1/4 cup of powdered sugar in the frosting for a cake that serves 14. And if you prefer a dairy-free icing option, try the coconut cream frosting on our Vegan Carrot Cake.

4. Add Some Nuts

Vegan Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Pictured recipe: Vegan Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Toasted walnuts not only add flavor and crunch to a classic carrot cake—they also boost the nutrition. Walnuts are a great source of the heart-healthy omega-3 ALA. They're also high in protein and fiber. Pecans are another great nut to add to carrot cake—try them in the batter or on top, as in the vegan carrot cake pictured above. Toasting nuts before using them in a recipe gives them great flavor so you can use less (nuts are healthy but high in calories). See the tip in this carrot cake recipe for the how-to.

5. Go for a Gluten-Free or Vegan Carrot Cake

Healthy means different things to different people, and if you need to avoid gluten, we've got you covered with our Gluten-Free Carrot Cake, which is made with almond flour instead of wheat flour. And if you're nixing animal products, give our Vegan Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting a whirl. For it, a mixture of flax and water takes the place of eggs—try this substitution in other baked goods too. These two luscious cakes are well worth trying even for those who don't follow vegan or gluten-free diets.

Bottom Line

Carrot cake is a classic for Easter and spring celebrations, and with these easy tweaks you can make it a little healthier without losing any of its deliciousness. After you've tried out one or two (or all) of our carrot cake recipes, check out the rest of our healthy spring desserts and healthy Easter desserts for some more sweet (but not too sweet) treats that are perfect for special occasions.

Watch: How to Make Healthier Carrot Cake