It’s no secret that we get a kick out of making not-so-healthy things a bit healthier. It’s also no secret that we like to celebrate and we’re fans of treating ourselves.
We hope you’ll celebrate special days the healthy way along with us, whether that means making a cake with less sugar, picking a healthier drink, or fitting in a few bodyweight exercises before heading out to party.
No matter your choice, we’ve got the resources you need. Here are a few tips on how to make any cake (or sweet bread) recipe a little bit healthier, followed by our favorite cake recipes to celebrate any occasion.
Applesauce is your friend
This old lunch box favorite makes a great substitute for sugar or fat when baking a cake (just don’t try to replace both at the same time).
You can replace sugar with applesauce in a 1:1 ratio — just be sure to reduce the amount of milk, water, or other liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of applesauce added.
To cut down on oil or butter, start by replacing half the fat with applesauce. For example, in a recipe that calls for 1 cup of oil, you would use 1/2 cup of oil and 1/2 cup of applesauce.
Swap out white flour
White, or “all-purpose,” flour is processed in a way that removes the bran (the outer layer of the grain) and germ of the wheat, taking away all the healthy stuff, like fiber.
Instead, swap white flour for something healthier, whether it’s whole-wheat flour, nut flour, or a mix of a few different types. If you’re eating gluten-free, try almond meal or buckwheat flour.
Tweak the toppings
Cake is sweet enough — why put more refined sugar on top? Instead of traditional frosting and candy toppings, try frosting your cake with something lighter.
We’re fans of fresh whipped cream, or coconut whipped cream for dairy-free folks. You can also give meringue a try. Instead of sprinkles or candy, top a cake with fresh fruit or antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.
Cut down on excess fat
Fat’s not necessarily unhealthy, but why add extra if you don’t need to? In addition to applesauce, there are a number of easy and healthy substitutions to help cut back on added fat in all kinds of baking recipes.
One of our favorite substitutes is mashed banana. Just 1 cup of mashed banana works perfectly in place of 1 cup of butter or oil (just be prepared for a big banana flavor kick too!).
For chocolate cake, 3/4 cup of prunes puréed with 1/4 cup of boiling water makes another great substitute for butter (seriously).
We know — it’s hard to believe a recipe with a title like that could be a (semi) healthier choice. The crust is made from hemp seeds, dates, flaxseeds, and cacao powder.
The filling is all frozen bananas, dates, cashews, coconut oil, water, cacao powder, and nut butter. This is one cake that’s sure to satisfy that sweet tooth while also providing nutritional value. Plus, isn’t it gorgeous?
Moderation is still key with this rich, chocolaty dessert. The frosting recipe linked here uses no butter or oil and gets a nutrient boost from soy milk and coconut milk.
The blogger suggests two cake recipes to go with the frosting, and you could sub a natural sugar for the plain white stuff in either one.
There’s no flour in this simple chocolate cake, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. You only need a few ingredients, and nearly all of them pack a nutritional punch: baking chocolate, eggs, butter or coconut oil, cocoa powder, and honey.
Cookies and cream is an iconic flavor that perfectly satisfies any sweet tooth, but most versions come with enough processed sugar to keep you buzzing for hours.
The whole-wheat flour and Greek yogurt in this recipe make the cookies-and-cream goodness a bit more nutritious.
Packed with dates, cocoa powder, and ginger, this is one flavorful cake that’s sure to impress.
Protein-rich ricotta cheese, a mix of gluten-free flours, and chunks of toasted pecans give it a nice dense texture that lies somewhere between a normal cake and a chocolate torte.
6. Carrot cake
This healthier carrot cake recipe cuts out the sugar, white flour, and excess butter in favor of healthier substitutions like dates, whole-wheat flour, and bananas.
Add a healthy dose of carrots, coconut, walnuts, and raisins and you’ve got a perfectly textured cake with zero added sugar.
And you don’t need to pass on the cream cheese frosting — this one calls for cream cheese sweetened with honey and lime juice. Yum!
Beets and blood oranges and mixed seeds — oh, my! Grated fresh red beets give this cake some texture, nutrients, and color while the blood orange provides a strong citrusy flavor.
Golden raisins and seeds stud the cake for a hint of sweetness and crunch. We imagine this would be great topped with a dollop of honey-sweetened Greek yogurt!
8. Harvest cake
This veggie-packed cake is perfect for those without a strong sweet tooth. Carrots, zucchini, beets, walnuts, and raisins give it a great carrot cake-like texture.
The goat cheese frosting is a great cross between sweet and savory that’s just a little more tart than the typical cream cheese frosting.
We’re gonna go out on a limb here and mention this cake’s strangest ingredient: cauliflower.
Don’t stop reading yet! Combined with the wet ingredients and pulsed in a food processor, cauliflower helps give this cake a crumby, cakey texture.
This recipe takes three tangerines — the whole things — and turns ’em into a smooth purée that makes the resulting cake a festive shade of yellow-orange.
Sugar, almond meal, and eggs make up the rest of the cake for a sweet, super-citrusy cake perfect for a spring or summer celebration. We imagine it would be to die for with a drizzle of dark chocolate.
Any cake that can count as a snack gets an A+ in our book. A combo of whole-wheat and corn flours give this loaf cake a nice crumby texture.
Not to be forgotten, the stevia, ripe bananas, and almond butter provide just the right amount of sweetness.
Spoiler alert: There is no actual cake… but there’s still loads of deliciousness.
This “cake” is the ultimate healthy choice for celebrating. You’re gonna need some serious fruit peeling and knife skills to pull this one off. The result is as stunning as it is delicious.
Chocolate and orange: a flavor match made in heaven. This festive cake uses triple sec (an orange-flavored liqueur) and orange juice to add a fruity taste. The cake base is egg, cocoa powder, sugar, and cornstarch — it doesn’t contain any butter or oil.
There are blueberries in every component of this cake — the batter, the frosting, and the filling. Blueberry-tastic!
With whole-grain gluten-free flours and a creamy cream cheese frosting, this cake’s just sweet enough for dessert, but it can also work for breakfast or a snack.
OK, technically there’s no cake here — but a big hunk of watermelon is the perfect stand-in in this recipe, especially during warmer weather.
Frost it with whipped coconut cream and top with roasted almonds and fresh fruit. Now you have a fiber-filled, super-fresh dessert on the table.
We love any excuse to celebrate, and we love the cake that usually comes along with it. But it’s never a bad idea to put some healthier options on the table.
You can amp up the nutritional value of a cake by trading white flour for whole-wheat or nut flour, using applesauce instead of sugar, and replacing oil or butter with mashed banana.
You can also trade refined sugar for other sources of sweetness, like honey, maple syrup, stevia, dates, or fruits (like spotty bananas) and vegetables (think carrots).
With these tips and healthy cake recipes, you’ll be able to satisfy that sweet tooth without sacrificing flavor. We bet you’ll hardly even notice the difference. Bon appétit!
Hilary Lebow is a writer, certified yoga instructor, certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and certified nutrition coach. When she’s not working, she can be found in nature with her two dogs or planning her next travel adventure.