Vegan carrot cake is a family-favorite in my household. So, when my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, it was almost a given that I’d try to bake her a sugar-free variant.
The problem was that, at the time, I couldn’t find any good sugar-free cake recipe online.
I found several vegan carrot cake recipes advertised as being “sugar-free” or “without added-sugars.” Yet, upon reading the recipe, I’d inevitably find out that they simply used maple syrup, coconut sugar, or raw sugar instead of white sugar.
Although these alternative sweeteners are slightly richer in nutrients than refined sugar, differences remain minor. Moreover, just like white sugar, they remain sources of added sugars.
I don’t think it’s necessary to demonize having a little bit of added sugars now and again. However, there are clear advantages to not introducing your child to added sugars too early.
Hence my desire to find a vegan carrot cake recipe that was truly free of added sugars
At the time, I ended up improvising a sugar-free cake recipe, with good-enough results. But, amidst the birthday preparations, I must’ve been a little frazzled because I completely forgot to write it down.
So, when I recently wanted to make a vegan carrot cake, I had to improvise once more. Luckily, the final product was a success and I wrote my recipe down this time!
So if you want to make a tasty cake that’s truly free of added sugars, consider giving this easy sugar-free vegan carrot cake recipe a try.
Are some added sugars better than others?
Added sugars can be categorized in two main categories:
- Refined sugars: sugars processed from their natural form, be it from corn, beets, sugar cane or even some fruit. Examples include table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, coconut sugar, date syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup.
- Natural sugars: sugars naturally-found in whole foods, such as fruit. This category also includes natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup.
Ultimately, sugar is processed in the body in the same exact way, regardless of its source.
So the only difference between the two categories above is 1) how much additional nutrients they contain and 2) how quickly your body breaks down the sugar they contain.
White sugar versus fruit
White sugar contains virtually no fiber.
Fiber is a nutrient that helps slow down the absorption of sugar, preventing blood sugar levels from spiking up (1). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24219323/
Fiber is the reason why your blood sugar is likelier to spike after eating a sugary dessert than after eating a fiber-rich fruit.
Moreover, unlike fruit, white sugar contains very few vitamins and minerals. This is yet another reason why fruit is considered a far superior sweetener to white sugar.
What about other natural or less refined sources of sugar?
At this point, you maybe wondering about alternatives to white sugar such as coconut sugar, date syrup, raw sugar or maple syrup.
These alternative sweeteners are often used in place of white sugar to “healthify” a recipe. But are they truly any better than white sugar?
This is where it gets interesting.
These sweeteners tend to contain slightly more nutrients than white sugar. In addition, their common use to replace white sugar in “sugar-free” recipes implies that they are a healthier choice.
However, differences in nutrient content remain minor. They’re certainly not large enough to truly impact your total daily nutrient intake, especially in the small amounts used in these recipes.
Moreover, the slightly higher amount of nutrients they offer remains far inferior to the ones found in fresh or dried fruit.
Moreover, just like white sugar, these alternative sweeteners contain very little fiber. So they are often just as likely to spike your blood sugar levels as white sugar.
That’s why sugar-free cake recipes sweetened using whole or dried fruit remain the best option.
In sum – Natural sugars tend to be richer in nutrients than refined sugars but differences are often minor. Therefore, using whole or dried fruit to sweeten recipes remains your best option.
How to sweeten cakes with better sources of natural sugars
Using fresh fruits or vegetables is a great way to sweeten recipes. It helps diminish spikes in blood sugar, while also adding an extra dose of nutrients to your culinary creations.
Here are some popular options you can use:
- Fruit: bananas, apples, pineapple, mango, dates, prunes, raisins and dried apricots.
- Vegetables: carrots, beetroots, sweet potato, pumpkin, and zucchini.
Try using fresh or dried fruit or vegetables over their juices whenever possible.
Fruit and vegetable juices, although still richer in nutrients than more refined sources of sugar, are very low in fiber. So they’re more likely to spike blood sugar levels than their fresh or dried counterparts.
For best results, try sticking to very ripe fruit and vegetables whenever possible. The riper the fruit or vegetable, the sweeter it will be.
Moreover, when substituting sugar with fruit in a recipe, try to also keep the ratio of liquids to solids in mind. For example, when using dates instead of maple syrup, you’ll likely need to add a little extra liquids to your recipe to achieve the right consistency.
In sum – Naturally sweet fruit or vegetables are great for sweetening recipes. Try to use fresh and dried fruit or vegetables over their juices, whenever possible.
Sugar-free vegan carrot cake recipe
As promised, here’s the full recipe I used. It was inspired by Aimee’s recipe from Wallflower Kitchen.
If you have time, feel free to try your hand at making her beautiful marzipan decorations (you can simply replace the agave nectar with blenderized dates).
For the cake
- 2 tbsp (14 g) ground flaxseeds
- 2 cups (250 g) whole grain or spelt flour
- 1 tsp (5 g) baking powder
- 1 tsp (2.6 g) ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp (2.2 g) ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) coconut oil
- 1 cup (240 ml) plant milk
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) water
- 4-5 dates (to taste)
- 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups (220 g) grated carrots
- 1/2 cup (58 g) chopped walnuts
For the frosting
- 1 1/2 cups (212 g) ground almonds
- 1 14oz (400 ml) coconut milk, chilled
- 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 5-6 dates (to taste)
- Orange zest
- Preheat your oven to 350 °F (180 °C).
- Mix ground flaxseeds with 1/3 cup (80 ml) of water. Set aside to allow to gel.
- Mix all your dry ingredients together.
- Add liquid ingredients and gelled flaxseed mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine.
- Gently fold in carrots and chopped walnuts, making sure not to overmix.
- Using coconut oil, grease two 8-inch (20 cm) tart moulds, then transfer the cake batter into them.
- Bake for 35 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick into the middle of the cake, and it comes out clean. Allow cake to completely cool before decorating.
- Meanwhile, blend all of the frosting ingredients together with the solid part of your chilled can of coconut milk.
- Add only as much of the leftover coconut milk liquid as necessary to yield a thick, smooth frosting. If the frosting becomes too watery, add additional ground almonds to compensate. Refrigerating your frosting can also help it harden a bit.
- To assemble, frost the top of one cake layer, and place the second one on top. Frost the top and sides and top with orange zest or your choice of decorations.
- Enjoy as is. Alternatively, this recipe can also be used to make delicious muffins or cupcakes!
In sum – This vegan carrot cake recipe uses dates instead of sugar, maple syrup, or juice to naturally sweeten it. This makes it richer in nutrients and less likely to spike your blood sugar levels.
To sum it all up
Despite their popularity, alternative sweeteners such maple syrup, coconut sugar, raw sugar won’t truly make your cake recipe healthier.
They may be slightly better than refined white sugar, but differences are generally too small to have a real impact. Moreover, these alternative sweeteners are no match for naturally sweet fruit and vegetables.
So don’t be fooled next time you see a “healthy” cake recipe using one of these alternative sweeteners. Instead, try swapping them for naturally sweet whole or dried fruit or vegetable instead.
If you decide to give this sugar-free vegan carrot cake recipe a try, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.
Also feel free to share a link to your favourite recipes that are truly free of added sugars. In my experience, these can be hard to come by. So I’d definitely appreciate the link, and think others may as well!
Hi Alina, I am really excited to use this recipe, I am Type 2 and I want to move towards plant based eating.
Do you think it would work without walnuts?
My kids aren’t keen on nuts.
Alina Petre, MSc. RD. says
Hi Anna. You can most definitely try it without walnuts. I simply include them because I like the crunch factor 🙂 Hope you and your kids enjoy it!