This Healthy Carrot Cake is made with coconut flour, which makes it a gluten-free, clean eating, paleo and low-carb option. Frosting options range from whipped coconut cream, dairy-free yogurt or traditional cream cheese icing. The bottom line is that you will be able to serve this cake to almost anyone no matter their diet or preference. I recommend you keep this in your back pocket whenever you require something sweet to share with friends or family.
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How To Make Healthy Carrot Cake
Healthy to me mainly means minimally processed, real food ingredients, which is essentially clean eating. So for this easy healthy carrot cake, I went with coconut flour as a less refined alternative to white flour. Coconut flour is a byproduct of the coconut milk making process. (Read more about that in my post about What to do with a fresh coconut). It has the consistency of traditional wheat flour with a slightly sweet coconut flavour, which makes it excellent for any dessert recipe including this carrot cake recipe.
If you are used to doing gluten-free baking, you may have coconut flour on hand already. Just be sure that it is perfectly fresh before you use it. Coconut flour should have a nutty and sweet scent when it is fresh, but it does go rancid quickly once it has been opened. This is because coconut flour has a higher amount of oil in it than whole wheat flour. For this reason, I recommend you store it in the fridge or freezer rather than a pantry cupboard. In the fridge, it should keep for up to 6 months, whereas it should keep in the freezer for up to a year. You can do the same for all of your nut flours, too, so they retain freshness for the long term.
If you have never baked with coconut flour and don't know where to find it, it is relatively easy to locate. Generally, it should be available in the natural food section or baking aisle of your local grocery store. Bulk stores are another great option to find it. If you are really having trouble finding it, though, you can always order it online.
It is an incredibly healthy flour because is lower in carbs than traditional flour. It is also quite high in fiber from a nutritional standpoint.
Baking with Coconut Flour
Baking with coconut flour can be challenging compared to baking with wheat flour, because it is so unique in the way it behaves. Since coconut flour is hygroscopic, which means that it soaks up a lot of liquid, it can't really be substituted in any recipes. For that reason, I developed a specific coconut flour carrot cake recipe. Coconut flour recipes require more liquid, oil and eggs to create a moist batter that also holds together.
One of the benefits of baking cake recipes with all-purpose flour is that the gluten in it creates a fluffy texture that is difficult to achieve in gluten-free desserts. This is something you won't miss here, though, as the combination of textured ingredients like nuts and shredded carrot, as well as wet components like pineapple and dairy-free milk, absorb into the coconut flour, giving the cake a soft-crumbed mouthfeel.
In this healthy carrot cake recipe, I also use ¼ cup tapioca starch in combination with the ½ cup coconut flour to create a finer crumb texture. Arrowroot flour can be substituted, as it is very similar in texture to tapioca starch and has a similarly mild taste. Another bonus is that these ingredients are gluten-free, which means that even those who can't traditionally enjoy cake-like desserts, will be able to have this easy carrot cake.
Furthermore, the carrots help to keep this gluten-free carrot cake moist. I suggest using the large side on a box grater to grate the carrots, because they will show up better in the cake. If they are too fine, they will just dissolve into the cake. The crushed pineapple that I like in my carrot cake recipes also helps to moisten the cake. I know that not everyone is a fan of pineapple in carrot cake, though, so I am leaving it as an optional ingredient. You might like adding some raisins instead though.
Another thing I love in food is contrasting textures. In a smooth and moist dessert like this clean eating carrot cake, I love having some bits of crunchy pecans or walnuts in every bite. Ideally, you could toast these lightly in the oven and allow them to cool before stirring into your carrot cake batter. To do this, simply lay the nuts in an even layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 F (177 C) until fragrant smelling and lightly golden. In total, this should take about 5 minutes or so.
If you will be serving this to someone who is allergic to nuts, but can't do without the crunch, some toasted sunflower seeds might do the trick as a substitute. These are a little earthier than pecans or walnuts, but are also very delicious.
The pecans or walnuts are what takes a great cake to over-the-top awesome in my option. But again, I know that not everyone shares my love for nuts or contrasting textures, so feel free to omit them, if desired or sub in some sunflower seeds for a nut-free option.
Paleo Carrot Cake Muffins with Coconut Flour
This recipe can also be turned into the best carrot cake muffins/cupcakes. Just divide the batter into 12 muffin tin cavities.
When making coconut flour muffins or cupcakes you want to be sure to line the pan with silicone baking cups or parchment liners. Otherwise, they just fuse to the pan too much and there'll be no way to remove them cleanly.
When turning this recipe into healthy carrot muffins, the baking time reduces to about 14-18 minutes. An ideal way to test the doneness of muffins or cake is to insert a skewer into the center. If it comes out clean or with just a few crumbs, it will be done. You could also test the doneness of the cakes by pressing the tops with a finger. If the indentation holds, the carrot cake still needs time. If the cake springs right back after being pressed, the cakes should be sufficiently baked through.
You don't want to overbake your muffins, as this may result in a dry texture. Overbrowning around the edges or cracking can be signs of overbaking. Keep reading for a healthier frosting option to pipe on top to turn the muffins into carrot cake cupcakes fancy enough for dessert!
If you really want to get fancy, you could also turn the cake into a layer cake. To do this, line a circular 8-inch pan or even a 7-inch with parchment. A smaller pan will allow more depth to the cake.
Once cooled, you can slice it in half horizontally and stack the layers with some frosting sandwiched in between them. You could increase the frosting recipe so that you can coat the sides or simply spread the icing on the top and leave the sides uncoated. It is entirely up to you!
Low Carb Carrot Cake
To make this a healthy carrot cake with no sugar, be sure to omit the maple syrup. Use your sugar-free sweetener of choice in it its place.
I recommend monk fruit syrup - it even comes in maple flavour.
Healthy Carrot Cake Frosting
There are many different ways you can give this flourless carrot cake a healthy frosting, such as cream cheese frosting or whipped coconut cream.
- My favorite is a super simple healthy cream cheese frosting. It's just cream cheese with a little vanilla extract and a touch of maple syrup for sweetening.
- In this same recipe, you can substitute the cream cheese with thick Greek-style yogurt or a dairy-free yogurt alternative, if cream cheese doesn't fit your idea of healthy.
- Another go-to healthy frosting of my is Whipped Coconut Cream. I just love it!! It's great on cakes or cupcakes, blended drinks or even just for dipping strawberries.
- My friend Michele - The Paleo Running Momma - also has a great paleo cream cheese frosting recipe. It is made with coconut cream and cashews.
The frosting recipe for this cake is so wonderful, because it is something that everyone can modify to their taste. If you adore the thick, creaminess and tangy taste of cream cheese frosting, go for that. However, if you prefer something healthier, Greek yogurt is a probiotic-rich choice that may make this cake suitable for even breakfast. Either way you slice this cake, it will be a hit to whoever you serve it to.
Coconut Flour eBook
I wrote an eBook dedicated to my love of all things coconut flour. It focuses on sweet baked treats. Check out Coconut Flour Muffins, Pancakes + Mug Cakes HERE!
More Delicious Carrot Recipes
- Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies (Who says that carrot cake is just for dessert?)
- Butternut Squash Carrot Soup
- Shredded Carrot Salad
- The BEST Carrot Cake (traditional, nothing healthy about that one)
Healthy Carrot Cake Recipe
- 4 eggs
- 6 tablespoons maple syrup (or sugar free sweetener of choice)*
- ⅓ cup coconut oil or melted butter
- ¼ cup dairy-free milk of choice like almond milk
- ½ cup coconut flour
- ¼ cup tapioca starch or arrowroot powder
- 1.5 teaspoons baking powder **
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup grated carrots
- ⅓ cup finely chopped or crushed pineapple optional
- ⅓ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
- whipped coconut cream or
- ½ cup cream cheese, softened thick Greek-style yogurt (or dairy-free alternative) work as substitute
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup *
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line a 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl beat eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, milk and vanilla extract until combined.
- On top of the wet ingredients add coconut flour, tapioca starch (or arrowroot) baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until smooth and combined. (Alternatively, you can also blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender.)
- Stir in grated carrots, chopped pecans and crushed pineapple (optional) by hand. Fill batter into prepared pan.
- Bake the healthy carrot cake for about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- For the frosting, beat softened cream cheese and maple syrup with a handheld mixer until smooth and fluffy.
- Using an angled spatula, spread the cream cheese frosting over the fully cooled cake. Create a swirl pattern with an angled spatula or the back of a spoon.
- If avoiding dairy, try substituting a thick dairy-free yogurt or this recipe for whipped coconut cream as alternative frosting.
- Store the cake covered in the fridge.
This was really good! I was surprised! Thank you!
Jennifer @ Leelalicious
Thank you for your lovely review, Rachel! I'm glad you enjoyed this recipe! 🙂
Hi I am so excited to make this recipe! It sounds delicious. I wanted to make cupcakes instead of cake form but I didn’t know if you bake it for the same time as the cake.
Jennifer @ Leelalicious
Hi Emma, it is likely muffins would take a little less time to bake than the full cake. I recommend that you check them around the 15-minute mark to see if a skewer comes out clean. Then, if you think they need more time, you could allow them to continue baking checking at 5-minute intervals. It could be that the 25 minutes will be perfect but it is difficult to say for sure as ovens and baking equipment can vary. Let us know how it goes. 🙂
I made this without the optional pineapple or nuts. It was delicious. The texture was perfect. I ate it with a group of people who do not have food allergies and they all loved it. (My kids and husband who hate coconut also loved it, you don't taste the coconut flour) The only other change I made was that I replaced the nutmeg with powdered ginger. Thank you, will definitely make again.
Jennifer @ Leelalicious
Hi Myra, thank you for your lovely comments! I'm glad that you and your family loved this cake!
It doesn’t say when to add arrow root powder ??
Regina | Leelalicious
Thanks for making me aware of that omission. It's fixed now
Can’t wait to try it with my birthday next month. WW 4pts!
Regina | Leelalicious
Thanks for sharing the points. May be helpful for other readers
Hi I don’t have arrowroot powder, can I add more coconut flour instead?
Regina | Leelalicious
Another tablespoon or 2 of coconut flour should do the trick
I am neither "paleo" nor gluten averse. (I don't even understand them, except for celiac disease needs) I know that's the whole point of this recipe, but it's attractive for its other healthy factors. Can I just substitute wheat flour for the coconut/tapioc combo. Whole wheat, or whole wheat pastry flour? Same amount of everything else?
Regina | Leelalicious
This recipe is specifically developed for coconut flour. Using whole wheat flour you would need at least double the amount of coconut flour. You also won't need as many eggs (maybe only 1 or 2) and less oil should suffice too. You are welcome to experiment, but I think you might be better off looking for a healthy carrot cake recipe that uses whole wheat flour.
I have also used apple sauce. which also helps with sweetening without any added sugar or sugar substitutes.
That's great to hear. How much applesauce did you use? Did you use it instead of another ingredient?
We are on a low fodmap diet for my daughter. Any chance we could substitute the tapioca flour for either almond flour or tigernut flour?
Yes either almond or tigernut should work great in this recipe
What do you recommend for replacing the egg in this recipe? Flax egg, chia egg or aqua faba?
I would try flax egg as a starting point
Can you use granulated monk fruit sweetener?
Regina | Leelalicious
Yes granulated sweetener should work too. If it is a blend with equal sweetness as sugar, I'd guesstimate about 1/2 cp is needed. If the batter seems too dry without liquid sweetener, you can adjust with a little extra milk.
if you double the recipe, would a 19 1/2" x 14" sheet pan work?
If doubling, I would use a 9x13 pan. With a pan your size you can actually quadruple the recipe. Or make a much thinner cake layer and bake for a shorter time too
Hi will it be alright for the maple syrup to be sugar-free for the frosting as well as the cake?
Yes, that should be totally fine
Carrot cake is a big deal in our house, I know this will be a hit! Love that it's easy to turn into muffins, too 😀
The muffins are perfect to turn them into an acceptable breakfast item too 😀