We get it. Whipping up a cake from a box is much easier than gathering all the ingredients and baking it from scratch. But taking this shortcut could cost you in the health department. Many of these cake mixes are loaded with belly-bloating sugar, questionable chemicals, and sometimes even hidden trans fats — that’s nothing to celebrate.
That’s not to say you should steer clear of cake mixes altogether. There are some better-for-you brands that you can enjoy in moderation. Here, we’ve ranked 20 of the most popular cake mix brands from worst to best so you can make the smarter choice next time you go grocery shopping. For more ways to shop smartly, check out our list of 46 Best Supermarket Shopping Tips Ever
Vanilla Mixes From Worst… To Best
Because every brand differs on their preparation techniques — when it comes to how many eggs to use or whether to blend the mix with butter or oil — we chose to rank the brands based solely on their dry mix nutrition facts. Points were deducted from cakes with high fat content — as these fats are likely from shortening and inflammatory oils — as well as mixes that are high in sugar and calories. Any mix made with now-banned trans fats immediately went to the worst of the worst despite any potentially redeeming nutritional qualities.
The Worst Vanilla Mix Is…Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 180 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat, “0 g trans fat”), 350 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (0 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
Yes, the best-tasting cake mix box also happens to be the worst for your belly. Why? It’s one of the last of the few foods with trans fats. Particularly, it’s made with partially hydrogenated oil, a man made trans fat that the FDA has mandated to be removed from our food supply by the end of 2017 because of the ingredient’s connection to cardiovascular disease. But that’s not all it’s got going against it. It also contains a slew of chemicals like propylene glycol mono- and diesters of fats, sodium stearoyl lactylate, artificial flavors, and artificial colors. Pass.
Jiffy Golden Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/6 package (43 g): 175 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat, “0 g trans fat”), 285 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (0 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 2 g protein
Labels like this can be quite deceiving. Jiffy may legally be able to claim that this product contains “0 g trans fat,” but a deeper look at their ingredients explains otherwise. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cottonseed oil both qualify as trans fats. (And due to an FDA loophole, companies don’t have to declare that a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fats.) And as stated above, there’s no reason to continue to ingest these potentially life threatening ingredients.
Betty Crocker Favorites Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 160 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat, “0 g trans fat”), 310 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
Like the old saying, “A minute on your lips, forever on your hips.” This moist cake gets its dreamy texture and crumble by using a large dose of chemicals. With better options on the shelves, this one can stay as Betty’s favorite alone.
Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe French Vanilla
Per 1/12 package (43 g): 160 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat, “0 g trans fat”), 240 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (0 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 1 g protein
Another cake company, another sneaky label. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is a man made trans fat whether or not food companies agree. If the FDA will be protecting us from this dangerous ingredient in just the flip of a calendar, why not start saying goodbye now?
Betty Crocker Super Moist Favorites Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 160 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat, “0 g trans fat”), 310 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
This cake mix may contain less than two percent of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, but we’re still not having it. There’s not any amount of trans fat that’s okay in our book.
Pillsbury Sugar Free Classic Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (45 g): 130 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 19 g sugar alcohols), 2 g protein
Pillsbury pleased us when we noticed a true case of 0 grams trans fat, but once we hit the next ingredient line our disappointment was back. That’s because the dough-boy brand uses Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose: two artificial sweeteners that can mess with your satiety signals. Plus, the company uses 19 grams of sugar alcohols, which “can produce abdominal gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals because they are not completely absorbed by the body and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine,” according to the FDA. So if you’re still set on this mix, make sure there’s a restroom nearby.
Pillsbury Moist Supreme Yellow Premium Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 160 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
We applaud Pillsbury for ditching the heart-breaking trans fats, but they still use inflammatory artificial ingredients like distilled monoglycerides.
Krusteaz Organic Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (44 g): 160 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (< 1 g fiber, 19 g sugars), 2 g protein
The soybean oil in this cake mix isn’t partially hydrogenated, but we’re still not a fan. Soybean oil can actually lead to more weight gain than sugar thanks to its high omega-6 fatty acid content, according to a study by University of California researchers. An excess of omega-6’s can increase hunger and decrease fat-burning, which is not the key to a guilt-free dessert.
Miss Jones Organic Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (42 g): 155 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (2 g fiber, 22 g sugar), 2 g protein
Now that’s what we like to see — a cake mix that you can indulge in without a single gram of fat. Miss Jones herself says baked goods from her organic mixes should taste like they’re made from scratch, so dig in and see for yourself.
Foodstirs Organic Simply Sweet Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/13 package (43 g): 165 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 165 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (1 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 2 g protein
Noticing a trend yet? The lower we get on this list, the more organic mixes we’re loving. This one in particular has a list of ingredients we can pronounce, although you can thank the sunflower oil that’s been added for the 1 gram of fat.
Arrowhead Mills Organic Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/12 package (43 g): 160 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (< 1 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 2 g protein
If you’re looking to cut back on sodium, check out this organic mix from Arrowhead Mills. It’s only got 140 milligrams, which is the lowest on our list by far.
King Arthur Flour Golden Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/16 mix (43 g): 150 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (3 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 2 g protein
A non-organic mix in the top 5? Not a typo. This King Arthur mix takes the cake when it comes to calories, ranking lowest on the list with only 150. It’s even got resistant cornstarch, which will have you feeling fuller for longer and keep you from reaching for that second slice.
The Best Vanilla Mix Is… Madhava Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 155 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 230 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (0 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 2 g protein
If you’re going to eat cake, this is the way to do it. Madhava uses ingredients you would have in your pantry, making the splurge as good for you as possible. This dessert is fully organic and low in sugar, so go wild and grab seconds!
Gluten Free Vanilla Mixes From Worst… To Best
For those of you with a gluten intolerance, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Since most gluten-free brands tend to add a lot of chemicals to thicken their desserts and give them texture, we know it can be extra hard finding cake that not only tastes good, but is good for you. That’s why we based our rankings not only on basic nutrition, but on the ingredients found in each dry mix.
King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/14 package (45 g): 160 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (0 g fiber, 22 g sugar), 0 g protein
Before you get too excited about the lack of fat in this cake mix, you should know that there are still some sneaky fats in this mix; Mono- and diglycerides are on the ingredients list, which have been known to contain the same health-harming trans fats that have been banned. But even without that, this would still rank worst on our list because it’s got the highest levels of sugar and carbs. For being a King Arthur mix, it’s definitely not fit for royalty.
Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/12 package (44 g): 160 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (0 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 0 g protein
We’re proud of Bob’s Red Mill for being free of trans fat, but just because everything about this nutritional panel is slightly better than the last one still doesn’t mean it’s a good choice.
Glutino Gluten Free Pantry Old Fashioned Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/9 package (44 g): 160 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 230 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (0 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 1 g protein
Kudos to Glutino for being the first mix on the list with protein and less than 20 grams of sugar, but we’re disappointed the brand chooses to use white rice flour when brown rice flour is available.
Betty Crocker Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 150 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 230 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (0 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 1 g protein
What has everything on this list had in common so far? Xanthan gum, and this Betty Crocker Mix is no exception. Commonly used as a thickener in gluten-free products to add texture and elasticity, we understand why xanthan gum is useful, but that doesn’t mean we support it. The ingredient has been associated with lung problems, flu-like symptoms, and intestinal gas, and there’s nothing sweet about cake with that on the side.
Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix
Per 1/10 package (43 g): 160 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 185 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (1 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 2 g protein
Obviously a slice of cake is not where you should be going for your daily source of protein. But that being said, it is impressive that this cake mix has 2 grams, considering most of the others don’t have any at all. Another plus? It’s relatively low in both sugar and sodium.
Pamela’s Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/14 package dry mix (43 g): 130 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 375 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (1 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 0 g protein
You win some, you lose some. Although boasting fewer calories than everything else on this list, Pamela’s cake mix also ranks highest in sodium with almost 400 milligrams per serving. That wasn’t the only thing keeping it from our number one spot, though. Its lengthy ingredients list, like the others, contains the xanthan gum, starches, and gluten-free flavor that our winner manages to avoid.
The Best Gluten Free Vanilla Mix Is… Simple Mills Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Almond Flour Mix
Per 1/8 package (40 g): 175 calories, 8 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 280 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 4 g protein
Although this Simple Mills cake mix is a little higher in calories than some of the other options on this list, we love that it’s made up of ingredients you could easily purchase on your own. There’s something so much more satisfying about made-from-scratch taste without made-from-scratch effort. Its low levels of sodium, carbs, and sugar are just the icing on the cake! But if you’re craving chocolate, we’ve got you covered with this Zero Belly Cookbook Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake.
Lead image courtesy of Betty Crocker