Just in time for Mardi Gras: Better-for-you King Cakes

MOXIE guest blogger, Molly Kimball, shares better-for-you King Cakes just in time for Mardi Gras.

Lower-calorie, lower-carb, or otherwise “healthy-er” king cake may seem unthinkable to some.

My approach, as always, is that if we indulge in a slice or two of king cake occasionally, then we should splurge on what whatever type we love, and savor every bite.

For those of us who are keeping an eye on nutrition and calories, however, it can be worth seeking out other ways to satisfy a craving without all of the fat and sugar.

When I’m on the lookout for “better-for-you” king cake swaps, I look for options with less sugar and fewer white carbs, along with an ingredient list that is as clean and streamlined as possible. This isn’t always easy to determine from a label or marketing claim.

“Vegan” or “gluten-free” king cakes are often (but not always) made with better quality, less-processed ingredients, for example, but many still cram 400-plus calories, 60 grams of carbs and 25 grams of sugar into a standard slice.

To put these numbers into perspective, that’s the carb-equivalent of four slices of white bread, along with a full day’s worth of added sugar.  And it’s really not any lighter in carbs, calories or sugar than traditional king cake.

Some shops, such as Dorignac’s and Adrian’s Bakery in New Orleans East, offer “sugar free” king cakes that are artificially sweetened with sucralose (Splenda), but still made with regular white flour.

These sugar-free king cakes are usually slightly lower in calories than their sugar-filled counterparts, but for people with diabetes and others watching blood sugar and insulin, it’s the total carbs that matter, not just sugar. So while these king cakes may be promoted as “diabetic friendly,” it’s still important to keep a close eye on serving size.

And speaking of serving size, king cake doughnuts have been a popular find lately, offering a smaller alternative to a full-size king cake. The local varieties we examined (some bakeries were generous enough to share their recipe, so we could do the math) still have about 350 calories and 24 grams of sugar per doughnut. The main benefit (nutritionally speaking) is that they do offer built-in portion control – if we can stop at one, that is.

Still, legitimately lower-sugar, better-for-you king cakes do exist in New Orleans. Here is our roundup of options.

Also, we’ve found a bite-sized king cake alternative whose tiny size keeps stats in check and a variety of lower-sugar, lower calorie king cake-flavored beverages to try.

Want to do it yourself? We’ve got a recipe for crazy-good Mardi Gras Cake Pops that are high in protein with no sugar added.

Nutrition facts were provided by the company or calculated using recipes from the bakeries, including the number of servings per cake or recipe as provided.

Low-Sugar, Gluten-Free King Cake 

Girls Gone Vegan Eat Fit King Cake (Vegan, GF, Low Sugar, Eat Fit NOLA-approved)

They’re one of the only bakeries in town offering a king cake that’s not only gluten free and vegan, but also low in sugar, with just 2 grams of sugar per serving. Also approved by Ochsner’s Eat Fit NOLA, each slice (approximately 14 slices per cake) has 210 calories, 29 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, and 2 grams of sugar. Girls Gone Vegan’s Eat Fit King Cakes are available by special order, but require four to give days advance notice. Orders can be placed online at www.girlsgonevegannola.com/eat-fit-nola.

The Green Fork King Cake (GF, Low Sugar, Eat Fit NOLA-approved) 

Made with all-natural ingredients, such as bananas, eggs, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut flour, stevia and a small amount of maple syrup, the Green Fork’s king cake is gluten-free with less than a teaspoon of added sugar per serving, and has the seal of approval by Eat Fit NOLA. Denser than regular king cake with a texture and flavor similar to banana bread, each king cake yields about 16 slices, with 120 calories, 11 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, and 6 grams sugar per slice.

King Cake Bites

Sucre 15 Piece Mardi Gras Macaron Collection (Gluten free) 

These pretty little green, yellow, and purple macarons are like your own personal bite-size king cakes, each with just 65 calories, 13 grams of carbs, and 5.5 grams sugar.

King Cake Sips

PJ’s Eat Fit King Cake Protein Velvet Ice 

This is double good news: For starters, PJ’s Coffee recently launched an Eat Fit Protein Velvet Ice, a high-protein frozen blended coffee drink with less than a teaspoon of added sugar, with the seal of approval by Ochsner Eat Fit.

To make it an Eat Fit King Cake Protein Velvet Ice, simply request king cake coffee concentrate instead of the regular PJ’s coffee concentrate. The result: A guilt-free king cake-flavored frozen blended coffee drink with 230 calories, 21 grams of protein, and fewer than 3 grams of added sugar in a medium 20-ounce serving.

King Cake Flavored Coffee by PJ’s CoffeeCC’s Coffee and Orleans Coffee

If frozen coffee drinks aren’t your thing, another option is king cake flavored coffee – PJ’s CoffeeCC’s Coffee and Orleans Coffee sell it by the bag to brew at home. PJ’s and CC’s also offer king cake-flavored k-cups for coffee machines like Keurig. The king cake flavor is infused into the beans, so each cup has fewer than 8 calories, with zero carbs and zero sugar.

Smoothie King Gladiator King Cake Protein Smoothie

Smoothie King’s signature Gladiator Protein Powder is the foundation of their King Cake Smoothie, blended with almond milk, bananas, cinnamon, almond extract and vanilla extract. A 20-ounce has 350 calories, 49 grams of protein, 34 grams of carbs, and 23 grams of sugar (11 grams of sugar from the sweetened almond milk; the rest is from the natural sugars in the banana).

WELL Company King Cake Smoothie

Of the three blended king cake-flavored drinks we tried, this one is most like sipping real king cake. Made with almond milk, Metagenics Advanced Protein, almond butter, cinnamon, and frozen mango, request this all-natural king cake smoothie to be made without honey to shave about 15 grams of added sugar.

This King Cake Smoothie by WELL Company has 400 calories, 26 grams of protein, and 17 grams of fat (mostly from the natural almond butter), giving it enough staying power to suffice as a full meal or a substantial breakfast or snack.

King Cake Cocktails 

SoBou King Cake Old Fashioned 

Made with Rougaroux Praline Rum, a touch of cinnamon syrup, a couple of dashes of El Guapo chicory-pecan bitters and garnished with a twist of orange peel, SoBou’s King Cake Old Fashioned is inspired by the flavors of traditional king cake, and is made with all-local ingredients. While it will never be mistaken for a “health tonic,” it still has far fewer calories and sugar than traditional king cake.

Mudbug King Cake Ale  

A local brewery based out of Thibodaux, Mudbug Brewery’s King Cake Ale has just a touch of vanilla and cinnamon to give it that king cake flavor.  A 12-ounce King Cake Ale has 145 calories, with 4 percent alcohol by volume – less than what’s in a typical “regular” beer.  But it’s still beer, of course, so keep in mind that ‘moderate’ intake is not more than one drink a day for women; two for men.

These protein-rich festive cake pops adapted from QuestNutrition.com have just one-third the carbs and 86 percent fewer calories, with four times the fiber of traditional cake pops.

Mardi Gras Cake Pops
Makes 18 servings


1 Double Chocolate Chunk Quest Bar

1/ 2 cup vanilla protein powder (e.g. Quest Vanilla Milkshake Protein Powder)

1/ 2 cup almond flour

1 1/ 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tablespoons zero-calorie sweetener (such as Swerve Sugar Replacer or Truvia)

1/ 2 teaspoon baking soda

1/ 4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Coconut cooking spray


1 scoop vanilla protein powder (e.g. Quest Vanilla Milkshake Protein Powder)

3 1/ 2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese

1/ 4 cup zero-calorie sweetener (such as Swerve Sugar Replacer or Truvia)

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mardi Gras Coating

6 ounces sugar-free white chocolate (such as 5 Sparrows)

1/4 cup each purple, yellow, green colored sugar sprinkles (try homemade with natural food coloring and Swerve or Truvia)

18 colorful straws, cut to half-size


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium-size microwave-safe bowl, heat unwrapped Double Chocolate Chunk Quest Bar for 10 seconds.

Using a rolling pin, roll bar out to 1/4-inch thickness. Bake for 4 minutes, or until bar is lightly crisped. Remove to cool. Break the crisped bar into pieces, place in mini blender, and blend into crumbly powder.

In medium-size mixing bowl, add vanilla protein powder, crumbled Double Chocolate Chunk Quest Bar, almond flour, cocoa powder, zero-calorie sweetener, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Add almond milk and vanilla extract. Blend cake base until fully incorporated and mixed well.

Coat a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour in batter. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and cake is completely cooked and springy. Remove and let cool. Break cake into small pieces, and place in a large mixing bowl.


In a medium-size bowl, add vanilla protein powder, cream cheese, zero-calorie sweetener, sour cream and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth.


Add frosting to crumbled cake, and mix together until frosting is incorporated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 20 minutes.

Cake Balls: 

Remove cake from freezer. Take a small amount of cake batter and form 18 walnut-sized balls.

Break white chocolate into even-size small pieces and heat slowly to melt.

Carefully dip each cake ball into melted white chocolate. Gently tap the edge to remove excess. Place each pop on wax paper and insert colorful straws.

Chill for 10 minutes in freezer, or until white chocolate hardens and creates a shell.  Roll in colored sugar sprinkles to decorate in festive Mardi Gras colors!

Per serving:  110 calories, 7 grams fat, 0 saturated fat, 3 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 0 sugar, 7 grams protein.

Compare to traditional Cake Pops:  Per serving: 170 calories, 9 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 23 grams carbohydrate, 0 fiber, 18 grams sugar, 1 gram protein. 


Molly Kimball is a registered dietitian in New Orleans. She can be reached at eatingright@nola.com. Comment and read more atNOLA.com/eat-drink. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/mollykimballrd and Twitter: twitter.com/mollykimballrd. Registered dietitian Molly Kimball offers brand-name products as a consumer guide; she does not solicit product samples nor is paid to recommend items.



Article originally published on February 07, 2017  Molly Kimball | NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

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