Whether you’re hosting a birthday party or baking a cake for another special occasion, finding a healthy boxed cake mix is pretty much a non-starter. While that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a slice of cake every once in a while, some pre-made cake mixes are worse than others once you factor in things like added sugars, food dyes, and hydrogenated oils.
“I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that most cake mixes are high in added sugar,” says Breanna Woods, MS, RD, registered dietitian for Blogilates. According to the American Heart Association, most women should consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day, or 36 grams for most men.
In addition to added sugars, Woods says to watch out for food dyes. “Food dyes like Red 40 and Yellows 5 and 6 might be on your radar to avoid, especially if someone in your family has an allergy,” Woods says. “These are usually found in colorful mixes like Funfetti or Rainbow Chip.”
Registered dietitian and Everlywell consultant Heather Hanley, RD, adds that you should also take into account hydrogenated oils, which can affect cholesterol levels. “The best way to check is to read the ingredient label, and if you see partially hydrogenated oil (any kind of oil, vegetable, palm, corn), it’s best to pass and find a product with no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.”
With that information in mind, here are nine of the worst boxed cake mixes you can buy right now.
Per 1/6 package mix (and topping) (102 g): 360 calories, 10 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 290 mg sodium, 65 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 44 g sugar), 2 g protein
Fans of pineapple upside-down cake, you may want to think twice before grabbing this box off the shelf. “This mix contains 41 grams of added sugar per serving,” says Woods. “You don’t have to avoid the mix completely, but you could always make your own topping with less sugar.” Additionally, it has nearly a third of the daily recommended amount of saturated fat and a whopping 360 calories per slice.
Per 1/6 package mix (57 g): 220 calories, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 220 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 27 g sugar), 2 g protein
You’d think pound cake might be a slightly better option since there are no rainbow-colored mix-ins. However, one serving of Betty Crocker’s pound cake mix boasts 27 grams of added sugar. Plus, it contains nearly 20 percent of the daily recommended value for carbohydrates in one serving.
Per 1/14 package mix (43 g): 180 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (4 g fiber, 28 g sugar), 2 g protein
There’s nothing better than a good ole’ slab of chocolate cake. However, you’ll want to keep your distance from this mix that has 27 grams of added sugar (which is 54 percent of the daily recommended value). It doesn’t have any artificial colors or dyes so you’re good on that front, but bear in mind that it does have 12 grams of saturated fat per slice.
Per 1/12 package mix (40 g): 150 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 340 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (0 g fiber, 24 g sugar), 3 g protein
While this angel food cake mix is low in calories and fat-free, it’s loaded with added sugars—nearly 48 percent of the recommended daily value. Plus, it contains artificial colors including Yellows 5 and 6, Red 40, and Blue 1, making it a bad pick for those with allergies or food sensitivities.
Per 1/3 cup of dry mix (45 g): 170 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 300 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 2 g protein
Just because this cake mix is from Whole Foods, don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s healthy. While the mix doesn’t have a lot of fat, it contains over 20 grams of added sugars. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating an excessive amount of added sugars can increase the risk of heart disease. Additionally, it contains xanthan gum, which has been linked to digestive problems.
Per 1/10 of of package (43 g): 160 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 360 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
This strawberry cake from Pillsbury gets its light reddish-pink color from Red 40 food dye. Hanley notes that Red 40 is made from petroleum jelly and although it’s FDA approved, consuming it in large quantities is not recommended. Instead, opt for Pillsbury’s Traditional Vanilla cake mix, which you can enjoy alongside some fresh strawberries for a similar flavor profile.
Per 1/3 of package (43 g): 160 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 370 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
This cake mix contains Yellow 5 food dye, which Hanley notes is banned in Austria and Norway. With that in mind, it’s safe to say you probably shouldn’t be consuming this additive. This mix also contains 19 grams of added sugar, which—you guessed it!—can be detrimental to health over time.
Per 1/3 of package (43 g): 170 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 320 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (0 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 1 g protein
Since Joyfetti Confetti Cake Mix contains palm oil, a hydrogenated oil, Hanley suggests passing on this colorful fan-favorite cake mix. You’ll also find a plethora of food dyes on the ingredients label including Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Blue 2. Hanley also points out that Yellow 6 has been banned in Norway and Finland and has been associated with tumors in laboratory animals.
Per 1/10 of package (43 g): 170 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 340 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (0 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 1 g protein
This Classic White cake mix not only contains loads of added sugar, but also different types of gums that aren’t great for you. On the ingredients label, you’ll see additives like xanthan gum and guar gum, which have been linked to digestive issues including excessive gas and diarrhea. And while those additives are generally considered to be safe for most people, others may not want to risk it.