Is There a Case to Be Made for Eating Vegan Donuts?

Personal Health

It’s always been funny to me how donut sounds like “do not” as in, you should not eat them, but they’re so good you cannot resist. Or maybe I’m the only one. 

Following the big cupcake boom of 2008, donuts followed suit. Shops selling specialty, artisanal donuts (or doughnuts) popped up in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, tempting the frosting crowd with something a little bit more, well, fried. Because what’s a healthy serving of sugar without some extra grease?  

Krispy Kreme, which has been pumping out glazed donuts since its original conception in North Carolina circa 1937, has become a favorite of donut consumers. You may remember the episode of Sex and the City in which Miranda quits Weight Watchers because it is next to a Krispy Kreme shop (only one remains in New York City, in Penn Station).

According to not-so-easy-to-find nutritional information on Krispy Kreme’s website, the standard glazed donut has 190 calories, 100 of those from fat. With 11 grams of fat  (but no trans fats) and a nominal amount of fiber and vitamins, the only redeeming quality to a Krispy Kreme donut is its taste.

But those with a sweet tooth and a health-conscious mindset may want to enjoy a treat a little less guilt-ridden.  Enter the baked, gluten-free and vegan donuts. Babycakes, a vegan, soy- and gluten-free bakeshop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has achieved cult status with those who shy from animal products, and while the sweets are admittedly tasty, choosing a dairy-, egg- and wheat-free donut doesn’t necessarily make it any healthier. Babycakes' website lists its Big Buy Donut (made from rice flour, potato starch, and garbanzo fava bean flour) as having 338.7 calories, 14.82 grams of fat and a negligible amount of fiber and protein. 

With more calories and a higher fat content than the signature Krispy Kreme, are these perceived healthier donuts in fact healthier at all? Even Babycakes’ Lil Guy, a smaller version of the donut, packs 225.8 calories and 9.88 grams of fat, more comparable to a Krispy Kreme but still not a health substitute. 

A recent trip to New York’s acclaimed Doughnut Plant led to a tasting of its famous crème brulee doughseed, served with crisp sugar on top and a creamy custard in the center of a fluffy donut. Divine, of course. The Cinnamon Snail, a vegan food truck which won the 2014 Vendy Cup for being the best food truck in New York, serves a similar donut, albeit vegan. The donut tasted pretty similar to the animal product-packed version and was served warm for a nice touch of comfort.

“It’s a great way to lure people into eating other vegan foods; they venture out of their comfort zone with a delicious-looking donut, regardless of the face that it’s vegan,” said Adam Sobel, chef of the Cinnamon Snail. Often customers who enjoy their sweet desserts will then be more tempted to enjoy something like the truck’s Korean BBQ Seitan, which definitely has more benefits to its meat alternative. 

While nutritional information for both of these tasty donut treats is not easily found via either of their websites, we can probably guess that whether you’re going whole hog (ok, eggs and dairy) version or the slightly deprived version, you’re not getting any health benefits by choosing the “healthier” donut.  Sobel agrees that there’s nothing healthy about deep-fried dough, but it’s definitely better for animals to choose a vegan treat, and hey, next time a donut-lover may even opt for kale. 

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