A Saturday morning bakery run, complete with your favorite latte and a donut, sounds like a perfect way to ring in the weekend. But should you be worrying about donut calories? What about sugar? Is it okay to eat donuts every weekend?
First, know this: While it’s true that some foods have more nutritional value than others (kale vs. candy, if you will) that doesn’t mean any food is inherently “good” or “bad” and labeling things you eat this way can actually have some harmful effects on your mental health and perpetuate the toxicity of diet culture.
Bottom line? Don’t do it. Oh, and donuts aren’t evil.
Still, there’s more to learn about these delicious pastries that can clue you in to how to build the treats into a healthy diet. For example, the average glazed donut (about 4 inches in diameter) contains about 253 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 4 grams of protein — plus 14 grams of sugar. But not all donuts are created equal. Depending on how they’re made or if they have a filling or icing, some can have as much 400-500 calories or more per donut, says Maggie Michalczyk, a Chicago-based registered dietitian. That’s a lot of donut calories for something without a lot of nutrition staying power.
What Affects Donut Calories?
So, how can you tell how many donut calories you’re consuming? There are a few things to consider:
- How they’re prepared: Fried or baked? Fried donuts will typically have more calories than baked donuts, due to being cooked in oil.
- What kind of batter: Donuts are typically made with either yeast or cake batter. Airier yeast donuts usually have fewer calories than cake donuts, which have a denser texture.
- Toppings: Beyond a basic glaze or sprinkles, donuts these days are topped with everything from whipped cream and cookie crumbles to colorful cereal and bacon. Pretty obvious, but the more toppings, the more donut calories you’re consuming.
- Fillings: Filled donuts that contain cream, chocolate, or jams will have more calories and sugar than those that are not filled.
- Size: Donuts are all over the place in size, from one-bite donut holes to huge treats bigger than your hand. The standard size for a donut, however, is about 3 inches in diameter, says Michalczyk. Obviously, the bigger your donut, the more calories it will have — and the more toppings it can hold.
Gallery: 10 Best Sugar-Free Chocolate Brands to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth (Good Housekeeping)
In general, most donuts are high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, and low in nutrients, says Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Related: The Healthiest Orders at Dunkin’ Donuts)
Examples of Donut Calories
While the calorie range for donuts varies widely, here are a few examples of donut calories for different types you come across, according to Ehsani. (Related: Delicious Homemade Donut Recipes)
Plain Glazed Donut
- 190-480 calories
- 22-56 grams carbs
- 11-27 grams fat
- 3-5 grams protein
Iced Donut with Cream Filling
- 350 calories
- 41 grams carbs
- 19 grams fat
- 4 grams protein
Specialty Donut with Toppings (i.e. Cookies and Cream)
- 390 calories
- 49 grams carbs
- 21 grams fat
- 4 grams protein
How Donut Calories Compare to Other Breakfast Pastries
It’s tough to do a direct comparison because breakfast pastries, just like donuts, vary widely in calorie content depending on their ingredients, size, and preparation method. Plus, names can be deceiving: For instance, you might assume, a bran muffin or slice of banana bread is the best choice, but those can still be high in calories, fat, and sugar, says Ehsani. (Craving banana bread now? Sorry, but these recipes for vegan banana bread and gluten-free banana bread can solve that.😉)
When it comes to treats such as croissants, danishes, scones, and coffee cake, they’re all made from refined flour, sugar, butter or oil, and eggs. Ehsani says your best option if you’re going to have a breakfast pastry is to choose one that’s on the smaller side (those massive blueberry crumble muffins are likely higher in sugar, fat, and calories than most donuts) and preferably made with whole grains, as it will contain more filling fiber to keep you satisfied. (Related: The Best Muffin Recipes for a Quick, Healthy Breakfast)
Even better, skip the coffee shop variety and make your own breakfast pastry at home using whole-grain flours, heart-healthy oil, and less sugar, or a sugar alternative (homemade paleo Pop-Tarts, anyone?).
The Bottom Line On Donut Calories
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t eat donuts. “While a donut is not the healthiest food in the world, looking at food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can put a lot of stress around food and make you banish this food, only to make you feel extremely guilty when you do allow yourself to have it,” says Michalczyk. She adds that looking at donuts as a treat you can enjoy once in a while — say, the occasional Saturday morning — is a smarter approach that will enable you to truly enjoy them and continue making healthy choices.