While there are plenty of healthy breakfast options, those typically aren’t the things you’re going to reach for when you’re in a rush before work — or what you’ll order at your favorite weekend brunch spot. When you’re younger, your body can adjust to some of those bad choices, but when you’re older? Let’s just say you’re going to be feeling the aftermath all day long.
To make sure you’re setting yourself up for success first-thing in the morning, add these meals to your avoid-at-all-costs list. Once you rid all the sugar, cholesterol, and refined foods out of your life, you’ll be feeling like you’re half your age.
If you make granola yourself, you’re in charge of the ingredients and can make sure you’re getting something that’s not just junk food in disguise. Grabbing something on store shelves, on the other hand, can have an entire day’s worth of sugar in a single serving, so don’t depend on it as a healthy morning staple.
Coffee with Sugar and Creamer
There are benefits to starting your day with coffee. A 2010 review published in the journal Nutrition found that coffee can increase the amount of energy you feel, and the Mayo Clinic suggests it could also help you burn more calories during the day and suppress mid-morning cravings. However, if you’re adding a truckload of sugar and creamer into your brew, you’re basically slashing many of caffeine’s benefits (and possibly even increasing the number on the scale).
Flavored Oatmeal Packets
It’s so tempting to grab a packet of flavored oats that you can just pop in the microwave and have ready in seconds, but you’re much better off making your own. Those varieties are often jam-packed with added sugar that’s only going to make you crave more sweet treats the rest of the day.
Smoothies are a great breakfast choice. The only catch? If you’re only using fruit, it’s basically sugar overload, raising your blood sugar like crazy, says the Cleveland Clinic. Instead, create a more balanced mix of fruit and veggies, like spinach and kale.
One thing’s for sure: everyone loves cereal (yes, even adults). When you’re a grown-up, you can’t be eating those colorful, sugary varieties anymore, though. (Sorry!) Ditch the boxes that contain a ton of added sugar and weird preservatives, and instead go with wholesome options with at least three grams of fiber, low sugar, and low calories, says the Mayo Clinic.
Toast and Butter
You can’t go wrong with toast for breakfast — you just have to be careful with how you make it. If your routine typically involves smearing on some butter and cinnamon-sugar, drop it ASAP. Instead, top a piece of whole grain bread with a hearty protein — like peanut butter or avocado — that’s going to fully satisfy you until lunch (and not just make you crash a couple hours later).
Pop-Tarts are undeniably good. The only issue? They’re also undeniably bad for your body. The toaster pastries contain high-fructose corn syrup, bleached flour, and artificial flavors, and just one has over 200 calories and 20 grams of sugar. Yikes.
Bagel and Cream Cheese
If most people could eat a bagel and cream cheese every morning, they probably would. The issue is that combining all those empty carbs with a sugary spread is only going to raise your blood sugar levels. Instead, if you’re going to choose a carb, make it a whole grain, then use a better-for-you topping like hummus and avocado.
Bacon is horrible for a whole lot of reasons. Not only does the processed meat put you at risk of heart disease because of all the fat and cholesterol it contains, but it’s also listed as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization. In fact, eating 50 grams of processed meat — which would be four strips of bacon — every day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer alone by 18 percent. Instead, ditch the bacon and make a healthier plant-based version instead using tempeh, mushrooms, or even eggplant.
While some breakfast sandwiches can fuel you, the typical combo will do the exact opposite. Starting your day with bacon or sausage, egg, and cheese will fill your body with unhealthy fats and loads of cholesterol, not to mention those dangers that come from eating processed meat on the daily.
Pancakes always taste delicious, but they’re not the healthiest breakfast choice by any means. The refined white flour is bad for your health due to its lack of nutrients and ability to cause blood sugar spikes, and slathering a stack with butter and syrup is basically the equivalent of eating a sugary dessert.
If your leftover dinner is packed with veggies and whole grains, sure — go ahead and devour it for breakfast if you want to. But if it’s greasy pizza or another fatty food, ditch it: All that sodium and fat is just going to make you feel bloated and uncomfortable all day long.
Unfortunately, if pancakes are on this list, waffles have to be, too. Unless you’re making yours with more wholesome ingredients, the same issue remains: all that white flour and sugar from the syrup is only going to weigh you down and won’t give you the energy your body needs to get through the day.
Omelets are a classic breakfast option, but they’re definitely not the best for your health — especially as you get older. Because you’re only supposed to take in 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day (200 milligrams if your cholesterol is already elevated), eating even just one egg already puts you at 213 milligrams. So it’s safe to say eating an omelet that requires multiple eggs isn’t the greatest choice, especially because they’re typically packed with processed meat and cheese.
Pop-Tarts aren’t the only unhealthy grab-and-go breakfast choice. Toaster Strudels are best to avoid, too, because of their high amount of calories, saturated fat, and sugar. The super-long ingredients list is already a major sign to skip it.
Eggs already contain potentially dangerous cholesterol and saturated fats if you eat them in high quantities, and frying them up in oil is even worse news for your health. No matter which type of oil you use, healthy or not, it’s going to be chock-full of calories: even olive oil contains 119 calories per Tbsp. Plus, if you use vegetable oils, you’re taking in trans fats that can increase your risk of heart disease.
Egg on White Toast
Preparing an egg and eating it over a piece of white toast might taste good, but you might want to rethink this simple breakfast. Eating eggs can raise your cholesterol levels, while the refined white flour can cause your blood sugar to spike.
Whether you make it yourself or buy a frozen version to heat up, many breakfast burritos are mostly full of animal products like eggs, cheese, and processed meat — all of which contain cholesterol that can build up plaque in your arteries and potentially lead to a heart attack, stroke, or heart disease.
Toast with Jelly
Even if you skip white bread for a healthier whole grain option, using jelly still isn’t the best option for your health. Sure, there’s some fruit in there, but most varieties contain loads of extra added sugar that put you well over the daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association, which is six teaspoons (or 25 grams) for women and nine teaspoons (or 36 grams) for men.
It’s not uncommon to grab some eggs Benedict for brunch. Unfortunately, that combo of eggs, processed meat, and the fatty Hollandaise sauce — made up of egg yolks and melted butter — is only going to make you feel crappy. In fact, a cup of the sauce can contain more than 1,000 calories alone — and that’s not including everything else on your plate.
With the limited amount of eggs experts recommend eating every week, baking yourself up an egg casserole is just asking for trouble. Skip out on all that excess cholesterol and instead create a make-ahead dish that’s going to do your body good, like a sweet potato-based option that’s loaded with filling fiber, plenty of vitamin A, and healthy carbs.
You’re really not going to get anything beneficial from slathering pieces of white bread in a batter made of milk and eggs, then dousing it with butter and syrup. While having a piece of whole grain toast for breakfast topped with a heart-healthy fat like peanut butter is a solid choice, this version definitely isn’t.
Sorry, donut lovers, but the breakfast treat is exactly that — a treat. Because they’re loaded with sugar and often fried, they should be enjoyed as a once-in-a-while dessert, not something to start the day with. (Unless you want to crash at your desk before noon, that is.)
Like bacon, sausage is a processed meat you’re going to want to stay far away from, especially as you age. Because it’s listed as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization, it’s best to go for something a little healthier when you feel like adding a side to your meal, like a vitamin-loaded piece of fruit.
Unless you’re at a famous bakery in France, leave the croissants off your plate — even the mouth-wateringly good chocolate ones. The flaky pastry might be delicious, but the treat can set you back hundreds of fiberless calories that will leave you hungry again in no time.
Scones might be tasty, but they’re only hurting your health. Because they’re loaded with calories and saturated fat from their not-so-great list of ingredients — like heavy cream, butter, and white flour — go for a healthy whole grain English muffin when you’re craving some carbs in the morning.
Buying a pack of flavored yogurt from the grocery store sounds like a great on-the-go breakfast option, right? Think again. Unfortunately, this option (yes, including the Greek yogurt types) is almost always loaded with sugar that will only leave you feeling unsatisfied and hungry in the end — and make you want to reach for another sugary snack later, says the Cleveland Clinic.
Combining sugary yogurt with even sugarier store-bought granola seems smart in the moment, but all that parfait is going to do is make your blood sugar spike. Some fast food restaurants make it like a healthy breakfast option, but a small container can be loaded with up to 16 grams of sugar.
Sausage Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and gravy is such a classic breakfast, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy one. The super-processed meal is loaded with fat and cholesterol, and aside from making your stomach hurt, filling up your plate can end up being thousands of calories.
Chicken and Waffles
Fried chicken on a waffle slathered in sugary syrup? It’s safe to say nothing about this breakfast is good for you at any age — especially considering the fried chicken alone contains plenty of saturated fat, not to mention hundreds of calories a piece. Putting all that in your body can seriously affect your health — particularly your ticker, because it can put you at risk of heart disease.
Having potatoes for breakfast is a great way to power yourself through the day — just not when they’re fried. Ditch the body-harming fats that come along with most hash browns and instead opt for a homemade version that’s not full of grease.
Stuffed French Toast
If French toast is a no-no, so is the stuffed version. When you stuff your bread with even more sugar and fat — like from using whipped cream or cream cheese — you’re only adding more fuel to the fire.
If you tend to eat Belgian waffles over the regular kind, you’re not doing your health any favors. While regular waffles tend to be smaller and thinner, the Belgian variety is big and thick with deeper grids meant to hold even more syrup, butter, and cream.
It’s hard to turn down coffee cake: it’s been around for years as a morning staple, after all. The main thing to remember, though, is that it’s still a cake — and as nice as it would be to eat it for breakfast, it should stay a dessert.
When it comes to unhealthy breakfasts, cinnamon rolls are just the icing on top — literally. Because they’re loaded with white flour, butter, and plenty of sugar, you could take in hundreds of calories and not get much in return because of the lack of protein, fiber, and overall nutrition.
Even topping your crepe with fruit won’t make it a healthy breakfast option. Because they’re made from flour, eggs, milk, and butter, they’re no better than eating a pancake or waffle — it’s the same thing, just in a different form.
You can put as much fruit into your muffins as you want, but it’s not going to counteract the negatives of the common breakfast food. The average medium-sized muffin can easily rack up well over 400 calories and 40 grams of sugar. If you want to make a healthier version, at least amp up the ingredients with whole grain flour, no sugar, and plenty of veggies like zucchini or carrots.
Chugging a glass of orange or apple juice isn’t a hearty breakfast by any means — and it’s especially not the healthiest. According to Mark Hyman, MD, you’re better off eating the actual fruit than chugging a glass full of it. “Don’t think juice is a healthy drink. Now, how many apples do we need to get in one glass of juice? Probably five. Just eat the five apples. You probably won’t get through the first two,” he says.
Grabbing a Frappuccino on the way to work for breakfast isn’t too unhealthy, right? Wrong. Depending on what size you get, you could be sipping on something that has up to 100 grams of sugar, which isn’t great, considering that’s way over the recommended 25 to 36 grams daily limit (which varies depending on your gender).
It doesn’t matter if it’s a granola bar or any other store-bought breakfast bar — it’s probably loaded with sugar that’s only going to weigh you down. While you can find healthier alternatives on shelves, one of the best ways you can ensure that what’s going into your body will fuel you is by making your own version at home.