With many people claiming that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you may wonder whether all breakfast options are created equal.
After all, who wouldn’t like to enjoy a tasty, filling, and nutritious breakfast that keeps them fueled for the morning ahead?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the healthiest breakfast choices contain a combination of protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep you feeling full until lunchtime, along with a moderate amount of unrefined carbs to provide quick energy (
Unfortunately, many common breakfast foods don’t meet these criteria and may leave you feeling either hungry shortly after eating or uncomfortably full.
Here are 15 breakfast foods to skip, along with 10 healthier alternatives and some tips and ideas on how to create your own healthy breakfasts that’ll have you excited to get out of bed and start the day.
Despite their sweet, crunchy profile and common presence on the breakfast table, most sugary cereals won’t sustain you for long.
They’re typically full of sugar and low in protein, meaning that they’ll rapidly increase your blood sugar levels. This can lead to irritability and hunger once the blood-sugar-reducing hormone insulin takes effect (
Likewise, even unsweetened cereals like corn or bran flakes tend to be low in protein, with just 2 grams of protein per cup (25 grams) and 4 grams of protein per cup (45 grams), respectively. So, while they contain less added sugar, they’re still not the best way to start your day (
Even more natural-seeming options like granola are often loaded with added sugars, which have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (
For these reasons, while sugary or other highly refined cereals may be alright as a once-in-a-while treat, they’re not the best everyday breakfast option.
We hate to break it to you, but pancakes and waffles are not a nutritious way to fuel your mornings. Despite their tasty profile, these comfort foods are often made with refined white flour and topped with butter and syrup, which is essentially pure sugar.
This means that pancakes and waffles are high in calories, fat, and sugar, yet lacking in protein and fiber. So, while they can fill you up quickly, they won’t keep you full for long (
However, if your cravings for pancakes or waffles are too strong to ignore, opt for versions with whole grains or other nutrient-dense ingredients like almond or chickpea flour. You can pair them with protein sources of your choice, and use nut butter instead of syrup as a topping.
Buttered toast is a simple and easy breakfast. All you need is a slice of bread and some butter, and you’re in for a crunchy, salty morning meal.
Nevertheless, this option won’t sustain you for any lasting amount of time due to its lack of protein. The vast majority of the calories in buttered toast come from the carbs in the bread and the fat from the butter (
Yet, bread and butter can still be an appropriate breakfast option if you choose whole grain bread and add protein-rich toppings like eggs or shredded chicken breast. To further boost the nutrient content, add sliced vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, or leafy greens.
Muffins are widely considered to be a somewhat healthy choice for breakfast, especially if they contain healthy ingredients like bran, oats, apples, or blueberries.
Unfortunately, this is often a misconception. In fact, most muffins are made with refined white flour, oil, and loads of sugar, offering little in the way of protein or fiber. Additionally, they’re often large and loaded with calories, some containing nearly 400 calories each (
If you still decide to reach for a muffin in the morning, make sure to choose a version made with whole grain or other types of less refined flour, fruits and nuts, and minimal added sugar.
Even though you might think that quenching your thirst with fruit juice is healthier than drinking sugary sodas or sweetened teas, it’s not the best drink choice.
While fruit juice contains nutrients and antioxidants, it’s high in sugar and low in the fiber found in whole fruits, meaning it’s not particularly filling (
Thus, it’s best to only enjoy this colorful drink occasionally, and stick to whole fruit most mornings.
Donuts, cinnamon rolls, danishes, and toaster pastries are just a few examples of the many breakfast pastries that are commonly reached for on busy mornings.
However, these aren’t good choices for your go-to breakfast. They’re loaded with sugar, fat, and calories while being low in protein and fiber. That means they’re unlikely to keep you full for any significant amount of time, and you may end up hungry long before lunchtime (
Save these breakfast pastries for special occasions or once-in-a-while treats, and choose a more balanced meal for your day-to-day breakfast.
Among yogurt’s many benefits, it’s a good source of protein and probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria that may improve your digestive health (
However, many types of yogurt are loaded with added sugar, making them less healthy choices. What’s more, many popular varieties have had most or all of their fat content removed, which means they may be less filling than full fat alternatives (
For a healthier alternative, try full fat, unsweetened Greek yogurt. It’s higher in protein than other varieties, and you can easily sweeten it yourself to taste. For example, add a dash of honey, a zero-calorie sweetener like stevia, or better yet, sliced, grated, or mashed fresh fruits.
There are many varieties of breakfast bars on the market, from granola to cereal to oat bars.
Regrettably, the vast majority of these are highly processed and full of added sugars, which makes them a suboptimal breakfast choice (
If you still opt for a breakfast bar, look for one that’s made with whole food ingredients, contains limited added sugar, and has at least 10 grams of protein per serving to promote fullness.
Essentially all common breakfast meats are highly processed — bacon, sausage, and ham included. These are loaded with salt, which may increase blood pressure in salt-sensitive individuals (
They also contain other additives like nitrites, which may increase your risk of certain cancers like stomach cancer. Nevertheless, more research is needed to fully understand how processed meat intake affects cancer risk (
Regardless, decreasing your intake may help lower your risk. Instead, try making a simple, healthier sausage alternative using seasoned ground pork.
While biscuits and gravy are a traditional Southern breakfast in the United States, they’re best reserved for special occasions.
Biscuits, which are a type of breakfast quick bread, are high in fat and typically made with refined white flour. Additionally, the gravy they’re served with is usually made with salty and high fat ingredients like oil or butter and pork sausage, along with more white flour (
So, even though this meal may keep you feeling full for a while, it’s not the most nutritious choice.
The high fat content of the meal can also lead to digestive upset and leave you feeling uncomfortably full (
Some premade smoothies, particularly those you can get from drive-thru shops, mostly comprise sugar, and they’re typically made from powders or mixes rather than fresh ingredients.
Unfortunately, smoothies tend to be low in protein, so they won’t keep you full for long. If you’re stopping by a smoothie shop for breakfast, ask for extra protein powder if it’s an option, and look for a flavor that’s free of added sugar (
Alternatively, you can easily make a healthier smoothie at home by combining wholesome ingredients like leafy greens, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, oats, milk, and protein powder.
Sometimes, getting an on-the-go breakfast from the drive-thru is hard to avoid — or perhaps, you simply feel like it.
However, know that most fast-food breakfast options, such as breakfast sandwiches or burritos with eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese, or a hash brown patty, are packed with calories, fat, and refined carbs (
To keep it on the healthier side, decline the hash brown side and choose a drink with no added sugar like water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee.
Specialty coffee drinks like mochas, frappes, or caramel macchiatos can be a sweet fix full of sugar. In fact, some drinks contain a whopping 70 grams of sugar, equaling 280 calories or more per serving (
Having one of these drinks as your breakfast may quickly spike your blood sugar levels. This will cause your body to secrete insulin to bring those levels back down, which can leave you feeling hungry and irritable (
Furthermore, if you’re having one of these drinks alongside breakfast foods, your meal likely contains excessive calories and sugar, which can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Hash brown patties are a common fast-food breakfast side, but you can also purchase them frozen at the grocery store. While the frozen types may seem like a healthier option than their fast-food counterparts, they’re similar.
Even store-bought frozen hash brown patties are pre-fried. Thus, they’re still high in fat, which adds extra calories to your meal. Plus, deep-fryer fats may harm your health in other ways, for example by promoting inflammation (
A significantly better option is homemade hash browns. You can also look for other varieties of frozen hash browns that are precooked but not fried in oil.
Bagels are a breakfast classic item, but if you’re buying one from a bakery, you may be in for a massive portion.
One large 4.6-ounce (131-gram) bagel contains nearly 350 calories, along with nearly 70 grams of carbs from refined flour and only 2 grams of fiber — and that’s with no toppings (
Adding toppings like cream cheese and smoked salmon can make bagels significantly more satiating and nutritious, though doing so increases the meal size. As a general rule, stick to half a bagel with nutritious toppings instead.
The best breakfast options provide fast-acting energy while keeping you full until lunch. In other words, they should contain a balance of protein, fat, and complex, unrefined carbs — ideally from whole foods rather than highly processed ones (
Here are some healthier breakfast options to try:
- an omelet with spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese
- whole grain toast with avocado and an egg
- full fat plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, and a drizzle of honey
- a sweet potato hash with ground pork, kale, and sage
- banana pancakes, made by combining one mashed banana with two beaten eggs
- a fresh or frozen fruit and vegetable smoothie with a scoop of protein powder
- half of a large whole grain bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and spinach
- overnight oats, made with oats, full fat Greek yogurt, and fresh or frozen berries
- fresh apple slices with peanut butter
- a breakfast sandwich or burrito with a whole grain English muffin or tortilla, eggs, cheese, avocado, and salsa
Additionally, challenge your habits by not limiting yourself to typical breakfast foods for your first meal of the day.
Any combo of foods that provides protein, healthy fats (think avocado, olive oil, or the fat in foods like unprocessed meats, nuts, and seeds), and energy-providing carbs can be an excellent breakfast meal — even if it’s leftovers from a previous night’s dinner (
What’s more, you don’t have to eat breakfast if you’re not hungry when you wake up. While some people may be hungry in the morning, others may not be ready to eat until closer to lunchtime.
Although you’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, being attuned to your hunger cues can be more beneficial to your health than forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry.
Many common breakfast items fall short when it comes to protein and fiber, leaving you feeling hungry well before your next opportunity to eat. Meanwhile, other options are loaded with fat and may leave you feeling stuffed and uncomfortable.
While you don’t have to avoid these choices completely, you may want to choose more well-balanced meals for your go-to weekday breakfast and keep the suboptimal choices for special occasions.
Try to make sure that your first meal of the day contains protein, fiber, and healthy fats to promote fullness, as well as some carbs to provide energy. In addition, try to avoid drinks that are full of sugar, such as fruit juice or sweetened coffee drinks.
Finally, choosing a breakfast that’s made from whole foods rather than processed foods or refined carbs is a better choice that may help optimize your health and get your day started right.