Who knew ordering breakfast could be so problematic? While stopping by one of your favorite fast-food haunts for a morning meal might be convenient and inexpensive, chances are it’s not great for your overall health. As it turns out, cheeseburgers and French fries aren’t the only fast-food landmines you need to look out for. In fact, there are a number of unhealthy fast food breakfast items on menus that you’ll want to steer clear of if your personal health and wellness are of any concern.
Some fast-food breakfasts are just as unhealthy as the aforementioned cheeseburger and other high-calorie humdingers if not more so, with high levels of fat, sodium, and carbs baked into every bite if not blended into every sip. While there are fast-food breakfasts that are not necessarily off the charts calorie-wise, oftentimes these still will be considered among the unhealthiest fast food breakfasts you can get in the eyes of nutritionists because they are still packed with sugar, carbohydrates, sodium, and other elements you need to keep an eye on in order to prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems.
While you don’t need to cut fast food out of your diet completely, eating it in moderation and making healthier choices when ordering can help soften the dietary blow it typically delivers. To help you better decide on what to order, we spoke to dietitians to find out what they consider to be among the unhealthiest fast-food breakfast options around plus get some tips that will enable a degree of indulgence with respect to healthy moderation.
“This overly indulgent breakfast provides 1330 calories (that is with a regular soda),” explains Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook. “Most of the items are very high in saturated fat or fried, which makes it an unhealthy breakfast choice when they’re all eaten at the same time. Your only veggie is the fried hash browns, which isn’t your best choice.
“If you want to do breakfast at Taco Bell, they do have better choices or just choose one of the items included in the breakfast box instead of all of them,” advises Amidor.
“A single Cheesy Toasted breakfast burrito with a side of fruit from home would be a reasonable breakfast selection,” suggests Rifkin.
“Weighing in at 492 calories, that isn’t awful for a fast food breakfast choice. However, if you look further you’ll see that the food options aren’t the healthiest,” explains Amidor. “As the eggs, sausage, cheese, and croissant all have saturated fat, the total for this meal is 13 grams; this is 65% of the daily recommended maximum. Foods high in saturated fat have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer. The sodium is [also] 1,100 mg which is close to 50% of the daily recommended max.”
“If you needed a quick to-go sandwich, opt for an egg and cheese without the sausage and put it on a regular bun,” Amidor suggests. “Croissants tend to be higher in calories and saturated fat.”
“[This one is] more reasonable on calories, but very high fat and saturated fat content,” says Rifkin. “The carbs are appropriate for a meal—but there’s no fiber. The sodium is also about half the daily need in one meal.”
As an alternative, Rifkin suggests ordering the Classic Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich.”[It] has a much better ratio of nutrients, and the calories are reasonable enough to add a serving of fruit from home to create a more balanced meal,” she says.
“This one’s crazy nutrition fail perhaps has something to do with the fact that just one platter comes with two orders of hash browns,” notes Shannon Henry, RD, a registered dietitian working with EZCare Medical Clinic. “It contains 860 calories, which means more fried potatoes that are exactly not good for our body.”
The dish also contains a harmful amount of fat (nearly a third of which is saturated fat) which can raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
“I’m all for indulging in your favorite foods, but I think IHOP has gone too far with their Cupcake Pancakes. A single serving provides 59 grams of sugar (over twice the daily maximum intake), which is 2–3 times more sugar than you would typically get from an actual cupcake,” notes Caitlin Self, MS, CNS, LDN. “This dish also serves up 85% of your daily recommended sodium and has an incredibly long ingredients list that contains more preservatives and stabilizers than actual food. I’d much rather just have the cupcake!”