If breakfast is the most important meal of the day for some people, why do they all too often reach for the wrong foods? Maybe it's out of desperation, maybe it's because they don't know better—or maybe it's because they're being tricked by breakfast imposters. You don't want to be one of those people, do you?
Instead of loading up on the most nutritious, energizing, and healthful options, there is a pile of common breakfast items that are full of nasty components that can slow you down and mess with things like your metabolism, cholesterol, and more. But they're marketed as great breakfast options, which can be confusing as a consumer. That's why we asked our experts to lay down the law on which items to stay far, far away from—and which items are the better choice! Take a look at our list of no-no's and then revamp your morning routine with these 17 Genius Breakfast Ideas Diet Experts Love!
Nutrition (average to-go sandwich): 340 calories, 19 g fat, 804 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 16 g protein
Whether it's from Starbucks or from the freezer aisle, there's an excellent chance that the breakfast sandwich is just a breakfast belly bomb. They usually include bacon or sausage, and these kinds of processed meats can be carcinogenic, according to Torrie Yellen, Registered Dietitian at DeliverLean. "Try reinventing your usual sausage, egg, and cheese on a bagel by whipping up an egg, spinach, and avocado sandwich on a whole wheat English muffin," she suggests. "It's satisfying and healthy, all at the same time." You can also do some damage control by seeing where your favorite sandwich falls on our exclusive report of Every Breakfast Item at Starbucks—Ranked!
Nutrition (1 cup average cereal): 307 calories, 5 g fat (0.09 g saturated), 5 mg sodium, 55 g carbs, 8 g fiber, .8 g sugar, 11 g protein
Ah, cereal—the breakfast go-to of our youth and even adulthood. And why wouldn't it be, when so many brands make themselves out to be nutritious. The truth? "Many cereals out there are high-carbohydrate and low-fiber with no real nutritional value—not to mention the loads of sugar!" says Yellen. "A better option would be a cup of plain Greek yogurt with sliced strawberries. A handful of high-fiber cereal or a palm-full of nuts can be sprinkled on top for some added crunch."
Nutrition (example: 1 cup Dannon Fruit on the Bottom yogurt): 150 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated), 90 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 24 g sugar, 6 g protein
Many yogurts on the market (like Dannon and Yoplait) have acidic ingredients added to help improve the taste and consistency; these include artificial sweeteners, sugar, carrageenan, and high fructose corn syrup. "Many yogurts are filled with sugar and yeast which renders the probiotics virtually pointless," says Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and founder of Alkamind. "Between the sugar and the milk protein casein, yogurt can be highly acidic to your body and clog up your digestive system." Reach for Greek yogurt or another type of healthy yogurt and add healthy alkaline fats like hemp seeds, chia, flax, coconut oil, or raw chopped almonds to help slow down the metabolization of the sugars in the yogurt—thus preventing an insulin spike in your blood and reducing the total acid load.
Nutrition (1 cup average OJ): 112 calories, 0.5 g fat (0.06 g saturated), 0 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 0.5 g fiber, 21 g sugar, 1.74 g protein
Oranges—as opposed to lemons, limes, and grapefruits—are acid-forming to your body. While it's true they have a high amount of vitamin C and minerals, they're also high in sugar, with juices from manufactures often then including even more sugar. "Oranges are acidic, and the sugar ferments in the body and turns to alcohol and acid. This then feeds bacteria in your body, which is why orange juice is actually the last drink you want to give your children when they are sick or not feeling well," says Dr. Gioffre. "And that's fresh squeezed, which is the healthiest version. Most OJ has added sugars and is pasteurized, which kills off most of the nutrients and vitamins in the juice."
Smoothie and Acai Bowls
Nutrition (average 1 cup bowl): 490 calories, 10 g fat (3 g saturated), 40 mg sodium, 99 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 67 g sugar, 8 g protein
Yes, these seemingly healthy bowls seem to be very popular right now—but they can be quite deceiving in terms of their health benefits. The first problem right off the bat is that calorie count is often so high that the bowl should really be two servings. We even say so in our popular smoothie bowl videos like this delicious (and gorgeous!) Beg for Chocolate Smoothie Bowl.
The next problem with smoothie and acai bowls is when you aren't making them yourself. "Many any shops don't use an unsweetened acai and the toppings can be a nightmare because plain acai just doesn't taste that great," says Lawless. "Acai bowls usually have a blending liquid—fruit juice or a milk of some sort—and toppings ranging from sugary granola, scoops of nut butters, honey, agave, coconut, banana, dried fruit, and cacao." That's a lot of stuff for a breakfast. The Eat This, Not That! Official recommendation? Make a portion-controlled smoothie at home using one of our 25 Best Weight Loss Smoothies, courtesy of Zero Belly Smoothies by best-selling author David Zinczenko. You can lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days, compliments of the 150+ delicious drinks in Zero Belly Smoothies—available on Amazon!
Nutrition (1 cup): 125 calories, 0.4 g fat (0 g saturated), 403 mg sodium, 1.8 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1.7 g sugar, 26 g protein
Egg whites for breakfast are nearly pointless. Over the years, egg whites emerged as the hero of breakfast foods—light, fluffy, and low on fat and calories. But truth be told, they actually provide zero nutrition other than a bit of protein. "The yolks actually provide 100 percent of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K plus calcium, iron, zinc, biotin, thiamin, folate, and B vitamins 6 + 12," says Annie Lawless, health and wellness expert and co-founder of Suja Juice. "Additionally, research has shown just the whites can have the same, if not worse, metabolic effect on insulin and blood sugar as a carbohydrate since they don't have the fat from the yolk to help slow down the absorption of protein." Convinced you need that protein and you'd rather have that egg white than nothing, but won't eat the yolk? Well, then you should check out this list of 26 Foods With More Protein Than an Egg for your other options!
Nutrition (average bagel): 245 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 430 mg sodium, 48 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 10 g protein
Yes, we know Sunday brunch just isn't the same without your bagel and schmear—but bagels are basically just carbs that are loaded with gluten and sugar. And sugar is "perhaps the most acidic substance you can put into your body," says Dr. Gioffre. To put it in perspective, a bagel is on par with the amount of carbs and sugar in a can of soda. And we're really hoping you wouldn't consider a can of soda to be a good breakfast choice, either!
Nutrition (1 average medium muffin): 305 calories, 8 g fat (1.2 g saturated), 44 mg sodium, 55 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 8 g protein
Actually, you probably shouldn't be eating any muffins for breakfast since they're often just well-marketed cupcakes.
But first, let's just clear one thing up before we bash bran muffins. Bran itself is actually really good for you! It's the outer layer of grains like wheat, rice, and oats, and it's super high in fiber, protein, low glycemic carbohydrates, and vitamins. So, if bran on its own is great, why isn't the muffin a good choice? "Unless you've made it yourself at home, most are complete sugar bombs because bran kinda tastes like sawdust when plain. And while muffins may contain some bran, almost all are actually made with plain old wheat flour," says Lawless. "At Dunkin Donuts, you can bypass the donuts and can get a 'healthy' bran muffin with nearly 500 calories and 46 grams of sugar. I dunno about you, but I'd rather go for the 260-calorie glazed donut with 12 grams of sugar at that point!" Pretty enlightening, huh? Discover the other 14 "Health" Foods Worse Than a Donut!
Nutrition (example: 1 Tbsp Coffee-Mate in original flavor): 20 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 5 mg sodium, 2 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 0 g protein
"When I looked at the ingredients of the non-dairy creamer my dad had been using for years, I was horrifed," says Lawless. Hydrogenated oils, corn syrup solids, sodium caseinate, artificial flavors, dipotassium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, color added, carrageenan, dextrose, sucralose, acesulfame potassium… "Agh!" she continues. "I died [after seeing that list] and I made him switch to regular cream. He didn't gain a pound and didn't miss the fake sweetness at all." Nice! Lawless also says to be careful of the "healthier" creamers like coconut milk creamer and soy milk creamer because they are often loaded with dried cane syrup—AKA white sugar.
Nutrition (example: 1 BelVita Chocolate flavored breakfast biscuit): 230 calories, 8 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 220 mg sodium, 35 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 4 g protein
Breakfast biscuits such as by BelVita or Nature Valley seem like a healthy way to get in breakfast on the go—but don't be fooled. "These are essentially glorified cookies, filled with processed grains and added sugars and are virtually low in natural vitamin and mineral sources," says Marissa Ciorciari, MS, RD, LD/N, CLT and Functional Nutritionist for Carillon Hotel. "While they are calorie-controlled because of the package serving size, you could get more fiber and protein by taking a piece of whole grain sprouted bread with a bit of almond butter and sliced banana."
Nutrition (2 Tbsp): 200 calories, 12 g fat (4 g saturated), 15 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 21 g sugar, 2 g protein
Nutella seems like it might be healthy to some people, but the list of ingredients is fairly short: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, whey, lecithin, and vanillin (an artificial flavor). "The main ingredients are sugar and oil. You could have two servings of Trix Cereal—but don't!—for the same amount of sugar and calories in just two tablespoons of Nutella," explains nutritionist Ilyse Shapiro.
Nutrition (1 cup whole milk): 103 calories, 2.4 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 107 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 8 g protein
Sorry to break your hearts, but milk doesn't do all bodies that much good. ("What about calcium?!" you ask? You can reach for these 20 Best Calcium-Rich Foods That Don't Have Milk instead.) According to Dr. Gioffre, milk really doesn't have any health benefits beyond human breast milk in infancy. "In fact, it's the number one allergy in children and is filled with sugar and casein, a protein that is linked to certain cancers in humans," he explains. Dr. Gioffre goes on to say that men who have two or more servings of dairy each day have a 60 percent increased risk of prostate cancer and that a study conducted by Harvard (that took 12 years!) noted a correlation between dairy consumption and increased hip fractures in women. "There's a high amount of lactose sugar in a cup of low-fat cow's milk and about the same amount of calories as a can of soda," he continues. "You flat out don't need milk. If you have to have something, buy almond or hemp or coconut milk, as they are better choices."
Butter Substitutes and Spreads
Nutrition (1 Tbsp of average substitute): 102 calories, 11 g fat (2.2 g saturated), 0 mg sodium, 0.1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 0 g protein
"Some people think they're doing the right thing by avoiding butter and using margarine or even yogurt-based spreads because they don't have cholesterol or saturated fat," says Dr. Gioffre. "But what do they have in place of saturated fats? Trans fats—which are worse for you than saturated fats and more likely to lead to heart disease." Even the brands that claim to be free of trans fat can technically contain up to 0.05% of the ingredients. "Stay away from any food that includes 'partially hydrogenated oils' on the list of ingredients because they are the top source of artificial trans fats—and this applies to vegetable oils and canola oil as well," he says. So, what to do instead? Don't fear the fat! Stick to healthy fats like coconut oil, which is a great alternative to butter. For more on why everyone is buzzing about coconut oil, check out these 20 Benefits of Coconut Oil!
White or Whole Wheat Bread
Nutrition (1 slice): 60 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 120 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 3 g protein
You know white bread is a belly bomb, but wheat bread should be a nice, healthy swap, right? And at the very least, it should be a better choice than white bread, yes? Nope, not necessarily!
Lawless did a comparison for us to help show you the harm that's being done to your bod: "Take a look at Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat Bread ingredients: Whole Wheat Flour, Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat Gluten, Yeast, Brown Sugar , Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil , Salt, Honey, Wheat Bran, Dough Conditioner(s), Mono and Diglycerides, Mono and Diglycerides Ethoxylated, Calcium Sulphate (Sulfate), Ammonium Sulfate , Corn Starch, Calcium Propionate, Soy Lecithin, Milk, Soy Flour. Why does my healthy 100% whole wheat bread contain three different types of sugar, soybean oil, preservatives, and dairy?!" she asks. Good question.
"If you can tolerate gluten, Ezekial sprouted grain bread is a much better option," she offers. "It really is whole grains—not flour—and there's nothing added in the way of sweetness, preservatives, or additives."
Nutrition (example: 1 Nutri-Grain Strawberry Bar): 120 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 125 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 2 g protein
If a breakfast bar has more than five ingredients, then the odds are good that it's bad for you. And if you can't pronounce the ingredients on the nutrition panel, it's probably even worse for you. Still not convinced you're better off leaving the bar behind? Now look at the sugar content and the carbohydrate content for the hidden sugars. "Most bars have way too much sugar," says Dr. Gioffre. "Many use artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, and honey, mixed with acidic, high-calorie and high-sugar dried fruit and dry roasted nuts that can have trans fatty acids." Fruits and nuts are no good? No wonder it can be confusing to know which bar is okay for your body! Get the Eat This, Not That!-approved picks in this line-up of The 16 Best Best Nutrition Bars for Every Goal!