The Worst Fast-Food Breakfasts, According to Dietitians
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.
Read on for the unhealthiest fast-food breakfasts dietitians warn you shouldn't order, and for more on how to eat healthily, don't miss 9 Healthiest Fast-Food Breakfasts, According to Dietitians.
Taco Bell's Bell Breakfast Box
"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.
Wendy's Sausage, Egg, & Swiss Croissant
"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.
Dairy Queen's Country Platter With Ham
"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.
IHOP's Cupcake Pancakes
"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!"
To satisfy your sweet tooth and cake cravings with healthier breakfast alternatives, try any of these fast and easy 5 Baked Oats Recipes That Support Weight Loss & Taste Like Cake.
McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
"This breakfast consists of a biscuit, sausage, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes and weighs in at 1,340 calories. That is over half of the total daily recommended calories for most people," says Gregg. "Its fat and sodium content is just as shocking—63 grams and 2,070 milligrams respectively. With this breakfast, you are nearly exceeding the daily recommendations after just one meal."
Panera's Cinnamon Crunch Bagel
"A bagel may seem like a harmless choice, but not this one," explains Allison Gregg, RDN, LDN, and a nutritional consultant at Mom Loves Best. "At 420 calories and 83 grams of carbohydrates, this bagel contains double the amount of calories as some donuts! The calories increase even further after adding your favorite cream cheese."
Taco Bell's Cinnabon Delights (12-pack)
Whether part of a combo or as a standalone dozen, these Cinnabon Delights are an unhealthy fast food breakfast choice, as Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD, LDN explains.
"This is one of the least healthy breakfast options in my opinion because there is really no nutritional value at all, yet it is still very calorically dense," says Baker Lemein. "While I do appreciate Taco Bell calling out that this is essentially a dessert, it should probably be placed in the dessert section of the menu. With both saturated and trans fat, this is definitely not a heart-healthy option, nor a blood sugar-friendly option as it is also very high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates."
Despite being an unhealthy breakfast option, there are ways to indulge in Cinnabon Delights without going overboard.
"All that said, like everything, it is fine to have this once in a while, but maybe pair it with a piece of fruit and lean protein to balance it all out," she adds. "Or, simply order the 2-pack size for a small taste to go along with your more nutrient-rich breakfast."
Starbucks' Grande White Chocolate Mocha With Whole Milk, Whipped Cream, & an Iced Lemon Loaf
"This combination option (which seems like a regular size breakfast, nothing extravagant) provides a total of 900 calories—almost half of what most of us would have for an entire day," says Silvia Carli, RD at 1AND1 LIFE. "The nutrition composition of this combination is also alarming because of the poor nutritional value of it. It contains 38 grams of fat, and 21 of these are saturated, and 1 gram is trans fats. Trans fats are well established to be pro-inflammatory and contributors to the development of heart disease."
"This combination is also poor in fiber (one gram total) but has a whopping 122 grams of carbohydrates, 95 of which are added sugars, which enter our system very quickly and cause a great spike in blood sugar," she adds. "After consuming this breakfast, our body will still be hungry for nutrients like vitamins and minerals that are not present in this meal."
Dunkin's Sausage, Egg, & Cheese on a Croissant
"The croissant contains 52 grams of fat in total," says Henry. "This is equal to more than half a stick of butter between your greasy fingers."
This breakfast also packs more carbs than a cup of mashed potatoes and a negligible amount of dietary fiber, which can help keep you satiated. In other words, not only is this morning meal bad for you, but you'll be hungry for lunch in no time.
Subway's Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Flatbread Sandwich
"Don't fall for the marketing ploy of 'flatbread' meaning healthy," Gregg advises. "This breakfast sandwich may offer a reasonable amount of calories at 460 calories; however, it is loaded with 1,200 milligrams of sodium. That is over half the daily recommendation for sodium intake!"
Jack in the Box's Grande Sausage Breakfast Burrito With Salsa
"This is far from a healthy pick. It chimes in at 1,070 calories, 21 grams of saturated fat—that's more than what's recommended in an entire day, and 2,210 milligrams of sodium—which nearly takes up one day's allotment," explains Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN. "And beyond the numbers, the burrito stuffs in ingredients that are far from anything found in the natural world—and some may potentially be harmful to health in large amounts, including hydrogenated soybean oils in the flour tortilla, propyl gallate (an artificial food additive) in the sausage, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate (to promote color retention) in the hash brown potatoes, sodium nitrite (a preservative) in the bacon pieces, artificial colors yellow 5 and yellow 6 in the cheddar cheese sauce, and potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives) in the creamy sriracha sauce," she adds. "The salsa is not a bad idea, though!"
Chick-fil-A's Hash Brown Scramble Burrito With Sausage
"This is one burrito you may want to back away from," says Gregg, before explaining why she believes this is one of the unhealthiest fast food breakfast orders one can make. "Weighing in at 720 calories, 47 grams of fat, and 1,450 milligrams of sodium, you will be rethinking your idea of Chick-fil-A being the healthiest drive thru."
Dunkin's Medium Caramel Swirl Frozen Coffee With Cream & a Glazed Jelly Stick
"Bomb combo for a total of 1390 calories, 61 grams of fat of which more than half are saturated (in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends an upper limit of 11-13 grams of saturated fats per day). This meal's protein is very low at 12 grams, a bad ratio for the calories provided," says Carli. "The fiber content sits at one gram total. Fiber is extremely important for gut health and can help to make us feel full aiding weight loss."
Jack in the Box's Meat Lovers Breakfast Burrito With Salsa
"Eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, and American cheese. They used three different types of fatty meat," says Henry. "And yes, the caloric intake is huge."
Starbucks' Grande Pistachio Coffee Frappuccino With Whole Milk
"Believe it or not, the absolute number one thing I would never get for breakfast is a Starbucks specialty drink – their frappuccinos are especially high in sugar, with the Pistachio Coffee Frappuccino clocking in at over twice the daily recommended value!" explains Self. "These drinks are milkshakes dressed up in their breakfast outfits (AKA tricking you into thinking they're a breakfast coffee). It's common for busy folks to grab one of these on busy mornings, but you get a double blow to your blood sugar due to the high sugar content, and the impact of coffee on cortisol and blood sugar when consumed on an empty stomach."
A previous version of this story was published on July 17, 2021. It has been updated to include additional research and items.