9 Inflammatory Breakfast Foods You'll Want To Avoid
Eating a balanced breakfast is important for your health. The right breakfast food can provide your body with helpful nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that help you to get your day started on the best foot possible. But sometimes, there are breakfast items that (albeit deliciously tempting) are unhealthier for you, and these breakfast foods may contribute to inflammation in your body.
Inflammation occurs naturally all the time. If you get a paper cut, your finger gets red, swollen, and puffy—then it begins to heal. This is an immune response from the body to control the bleeding and prevent infection in the paper cut. Because inflammation can sometimes be a reaction that is essentially a precursor to healing, you don't want to prevent it in all situations. The problem occurs when you have large-scale, chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation is more systemic than a localized paper cut and occurs continuously over time. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic inflammation, as inflamed cells attack the joint tissues, resulting in chronic discomfort and pain.
Overall, chronic inflammation has been linked to a host of health concerns, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It's also driven by lifestyle factors like nutrition, stress, sleep, and exercise. For instance, being sedentary, having chronic stress, not getting enough sleep, and eating a highly processed diet full of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar have increased your risk of chronic inflammation. When it comes to your diet specifically, you may be eating some foods regularly that can contribute to greater inflammation—and this can apply to what you're eating for breakfast every day.
To help you get the best out of your first square meal of the day and decrease your risk of chronic inflammation in your body., consider limiting these nine common breakfast foods. Then, for more healthy tips, be sure to read the 9 Best Drinks to Reduce Inflammation.
Fast-food breakfast sandwiches
When it comes to managing inflammation at breakfast time, Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook suggests limiting foods that are high in added sugar and saturated fat. And when it comes to avoiding saturated fat at breakfast, you may need to skip the drive-thru and pass on the fast-food breakfast sandwich.
"Saturated fat found in fast-food breakfast sandwiches, pastries, baked goods, and most frozen breakfast items can contribute to increases in cholesterol and inflammation if consumed regularly over long periods of time, and this is especially the case if the individual's diet is low in fiber and contains other sources of saturated fat throughout the day," says Goodson.
Not only that, but some fast food comes with trans fat, another type of fat known to be directly linked to greater levels of inflammation in the body. In fact, the World Health Organization suggests completely avoiding trans fats if you can.
To help reduce inflammation and still be able to enjoy the foods you love, Goodson suggests choosing breakfast sandwiches made with lean meat and whole grain bread or English muffin.
According to Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility, turkey bacon is one of the sneakiest foods that can lead to inflammation if consumed frequently.
"Although many people lean on turkey bacon because they think it is a healthier choice, the truth is that it is still considered to be processed meat and can be high in saturated fat," says Manaker. "Regardless of whether you are a turkey or classic bacon lover, keep your bacon intake to a minimum when trying to combat inflammation."
Not only is saturated fat a concern, but turkey bacon is also commonly high in sodium, and too much sodium has been linked to increased inflammation as well.
Flavored instant oatmeal
Also on the list of sneaky inflammatory foods is a beloved classic: instant oatmeal. But Manaker warns that quicker does not always mean better.
"Sure, oatmeal is a classic good-for-you breakfast that is loaded with healthy fiber, vitamins, and carbs," says Manaker. "But if you are opting for a flavored variety that contains added sugars, you may be contributing to your inflammation."
This is because, unfortunately, research has found that diets high in added sugar can increase pro-inflammatory markers in the body, ultimately increasing inflammation.
To help reduce inflammation, "Stick to unflavored oatmeal and add fresh berries and a drizzle of maple syrup for some extra flavor," says Manaker.
The appeal of breakfast pastries like muffins or donuts is that they are delicious, quick, and easy to grab when you're in a hurry. But unfortunately, they often can contain heavy amounts of ingredients that are known to trigger inflammation when consumed in large quantities on a consistent basis.
"Many muffins are loaded with added sugar, saturated fat, and other pro-inflammatory ingredients," says Manaker. "While muffins may sound healthy, depending on how they are made, they may be a not-so-great choice for people who are trying to reduce inflammation."
Not only does the added sugar act as a pro-inflammatory ingredient, but white flour—which is a refined carbohydrate—has been found to have pro-inflammatory effects as well.
Experts warn that the type of coffee you consume in the morning may contribute to ongoing inflammation, depending on what type of cream and sugar you're using. Drinking moderate amounts of black coffee has been found to actually reduce inflammatory markers, but if you're using sugary syrups, you may be reversing the effects.
"While coffee itself may offer anti-inflammatory benefits, if you are adding pumps of syrup or spoonfuls of sugar to your cup of Joe, you may be doing more harm than good in the inflammation department," says Manaker. "Too many added sugars may contribute to inflammation, so sticking to a classic latte with milk, coffee, and a sprinkle of cinnamon will be a better choice."
Your favorite breakfast when you were growing up might not be doing you any favors today. Most cold breakfast cereals are high in simple carbohydrates and added sugars, and these options tend to spike your blood sugar and start your day off on a blood glucose roller coaster. Research shows that having high blood sugar can also increase your levels of inflammation.
Thankfully, you don't have to avoid cereal altogether. Instead, opt for more balance by choosing higher-fiber and higher-protein options to prevent blood sugar swings and help your body digest the carbs you're consuming. Even swapping cold cereals for hot cereals like oatmeal is a good start—as long as you skip the sugary, instant kind.
Processed red meats
Breakfast meats like sausage and bacon are deliciously salty ways to start your day and are the perfect side to some scrambled eggs in and you're favorite cup of coffee. But unfortunately, these processed red meat products may not be doing your body any favors when it comes to inflammation.
Bacon and sausage are high in compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These compounds have been linked to higher levels of inflammation and traced back to chronic disease and specific types of cancer. Your favorite breakfast meats don't have to be avoided completely, but you may want to limit yourself to these by saving them for special occasions.
We get it, there's nothing quite as yummy as a piece of toast with some warm butter in the morning. But unfortunately, white bread is made with white flour, which is quickly digested and can leave us feeling starving in an hour or two. White refined flour is connected to increased levels of inflammation.
Swap your white flour options out for wheat-based breakfasts, and you are already well on your way to lowering inflammation. In fact, whole grains are associated with reduced inflammation, a lower risk of chronic disease, as well as other health benefits like weight loss.
Whole wheat bagels, wraps, and muffins are just as delicious as their white bread counterparts, but they come with the added health benefits.
While we love a short stack as much as the next person, we don't love the health implications that come with it. Pancakes and waffles tend to be a concentrated source of white flour and added sugar and are often very low in protein or fiber to balance out the sugar. Plus, who doesn't love to douse them in syrup and whipped cream? This combo is, unfortunately, a recipe for an inflammatory disaster.
Every once in a while, choosing pancakes is no problem. But if you regularly rely on them for a quick energy boost in the mornings, it might be time to trade them out for something more balanced.
A previous version of this story was published on February 19, 2022. It has been updated to include additional copy and proofreading revisions, additional research, and updated contextual links.
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