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The #1 Worst Breakfast Habit for High Cholesterol, Says Dietitian

Think twice before ordering this meal.

Almost 40% of American adults have high cholesterol, putting them at risk for conditions like heart disease and stroke. And while many of us have been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day to avoid mid-morning tummy rumbling, eating a morning meal may also have a positive effect on cholesterol levels among certain populations.

But eating just anything for breakfast won't cut it when you are trying to support healthy cholesterol levels. Sure, we can all assume that grabbing a donut and a cup of coffee or a bacon-covered croissant sandwich isn't your best bet when you are running out the door when you are focused on your cholesterol levels. But among the brekkie choices out there, there is one breakfast habit that tops the list as one to limit if you have high cholesterol—and that is frequently eating a fast-food first meal.

Why eating fast food is the worst breakfast habit for high cholesterol

Mcdonalds sausage mcmuffin
AngieYeoh / Shutterstock

Over 35% of Americans eat fast food on a daily basis. And while snagging a McMuffin or a chicken biscuit is both convenient and satisfying, frequent consumption of fast-food items is linked to many unsavory health outcomes—many of which are related to heart health.

In fact, experts have stated that fast food consumption is a main risk factor for lower diet quality and higher calorie and fat intake. And frequent consumption of fast foods is linked to lipid and lipoprotein disorders, like elevated LDL cholesterol levels when compared with those who do not lean on fast food meals on a regular basis. Higher fast food consumption also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Data also shows that fast food eaters have lower HDL "good" cholesterol concentrations than those who do not frequent fast-food establishments.

Fast-food breakfast items are typically rich in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and ultra-processed meats—options that are not recommended on a cholesterol-lowering diet. Additionally, fast food generally has a high-energy-density large portion sizes, and, in some cases, unacceptably high levels of industrially-produced trans-fatty acids. Since eating too many trans-fatty acids may result in a rise in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, limiting fast food, and thus these fatty acids are recommended.

Understandably, people want quick and convenient breakfast options, thanks to many of us living busy lifestyles and having limited time to cook a full breakfast. And while leaning on fast food in a pinch (like on a long road trip) will likely not wreak havoc on your cholesterol levels, making a habit of hitting the drive-through every day can cause some serious harm on your healthy cholesterol level goals.

Having some grab-and-go breakfast options that support healthy cholesterol levels can help you avoid fast food if you are a frequent visitor. Overnight oats, a fruit and yogurt parfait, and even a yummy smoothie made with pre-cut fruit and veggies can all be made in a jiffy and can actually help support healthy cholesterol levels. Bonus? You will likely feel more energized when you lean on these good-for-you foods too.

Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian, book author, and recipe developer who has been in practice for almost 20 years. Read more about Lauren