7 Worst Breakfast Foods to Start Your Day

The comedian Jim Gaffigan once joked, “You can’t have cake for breakfast.  Unless it’s a pancake with syrup.” While light-hearted, this joke sums up most Americans attitude towards breakfast.  Doughnuts, sugary cereals, pastries and, yes, pancakes are generally accepted “breakfast meals”.  Yet often we find ourselves crashing after breakfast – immediately hitting the coffee machine and craving more sugar to provide us energy.  Below, I’ve compiled 7 of the worst breakfast foods to start your day.

When it comes to weekday mornings, it’s easy to go on autopilot and not think about what you’re eating.  But making healthy choices in the morning can set the tone for how you feel the rest of the day.

A healthy breakfast can boost your metabolism, fight disease and help you keep your weight down.  However, unhealthy breakfast foods do quite the opposite.  They lead to mid-morning crashes, wreak havoc on your metabolism, encourage disease, and cause weight gain.  In addition, many common breakfast foods contain added sugar, which is linked to higher rates of obesity and tooth decay.

The key to a healthy breakfast includes whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and protein.  If you’re looking for breakfast inspiration, I’ve written a helpful blog post on healthy breakfast meals that only take 5-minutes to prepare.

A few classic morning meals are serious diet offenders, but other breakfast staples may not seem so unhealthy at first glance.  Either way, take a look and see if you can swap one of these 7 breakfast items for a more nutritious choice.


Pastries contain no sustainable energy and zero nutritional value.  However, they do promise plenty of empty calories and a spike to your blood sugar that will leave you crashing in a few hours. Just don’t do it.

Try This Instead:  If you’re looking for carbohydrates in the morning, try consuming 100% whole-wheat slices of bread. If you’re craving sugar, try fruits.  They will not only satisfy your sugar cravings but provide you plenty of energy and nutrition.

Sugary Cereals

little girl looking at cereal aisle

Fun fact:  Cereal is the second most purchased item in grocery stores (following shortly behind soda).  This is something that practically all of us reach for in a hurry maybe once a day.  However, the problem with cereals is roughly the same with pastries – empty calories, no energy, and that nasty spike in blood sugar that only leaves us crashing.

A report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined some of the most popular breakfast cereals consumed by children.  It found that even “nutritious” cereal choices, such as granola that contain oats, are often loaded with sugar.  Many breakfast cereals are even higher in sugar than cookies and desserts.

Try This Instead:  Check the label and replace those sugary cereals with 100% whole-wheat cereals. Or, try oatmeal instead.

Bagel With Cream Cheese

Except for the occasional 100% whole-grain option, most bagels are loaded with 300-500 calories worth of starch.  Slathering on cream cheese or butter adds more calories and saturated fats.  Diets high in refined carbohydrates have been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so don’t make bagels a regular morning meal.

Try This Instead:  Choose a bagel made with whole-grains and top with cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, or avocado.


Is there any surprise that this made the list of worst breakfast foods?  Regardless of how the manufacturer calls it, donuts are sugar-coated and full of unhealthy fat and jam.  Don’t bother with them.

Try This Instead:  Sliced bananas or raw almond butter might help if you are craving something creamy and sweet.  Or, try baking sliced apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup.  Mmm…delicious!

Pancakes with Syrup

There is no healthy option when it comes to pancakes.  The flour from a pancake is a simple carb, broken down quickly (as with bagels), causing insulin spikes and crashes.  Once you get into the realm of maple syrups, (powdered) sugar and bacon, the calories skyrocket.

Try This Instead:  Homemade pancakes can be quick to make and lighter on the waistline.  Mix up a pancake batter with whole-grain, multi-grain, or quinoa flour.  Add some natural sweetness by adding sliced bananas, golden raisins, maple syrup, and honey.

Sweetened Non-Fat Yogurt 

Yogurt – plain, unsweetened yogurt – is actually fairly healthy food.  But the sweetened, low-fat, fruit (or mix-in) filled containers that make up the majority of yogurts in stores are anything but nutritious.  In fact, many “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurts contain more sugar than a comparable serving of ice cream.

Beware the “lite” yogurts as well.  Fat helps keep you full because it takes longer to digest than carbs, and it also triggers the release of the fullness hormone cholecystokinin (try saying that three times real fast).  To compensate for the fat removed, many manufacturers often add thickeners such as gelatin, gum or starch, along with sweeteners and flavoring agents.

Try This Instead:  A bowl of plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt topped with berries.


blueberry muffin on plate

Don’t be fooled – most muffins are just cupcakes without frosting.  In addition, commercially sold muffins are often exceedingly large.  The American Journal of Public Health published a report that the typical packaged muffin exceeds the USDA standard portion size by 333%.  Worse, sometimes muffins are topped with additional sugar or filled with chocolate chips.

Try this Instead:  Bake your own muffins at home with healthier ingredients and reduced amounts of sugar.  Or choose a 100% whole-wheat or sprouted grain English muffin topped with almond butter or fresh fruit.

The Bottom Line

Don’t feel shamed if many of these breakfast items are part of your morning routine.  The important thing is that you find the opportunity to remove them from your diet and replace them with something healthier…and maybe even tastier.  Plus, you’ll feel better throughout the day!

Was this article helpful for you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and what types of healthy breakfast alternatives that you enjoy at hello@heartandsoulblog.com.  If you get the opportunity, please register below for our newsletter to receive helpful blog posts like these right to your inbox.

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