Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We’ve all heard the saying, and with good reason. Breakfast is our chance to replenish our body’s fuel after 10 hours of overnight fasting while we’ve been asleep.
Making smart decisions on what we eat in the morning can boost our energy levels, concentration and productivity, enabling us to take on the world!
Conversely, making the wrong breakfast choices, may give us a quick boost, but leave us feeling sapped and sluggish by lunch time. We may even be tempted to make further bad food choices throughout our day to compensate.
Here is our run down of the 15 worst breakfast foods that you’re probably eating every day. You’re going to be shocked by some of these, especially number 15!
1. Sugary, highly-refined cereals
We all know that children’s cereals in colourful boxes should be avoided due to their terrifyingly high sugar content. But, even more dangerous are the breakfast cereals which are marketed as “healthy” choices, but also contain high sugar content.
We actually love breakfast cereals. Cereal is a super quick, easy, wholesome and nutritious way of filling up in the morning, ready to start the day. But only if they’re made with whole grains, and contain no added sugars.
Popular puffed rice, honey coated nut cereals and frosted flakes (either big name brands or supermarket own brand equivalents) will normally be ladened with spoonfuls of sugar.
Aside from the long-term health implications of consuming too much sugar, a sugary start to your day will only sustain energy levels for a very short time. But once this sugary hit has been digested, we’ll be left feeling hungry very quickly, and, quite possibly, reaching for another unhealthy choice.
Make sure you check the nutritional values of your cereal and ensure there are no added sugars. Opt for cereals that are made with whole grains and are rich in belly filling fibre that will help to sustain you until lunchtime. Choose shredded whole wheat cereals, corn flakes that aren’t coated in sugar, traditional porridge oats, but avoid microwavable porridge which can often contain hidden, sugary syrups to add taste.
2. Pancakes or waffles
If you’ve ever made pancakes from scratch, then you’ll know that they’re made from flour, eggs, milk and sugar, plus a raising agent that gives them their fluffiness such as bicarbonate of soda. Vegan pancake recipes do also exist that include substitutes for the eggs and milk and gluten free flour alternatives can also be used to make gluten free pancakes.
But the one thing they all have in common? Sugar! Waffles are pretty much the same, too. Yet they’re both a very common breakfast option. Adding to the sugar load of a pancake or waffle based breakfast is the fact that we don’t often eat pancakes and waffles plain. Who does?
We load them up with sugary syrups and crispy bacon that’s high in saturated fats and salt, only adding to the calorie content whilst not really adding much to the beneficial nutritional value.
What’s more, more often than not, the flour used to make both is white flour, which has been processed to remove the whole grain and beneficial B vitamins. So it really is best to leave these to holiday breakfasts only!
3. White bread and margarine
Who doesn’t love some crunchy white toast dripping with melted spread? The problem with eating this regularly as a breakfast though, is twofold.
First up, white bread. White bread is made using white flour, which is flour that has been processed to remove the wholegrain, brown part. In doing so, along with the wholegrain, the beneficial vitamins, specifically B vitamins, are also removed. A better option is brown bread, that’s made with non or minimally processed wholegrain wheat, complete with its beneficial nutrients.
Secondly, if our spread of choice is margarine, we could be getting more fat than we bargained for. All spreads contain some level of fat, even low fat ones. Margarine is no different, but margarine has also been processed in order to make it easy to spread straight from the fridge. It’s during this process that trans fats can be added, also known as partially hydrogenated oil.
There are calls to ban trans fats since they’ve been called into question over their potential links to certain health issues such as problems with blood pressure and high blood sugar. In the UK, their use is being phased out but they may still be present in imported foods. Butter, although higher in fat, is a better option since it isn’t as processed and doesn’t contain trans fats. But either way, keep your bread brown and your spreads to a minimum.
4. Muffins and pastries
Muffins are delicious, but let’s face it, by eating a muffin for breakfast, we’re pretty much allowing ourselves to eat cake for breakfast and surely that’s only for our birthday each year?! Even a muffin that’s sold to us as ‘healthy’ such as a fruit filled blueberry muffin, is still more or less a cake.
That said, a blueberry muffin does at least contain fruit, which is a healthier choice than a plain muffin or worse, a chocolate chip muffin. Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants and vitamins that help to keep the immune system healthy, so if you’re going to choose a breakfast muffin, choose a fruit one. And even then, save them for the occasional treat!
Savoury muffins could also be a better option, but watch out for cheese muffins that are high in saturated fats. We’ve seen muffins made using courgette and minimal sugar, which might not tick the sugar crave box, but they certainly won’t start you off on the back foot for the day.
The same goes for those baskets of delicious looking breakfast pastries we see in hotels. They’re most definitely left for hotel and holiday treats if we want to avoid a sugar overload for breakfast!
5. Fruit juice
Who doesn’t love coffee and orange juice with their breakfast? As a small addition to an otherwise balanced breakfast, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a small (around 150ml) glass of fresh juice. The problems start if you’re drinking much more than this every day.
If you think about oranges, how many could you eat in one go? One or two is our guess. But if you have a large glass of freshly squeezed (either by yourself or a shop bought fresh orange) juice, you could be consuming double that.
Oranges are healthy, as are any other fruits used to make juices. They contain high levels of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. But fruit also contains fructose, a fruit sugar. So if you’re consuming one or two oranges, then you’re not consuming much fructose. But take that to four or more oranges in one sitting, just as a drink, then you’re consuming more sugar than you think. So if we drink a fruit juice alone for breakfast, we’re likely to feel hungry pretty soon afterwards.
Fruit juices also remove the fibre content from the fruit, since you’re not consuming the pulp. Fibre is important for good gut health. So consume whole fruits and keep juices to a minimum. And definitely opt out of fruit juices with added sugars!
6. Low fat or fat free yogurts
Yoghurt, either made with cow’s milk or a non-dairy alternative such as soya, is a healthy choice as it’s rich in protein and probiotics (good bacteria that help to look after a healthy gut).
So at first glance, we’d be forgiven for thinking that a low or no fat yoghurt was an even healthier choice. But beware. Often, fruity varieties of these seemingly good for us yoghurts contain more added sugar than the full fat varieties! (Even plain or Greek style low fat yoghurts sometimes also contain added sugar.)
The problem is, fats and sugars make things taste good. Remove on, and generally the other is added to enhance the flavour. So if something is advertised as low fat, then always make sure that you check the ingredients list and nutritional information for sneaky added sugars.
They can be listed as sugar, sugar syrups, honey or glucose – if in doubt, check the traffic light system. If it’s red for sugar, then the chances are, your ‘healthy’ breakfast yoghurt contains added sugars.
Aside from that, low fat yoghurt without added sugars isn’t very calorific and won’t sustain you for very long. So add some fruit of your choice and sprinkle with chopped nuts or oats to make a deliciously healthy and filling breakfast.
7. Breakfast bars
If ever there was a food that’s been more marketed as a healthy option when actually it’s not, then we’d be hard pushed to find one over breakfast bars. Often sold as options for athletes and those who exercise regularly and don’t have time to make a bowl of granola or muesli, breakfast bars need to be treated with caution.
This is because they’re often far from the substitute for a healthy cereal that they claim to be. So our advice is definitely to read the label. Like many of the cereals we mentioned above, cereal bars often have high levels of added sugar, most commonly from the sugar syrups and honey used to stick everything together into a bar shape.
Plus, because they’re not consumed in a bowl with cow’s milk or a non-dairy alternative such as soya or almond milk, they lack protein too. Protein keeps us fuller for longer, so consuming one of these bars as your breakfast will probably mean that your belly rumbles a short time later.
So opt for those that have lower sugar levels, no added sugars and have an added protein source such as peanut butter. Or consume a healthier version of them with a glass of milk.
8. Bacon and other processed meats
Bacon, sausages, ham and other types of processed meats might taste nice – but that’s generally because of the added salts and the processing techniques used that are designed to appeal to our tastebuds. (Well, those of meat eaters, anyway.)
Processed meats are high in saturated fats which are highly calorific. Consuming such foods can lead to health problems, including weight gain.
Adding to the problem is the level of salt often found in these kinds of meats. Eating too much salt can at best make us feel thirsty and dehydrated. Plus, processed meats are linked with problems later in life with the stomach and intestines.
On the plus side, bacon and sausages do provide protein, which keeps us full and sustains us for all the tasks we need to get done each morning. But a healthier breakfast option that’s rich in animal protein is eggs, so opt for a couple of poached, boiled or scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for an energising, healthy, lower fat breakfast.
We’re not saying to avoid bacon and sausage completely. If you enjoy eating them, save them for the occasional weekend breakfast and avoid consuming them every day.
9. Fast food breakfast items
Imagine the scene. You’re exhausted, running late for work and you have a big meeting to attend with no time to fix your tiredness with a healthy smoothie. Or you’re actually on time for work as you have a deadline to meet, but you had a few too many drinks last night and you have a hangover.
What are you going to do? Like so many of us in this situation, there’s nothing for it – you have to go via the nearest fast food takeaway and grab something from there. Sausage muffins, cheese toasties, hash browns and bacon butties – you name it, you can find it.
And sure, you’ll get an instant pick me up. But it will only be short lived, and it might not even get you through your meeting or deadline before you feel the crash coming on.
Fast food breakfasts are normally fried, processed or both, and contain high levels of saturated fats and salts and if we add in a fizzy drink or huge juice, heavily sugar laden, too. None of which is a healthy way to start the day and if we make these choices early on, we’re more likely to continue to make them throughout the day.
10. Sugary coffee drinks
If you need a coffee (or two) in the morning before you can function or even think about commuting or talking to a colleague, then you’re not alone. Millions of us turn to the coffee pot every morning, bleary eyed and groggy. Then ping! We’re awake and ready to face the day.
There’s nothing inherently unhealthy with coffee. In fact, it’s rich in antioxidants that help to keep the immune system healthy and can lift our mood no end.
But it very much depends on how we choose to drink our coffee. If we drink extra-large cups of coffee with added full fat dairy milks, calorific nut milks, sugar and fancy syrups, then we’re adding in a whole load of calories in the form of fats and sugars.
If we’re consuming one of these fancy coffees alongside another unhealthy breakfast choice, then we could be setting ourselves up to exceed our calorific intake for the day. But on the other extreme, if we’re only consuming a black coffee for breakfast then we’re not only in a calorie deficit finding it hard to feel energised, we’ll be losing out on the beneficial nutrients, fibre and protein we’d get from a balanced, healthy diet.
11. Bagels and their fillings
Bagels are heavier than many other bread products, and they’re a popular choice for breakfasts on the go as they tend to hold onto their contents better than normal bread without going soggy.
Most bagels are made using white flour, which as we learned above, is flour with all its beneficial nutrients and fibre stripped away. So you’re not getting much nutritional value from eating a bagel.
Then there’s the problem of the most popular fillings for bagels – butter, cream cheese and salt beef – all of which are high in fat and in the case of salt beef, a lot of salt and chemical processing ingredients.
So if bagels are your thing, keep them to a minimum and try them with low fat cream cheese, smoked salmon or peanut butter, all of which provide beneficial protein to help energise your morning.
OK. So let’s talk about doughnuts. Deliciously sweet, sugary, jammy doughnuts. They’re great, right? But you don’t need us to tell you that they’re not a great breakfast choice. High in saturated fats (doughnuts are deep fried, in case you didn’t know!) and sugars, and pretty low in the healthy stuff such as fibre and vitamins, doughnuts are most definitely a treat food.
But the problem is, they’re sold in coffee shops, and when do we most often frequent a coffee shop? That’s right, at breakfast time! And they sit there, looking all lovely and round and doughnut-y, luring us in through the glass. If we’re feeling particularly tired, stressed or emotional, then the chances are, we’ll ditch the yoghurt and granola we were planning on, and opt for a doughnut instead.
Far from keeping us full until lunchtime, we’ll hit that familiar sugary high after eating a doughnut, then crash when our blood sugar levels drop again a short time later. Lunchtime feels like hours away, and we grab a chocolate bar to keep us going. Disastrous for our healthy eating plans.
So definitely keep these goodies as occasional treats.
13. Pop Tarts
Pop Tarts first hit our breakfast tables sometime in the 1990s in the UK and wow did they become popular! They’re convenient, tasty and full of fun, but that’s where the good stuff ends. These exciting breakfasts-in-one are loaded with white, processed flour, artificial colourings and sugar – lots of it, around four teaspoons per Pop Tart.
As adults, we might crave a nostalgic look back to our childhood when we didn’t have to worry about the perils of sugar for breakfast. But opting for a Pop Tart for breakfast (or giving them to our kids) should really only be on a very occasional basis.
Starting the day with so much sugar will inevitably give us that high octane sugar rush, followed by the even more inevitable crash where we feel lethargic and foggy brained, craving the next sugar hit. We’re then more likely to make more unhealthy choices throughout the day.
But not only that. Consuming a high sugar diet can cause health problems such as weight gain and high blood sugar levels, which can have more bad consequences further down the line. So keep the fun, artificially coloured, sugary breakfast ideas (that also lack many other nutrients of any benefit to our health) to the rare treat.
14. Shop bought smoothies
Smoothies are a great way of ensuring that we’re getting a good intake of fruits and vegetables along with all their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients.
The problem is, often if we buy one for convenience from a shop, the chances are, there’s some form of added sugar to add sweetness that appeals to our palate. Even if this sugar is in the form of honey, agave syrup or maple syrup, it’s still sugar, it’s still adding unnecessary calories and it’s still not adding any other nutritional value.
So the answer is – to make your own! Which may be easier than you think, you’ll just need to invest in a blender or specialist smoothie make like a NutriBullet. As a general rule, you’ll need liquid as a base, so water, cow’s milk or a dairy free alternative such as oat milk or protein rich pea milk.
Then add a small banana for thickness, and a handful of berries and some other chopped fruit (frozen works perfectly, we love strawberries, cherries and melon). Something green is good too, so if you’re brave, a handful of chopped kale, or for a sweeter taste, try spinach. Then finally a spoonful of nut butter or yoghurt for a protein boost. Whizz it all together, which takes seconds, and away you go – a healthy, low sugar smoothie for breakfast on the go.
Banana, 15 Breakfast Foods that Can Ruin Your Day
Yes, bananas! We knew you’d be shocked by this one. As a food, bananas are actually pretty good. They’re full of fibre that helps to look after a healthy, smooth moving gut and they’re rich in micronutrients such as potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants that help to promote a healthy immune system.
But they’re also fairly high in sugar, which as we’ve learned from this list of bad breakfast choices, can cause blood sugar highs and lows, leading us into temptation to snack before lunchtime.
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, so eating bananas means eating a fair amount of carbs, with little good fats and practically no protein. So a simple banana for breakfast won’t sustain you for long, and you’ll be hungry in no time as they’re not a complete food when eaten on their own.
Try adding bananas to homemade smoothies or chopping them up and having them on wholemeal toast. Adding a thin spread of your favourite nut butter will add a nutritional hit of protein and healthy fats. So go bananas for bananas, just make sure you’re eating them with something else to keep you full long into the morning.
Getting your breakfast right
Here’s a fun fact for you – did you know that technically, it’s impossible to skip breakfast? The word breakfast literally means to break your fast – that is, the period of non-eating, or fasting, that you would’ve gone through overnight as you slept. (Unless of course, you got up in the middle of the night for a midnight snack.)
So that means that even if you do go without food until lunchtime, technically whatever you eat for lunch is your breakfast, as you’re breaking your fast.
Not that we would ever advocate skipping breakfast. We think it’s a great idea to start the day on the right foot, with something wholesome, nutritious and filling. What will you choose tomorrow morning?