15 Unhealthy Breakfast Foods That Are Basically Just Desserts

There’s no shortage of healthy breakfast recipes in cookbooks and online. But cravings and the need for convenience somehow always find their way into our heads, convincing us to either toss something into the microwave or stop at McDonald’s on the way to work. Sadly, these unhealthy breakfast foods aren’t always obvious — sometimes they’re advertised as completely nutritious, even when they are the opposite.

These foods might seem like harmless breakfast staples, but the amount of salt, fat, and sugar almost puts them in the same category as your favorite dessert. Sorry — your beloved scones, muffins, bagels, and smoothies don’t exactly qualify as the most important meal of the day. Let’s take a closer look at these foods, why they’re so unhealthy, and how to choose better alternatives that are just as tasty.

1. Bacon

Start your day off with a healthy helping of salt.

How similar are bacon and Oreos, actually? | iStock.com/HandmadePictures

Bacon has protein, so it must be good for you, right? Not if you consider it a regular breakfast staple. A cooked slice of bacon will give you around 42 calories, 3 grams of fat, and just under 200 milligrams of sodium. There’s a little bit of protein, but not nearly enough to keep you full — especially without fiber. Just one slice of bacon has as much sodium as three Oreos. Also, who eats just one slice of bacon at a time? Imagine how much sodium you’re taking in when you eat three or four slices with your eggs and toast. 

2. Scones

Even though they often have fruit in them, scones are often unhealthy.

Just have a slice of pie at this point. | iStock.com/vm2002

Having a scone with your coffee seems innocent enough, but it turns out a scone and a slice of pie aren’t all that different from each other. Consider a blueberry scone from Starbucks — a 460-calorie breakfast monstrosity with 12 grams of saturated fat and 61 total grams of carbohydrates. A slice of blueberry pie, a popular dessert, isn’t all that different nutritionally from a scone. You wouldn’t eat pie for breakfast, would you? (Please say no.) Making homemade scones takes more time and effort than stopping at Starbucks on your way to work, but you can use ingredients like blueberries and whole-wheat flour to make them much healthier.

3. Granola bars

Granola bars are one of the most unhealthy breakfast foods you can eat.

Let’s be honest, you’re basically just eating a candy bar, and you know it. | iStock.com/HandmadePictures

In need of a quick breakfast? Granola bars are not the healthiest solution. Clif Bar, for example, is proud to advertise their chocolate chip bars have 10 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. They’re not quite so vocal about the 22 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat found in a single bar, though.

Most of the granola bars you’ll find at your local grocery store have more sugar and fat than protein and fiber. They have to put something in there to make even the healthiest nut and oat combinations stick together in a unified rectangle shape. If you’re in a grab-and-go mood, try making your own quick treats using one of these homemade granola bar recipes.

4. Doughnuts

Donuts are desserts, not breakfast foods.

Trans fat is hiding in your doughnuts! | iStock.com/styxclick

Is there such thing as a healthy doughnut? Your dreams say yes, but the facts say otherwise. A glazed option from Dunkin’ Donuts has 260 calories, 14 grams of fat, 330 milligrams of sodium, and 31 total carbohydrates. Some famous providers — sorry, Krispy Kreme regulars — even still use trans fats to give their pastries the texture and flavor you can barely live without. While a single doughnut every once in awhile won’t ruin your life, you can still enjoy something sweet without all that extra fat and sugar. Try mixing together a little sugar and cinnamon and sprinkling it on top of a few slices of whole-wheat toast. It’s not exactly the same, but your blood sugar will thank you later.

5. Bagels and cream cheese

A bagel with cream cheese is about as healthy as dessert.

Is your bagel made with whole grains? Probably not. | iStock.com/caelmi

Most bagels aren’t made with whole grains, and even businesses specializing in bagel-making use recipes with enough sugar and fat to qualify their breakfast items as desserts. A cinnamon raisin bagel from The Great American Bagel, for example, has 380 calories, 76 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of fat. That’s without regular cream cheese, which adds another 100 calories, 1 gram of carbs, and 10 grams of fat to your breakfast. Even plain bagels made with refined flour and without cream cheese are still loaded with sugar and lack essential vitamins and minerals. If you can’t have a healthy bagel, at least choose a healthier topping, such as nut butter, hummus, or cinnamon.

6. Muffins

Just because it has fruit in it doesn't mean it's a healthy breakfast choice.

Is a muffin really that much better for you than a cupcake? | iStock.com/bhofack2

Muffins and cupcakes are more closely related than most of us are willing to admit. They’re both usually made with eggs, butter, milk, sugar, and white flour. The biggest difference is the ratio of ingredients. Cupcakes tend to have more sugar and butter to create a richer texture and sweeter taste. Panera Bread’s apple crunch muffin does have apple in it, but it’s mostly just sugar — 80 total grams of carbohydrates with only two of those being from fiber. The fact that this and similar items are in the pastries and sweets category should give you a hint as to the real nutritional value.

7. French toast

French toast is almost worse than pancakes.

Maybe regular toast would be a better pick. | iStock.com/jenifoto

Most standard French toast recipes call for bread, eggs, and milk, which might provide a little protein but also comes with plenty of sugar. White bread is usually used in these recipes, too, especially at restaurants. An order from IHOP has 750 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat, 830 milligrams of sodium, and 85 grams of carbohydrates. That’s without any extra toppings. You can add fruit to almost anything, but it doesn’t make it any healthier, especially if you’re just going to pour syrup on top of it all anyway. If you’re making French toast at home, try using whole-grain bread, and choose fresh fruit for your topping.

8. Flavored yogurt

Flavored yogurt is loaded with sugar.

Put real fruit in plain yogurt instead. | iStock.com/Povareshka

Yogurt is a calcium-rich breakfast option everyone should include in their diet — at least, that’s what you’ve been told. Yoplait is known for their wide selection of flavored yogurts, but their French vanilla option has 25 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fat. Yoplait Greek yogurt has almost the same amount of sugar, unfortunately, and is sweetened with fructose. Instead of choosing yogurt that comes already flavored, start with plain yogurt, and add your own toppings.

9. Flavored instant oatmeal

Instant oatmeal is often high in added sugar.

It might be best to start with fresh oats and go from there. | iStock.com/Roxiller

Oats are the main ingredient in oatmeal, but companies often add several different variations of sugar to their oatmeal recipes to enhance flavor. Quaker instant apple and cranberry-flavored oatmeal has 2 grams of fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, and 33 grams of carbohydrates, 12 of those from sugar — and that’s if you make the oatmeal with water instead of milk. Since one pouch of instant oatmeal often isn’t enough to fill you up for breakfast, you’re likely to have two servings, doubling the amount of sugar. Buying and cooking your own steel-cut oats is a better choice, and it gives you the freedom to add fresh fruit and other ingredients to your bowl.

10. Coffee cake

Coffee cake has just as much sugar as regular cake.

Cake for breakfast? Nice try. | iStock.com/Anna_Kurz

At some point in history, someone decided coffee cake — which doesn’t actually have any coffee in it — paired well with coffee. Since coffee is traditionally a morning beverage, coffee cake probably earned its place in the breakfast category by default. Unfortunately, it’s much more of a dessert than a breakfast staple. A typical coffee cake recipe, even without the topping, contains multiple types of sugar, butter, sour cream, eggs, milk, and salt. Caribou Coffee’s cinnamon offering has 530 calories, 23 total grams of fat, and more than 60 grams of carbohydrates per slice. Is dessert for breakfast really worth the stomachache? Coffee cake just doesn’t belong on the breakfast table.

11. Pancakes and waffles made from mixes

You're much better off making your own pancakes.

Take a closer look at what’s in these mixes. | iStock.com/Medea83

Pancake and waffle mixes are epic time-savers for busy breakfast lovers, but they’re like any other heavily processed food on the market: high in sugar and not very nutritious. Aunt Jemima’s Original Complete mix contains 32 grams of carbohydrates and 470 milligrams of sodium for ⅓ cup of mix (about three medium-size pancakes). That doesn’t include the butter and syrup you’re likely going to pour on top of your breakfast as soon as you sit down, either. If you thought Aunt Jemima’s mixes were questionable, beware of her maple syrup. Just ¼ cup of her original syrup (and you know you’re going to add more than that) adds 52 additional carbohydrates. Don’t miss out on the potential health benefits of making your own waffles and pancakes from scratch.

12. Smoothies

Save the smoothies for dessert.

Homemade is almost always healthier. | iStock.com/NoirChocolate

You might think you’re in the clear ordering a smoothie instead of a sugar-loaded coffee drink at Starbucks, but take a closer look at that nutrition label. Sure, a Caramel Frappuccino has 66 grams of sugar per drink, but a strawberry smoothie has 60 — that’s still way more sugar than you need at 7 o’clock in the morning. Many of these smoothies have fruit in them, but are loaded with other ingredients to make them look and taste more appealing. Plus, unless you’re ordering from a shop that specializes in freshly made smoothies, you’re getting processed fruit juices or fruit-flavored concentrates instead of blended fresh produce. With the right ingredients, a fresh, homemade smoothie is a much healthier alternative.

13. Breakfast cereals

Cereals are some of the most unhealthy breakfast foods.

If you really want to eat a bowl of sugar, go for it. Except, don’t. | iStock.com/bhofack2

You’ve likely known for awhile that your beloved Lucky Charms and Trix cereals were nothing more than delicious bowls of sugar. However, even brands known for their healthier options, like Special K, are loaded with different types of sugar. Probably the worst part about most cereals is they aren’t very filling. A bowl of cold cereal and milk for breakfast will almost always leave you feeling hungry again within a matter of hours. Choosing a healthier cereal is one option. There are better alternatives to even the healthiest breakfast cereals, however. Flavoring your own oatmeal with fresh ingredients, making your own granola, and even creating your own fresh smoothie are all unique and tasty replacements for sugary cereals.

14. Breakfast sandwiches

There's a lot of sodium in a breakfast sandwich.

Just because it’s convenient doesn’t make it good for you. | iStock.com/OlgaMiltsova

Why eat a biscuit, eggs, and sausage separately when you could eat them all together? Probably because most breakfast sandwiches have enough salt and fat to last you all day — especially if you buy them frozen. A sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich from Jimmy Dean is 410 calories, and has 830 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, and 12 grams of saturated fat. You won’t find many better options if you go the fast food route, either. A McDonald’s breakfast biscuit sandwich has 15 grams of saturated fat, 530 calories, and 1,140 milligrams of sodium. Scrambling a few eggs with cheese, adding a sausage patty, and putting it all on two halves of an English muffin takes longer, but you’re going to save yourself a lot of heartburn later.

15. Toaster pastries

Make better use of your toaster oven.

Step away from the Pop-Tarts. | iStock.com/MSPhotographic

Toaster Strudel and Pop-Tarts may be the Saturday morning breakfasts that enriched your childhood, but you probably could have eaten brownies and still had a healthier breakfast. Let’s look at Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tarts, which weigh in at 200 calories, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of saturated fat, and 230 milligrams of sodium per pastry. Here’s where they trick you: Pop-Tarts come in packages of two, making it that much harder to resist eating double the amount you’re supposed to in one sitting. Your inner child begs to eat chocolate for breakfast, but you know better than that. Use your toaster’s powers for good — have some avocado toast instead.