Breakfast sets the tone for your entire day, and when it comes to supporting your weight loss journey, it’s paramount that you pick the right breakfast foods for weight loss that can fuel your body with the energy it needs to function at its best.
“Breakfast sets you up for future choices, so if you start your day in a healthy way, you will likely continue that trend as the day progresses,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, the founder and director of Real Nutrition, a New York City-based private practice dedicated to healthfully and successfully guiding clients to their optimal nutrition, weight, and overall wellness.
Eating things like high-protein foods or high-fiber whole grains can steady blood sugar levels and keep you full for longer, which will help you limit your total calorie intake. “I recommend starting breakfast with protein to prevent blood sugar spikes and cravings or excessive hunger throughout the day,” says Shapiro. “If you do eat carbohydrates, go for whole food sources like whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, and avoid added sugars.”
But it’s just as important to be concerned with what you shouldn’t eat as you are with what you should eat, as there are some unhealthy breakfast foods that may be thwarting your weight loss progress.
Unfortunately, many traditional breakfast foods—think pancakes, waffles, and cereal—are loaded with carbs and lacking in satiating nutrients like protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Eating these foods regularly may be filling you up with additional calories that aren’t doing your body any favors.
We asked registered dietitians to share with us the unhealthiest breakfast foods that may be preventing you from reaching your weight loss goals. Read on to learn what to avoid during your next morning meal, and when you’re done, don’t miss out on The 20 Worst Ways to Lose Weight.
A toasted bagel loaded with cream cheese sure tastes delicious, but it’s not one of the healthiest options to kick off your day with. “Bagels typically contain about four to five servings of carbohydrates and are equivalent to that many slices of bread,” Shapiro explains. “This will give you a huge carbohydrate load in the morning, spiking blood sugar and likely causing hunger shortly after eating [and] cravings. [Plus, bagels] can lead to weight gain—especially around the middle. They are also void of fiber and therefore turn into sugar in the body.”
Your favorite breakfast cereal delivers a big serving of carbs. And let’s be honest: You likely don’t stop at just one serving, because they’re usually pretty small. Many popular breakfast cereals are loaded with added sugars and don’t offer much fiber. If your goal is to lose weight, your best bet is to leave sugar-packed cereals on grocery store shelves.
“Cereal can lead to blood sugar spikes, increased cravings, large portions, and ultimately weight gain,” Shapiro tells us. “If you eat cereal, I recommend looking for a cereal that has less than eight grams of sugar and greater than five grams of fiber. Mix it into Greek yogurt for a more balanced meal.”
Don’t be fooled by the small size and not-so-shabby calorie count—donuts, muffins, and pastries are full of unhealthy fats, sugar, and refined carbs. “They can be calorie-dense and lack the fiber and protein needed to promote fullness and control appetite,” explains Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics who sits on our Medical Expert Board. “You will not stay full for long; you’ll find yourself with low energy looking for a snack, and it can lead to weight gain,” adds Shapiro.
Put down the bacon, egg, and cheese with hashbrowns! “Fast-food breakfast sandwiches often contain processed meats, cheese, and high-calorie sauces,” Goodson explains. “These ingredients are high in saturated fats and sodium, which can contribute to weight gain and cardiovascular problems.”
Needless to say, fast food or restaurant breakfasts don’t fit the bill when it comes to weight loss breakfasts you should eat. According to Shapiro, they’re typically higher in calories than you may expect. Consuming too many calories, unhealthy ingredients, and fat can result in unwanted weight gain and health risks.
Although acai bowls are marketed as “healthy,” the reality is, they’re jam-packed with sugar. “They are often high in sugar with many bowls coming in with 50 to 100 grams of sugar per bowl each,” Shapiro says. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain and insulin spikes, the higher our insulin, the more fat we store especially around our middles.”
If you’re really craving an acai bowl, Shapiro suggests topping it off with just one fruit, along with nut butter or nuts. Pass on the granola, dried fruit, Nutella, and chocolate chips.
A warm stack of pancakes or waffles drenched in maple syrup certainly hits the spot, but these breakfast items typically contain refined flour and sugary toppings. Eating a breakfast like this is a surefire way to get a quick spike in your blood sugar. “They are typically high in calories and low in nutrients, leaving you feeling hungry soon after eating,” Goodson adds.
Biscuits typically pack in the empty calories and fats. They don’t offer the fiber, protein, and nutrients that are necessary to keep you feeling full throughout the remainder of the morning. “Eating biscuits for breakfast can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling hungry and reaching for more unhealthy snacks later in the day,” Goodson shares.
Last but not least on this list of the unhealthiest breakfast foods for weight loss, we have fruit juice. Although this is a liquid, it deserves a spot on this list, because it’s another tricky breakfast staple that disguises itself as healthy. “It’s high in sugars and lacks the fiber found in whole fruits,” Goodson tells us. “This can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and increased calorie intake.”