It’s no secret that fast food isn’t a good candidate for a nutritious breakfast. But some menu items are especially unhealthy, while others offer at least a few redeeming qualities. If your mornings feel busier than ever, and you just need to hit a drive-thru before work to avoid hunger pains in your morning meeting, there are some fast-food breakfasts to generally steer clear of.
We spoke with Jay Cowin, registered nutritionist and director of formulations for ASYSTEM, and Julie Andrews, registered dietitian and chef, to identify some of the least nutritional fast-food breakfasts out there (in no particular order), plus tips on choosing better-for-you menu items.
Read on to find out the worst fast-food breakfast items on menus in 2021, and for more, check out the 100 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.
1 serving: 1340 calories, 63 g fat (25 g saturated fat), 2070 mg sodium, 158 g carbs (5 g fiber, 48 g sugar), 36 g protein
The Big Breakfast at McDonald’s might be filling, but the sodium content is far higher than the American Heart Association’s recommended daily amount of 1,500 milligrams.
“Come back for lunch and order a Big Mac with large fries and you still would be eating less calorie and fat content than this breakfast platter contains,” Cowin says.
Related: Sign up for our newsletter for the latest healthy eating news.
1 muffin: 590 calories, 24 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 370 mg sodium, 88 g carbs (2 g fiber, 51 g sugar), 7 g protein
If you’re headed for Dunkin’, there are some better-for-you picks during breakfast that are much more nutritious than the Coffee Cake Muffin.
“Dunkin’ Donuts has upped their breakfast nutrition game as of late, by offering their Egg and Cheese Wake Up Wraps, Avocado Toast, and Scrambled Egg Cups, so I’d grab one of those rather than a Coffee Cake Muffin,” Andrews says. “This breakfast option would likely lead to a blood sugar spike and drop and isn’t going to keep you full for very long.”
You’re probably stopping at Dunkin’ for coffee, too. If so, Cowin warns that the Butter Pecan Swirl Frozen Coffee with cream is a very unhealthy choice. In fact, its sugar content “is equivalent to nine chocolate glazed donuts with sprinkles,” the nutritionist explains.
Related: 112 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are
1 burrito: 840 calories, 58 g fat (19 g saturated fat), 2020 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (2 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 30 g protein
If it’s the “ultimate” anything, you can probably bet it’s going to be loaded with sodium, fat, and calories. That’s certainly the case with this ultra-meaty, cheesy burrito at Sonic.
Cowin is not impressed with this giant breakfast burrito, particularly in regards to the amount of sodium and fat in it. Cleveland Clinic recommends 11208-fat-what-you-need-to-know a dietary reference intake of 44 to 77 grams of fat for a 2,000-calorie diet, and this burrito hits right in the middle at 58 grams. That’s like eating 17 slices of pan-fried bacon!
Related: 5 New Things You’ll See at Sonic
1 sandwich: 660 calories, 44 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 1510 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (2 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 300 g protein
For savory fast-food breakfasts, the trend is typically high sodium and/or high fat, as seen in the Biggie Breakfast Sandwich at Wendy’s.
According to Cowin, this breakfast is “about the same as eating a Big Bacon Classic, but this breakfast sandwich packs more sodium.”
1 sandwich: 560 calories, 24 g fat (14 g saturated fat), 1060 mg sodium, 57 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 21 g protein
Panera actually has many nutritious menu items for breakfast that will leave you feeling full and satisfied instead of stuffed and sluggish. When it comes down to it, Andrews recommends going for a wrap, like the Chipotle Chicken, Scrambled Egg, and Avocado Wrap, or Mediterranean Egg White Wrap, compared to a salty, fatty item like Panera’s Bacon, Egg, and Cheese on Asiago Cheese Bagel.
Related: 10 Best & Worst Menu Items at Panera
1 burrito: 700 calories, 40 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 1750 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (3 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 34 g protein
Another savory breakfast item, the Hash Brown Scramble Burrito at Chick-fil-A offers little redeeming qualities in terms of nutritional value.
“This is more calorie and fat content than any of their famous chicken sandwich selections,” Cowin explains.
Of course, if it’s something you are craving, enjoy it in moderation by ordering it for special occasions or splitting it with a loved one.
1 sandwich: 480 calories, 29 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 890 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 18 g protein
It’s rare to pass a coworker who isn’t clutching a Starbucks breakfast item in one hand and coffee in the other. The convenience of hitting the drive-thru or mobile ordering is hard to compete with. But Starbucks does offer healthier items, like plain coffee or teas, and protein boxes.
On the other hand, items like the Sausage, Egg & Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich are packed with sodium and might leave you feeling bloated during the day.
Cowin also notes that the restaurant’s mochas are some of the worst beverages to order with breakfast, especially if you opt for whole milk and add whipped cream.
1 burrito: 806 calories, 44 g fat (16 g saturated fat), 2008 mg sodium, 69 g carbs (4 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 33 g protein
Notice a pattern here? While they’re certainly delicious, burritos are a repeat offender on the worst fast-food breakfast list. It’s pretty shocking to see how much meat and cheese (and salt and fat) can fit in one tortilla.
“You would need to eat four large Burger King fries to get even close to the sodium content of this breakfast burrito,” Cowin says.
Related: 8 Secrets Burger King Doesn’t Want You to Know
1 sandwich: 890 calories, 63 g fat (25 g saturated fat), 2480 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 35 g protein
Breakfast sandwiches present an opportunity to pack in healthy proteins and veggies, but the Monster Biscuit from Hardee’s instead loads up on layer after layer of meat. In fact, this single breakfast sandwich includes ham, bacon, and sausage plus egg and two slices of American cheese.
“I’d skip the Monster Biscuit at Hardee’s, as it racks up 890 calories, 25 grams of saturated fat, and 2,480 mg of sodium,” Andrews says.
1 dozen donut holes: 960 calories, 60 g fat (32 g saturated fat), 375 mg sodium, 98 g carbs (2 g fiber, 49 g sugar), 7 g protein
Sweet treats are also a popular pick at fast-food spots, but that means your breakfast might be high in sugar, fat, or both. In the case of these iced donut holes at Shipley Do-Nuts, they are both. At 60 grams of fat, a box of 12 donut holes is similar to the fat content in five full tablespoons of butter.
For more menu options you should steer clear of, check out The Worst Restaurant Burgers in America.