Anyone who's ever offended someone with a compliment that was intended to be genuine knows that sometimes things can go awry, even when you have the best of intentions. And in America, the land of the free and the overfed, there's no better example of this than our breakfasts.
In theory, breakfast is a good thing. Studies show that people who take time for a morning meal consume fewer calories over the course of the day, have stronger cognitive skills, and are 30% less likely to be overweight or obese. But when food marketers get their hands on it, "a hearty breakfast" turns into something more like "a heart-breaking breakfast." Much of what's on offer at America's restaurants and fast-food joints includes a collection of salty scrambles, misguided muffins, and way too tall pancake stacks.
But enough is enough. It's time to correct the restaurants that have ruined the notion that any breakfast is better than no breakfast. Here, we call out the worst restaurant breakfasts—not just for nutritional justice, but so you can stay far, far away. And for more foods to steer clear of, don't miss The #1 Worst Menu Option at 76 Popular Restaurants.
Denny's Cinnamon Roll Pancake Breakfast
Per meal with two pancakes, two bacon strips, two sunny-side-up eggs, and hash browns: 1,470 calories, 63 g fat (18 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 2,660 mg sodium, 204 g carbs (5 g fiber, 125 g sugar), 30 g protein
Dessert-driven pancakes can be found on many menus, but Denny's Cinnamon Roll Pancake Breakfast out-sweets them all. The restaurant has topped two buttermilk pancakes with a cinnamon crumb topping and whipped cream, and then Denny's will give you a pitcher of warm cream cheese icing to "drizzle" (read: dump) on top.
The result is a dish with more sugar than 13 servings of Breyers' Natural Vanilla Ice Cream. (Throw in eggs, hash browns, and two sausage links, and the sodium count soars, too.) Stay far, far away from this meal if weight loss is one of your health goals.
Need some help cutting back on the sweet stuff? Here is the science-backed way to curb your sweet tooth in 14 days.
The Cheesecake Factory Bruléed French Toast with Bacon
Per meal: 2,180 calories, 131 g fat (70 g saturated fat, 4 g trans fat), 1,070 mg sodium, 208 g carbs (7 g fiber, 115 g sugar), 45 g protein
Say hello to one the highest-calorie items on The Cheesecake Factory's menu—and, yes, that goes for the entire menu, not just for breakfast. (By the way, don't think to swap your bacon for grilled ham, as this substitution will bring up your sodium count to over a day's worth: 2,620 milligrams.)
This "rustic" dish will likely rust your arteries, with half a day's worth of sodium, more than a day's worth of calories, over two days worth of added sugar, and three and a half days' worth of saturated fat. To quell your sweet tooth craving (and keep your breakfast under 1,000 calories and free of trans fats), place an order for a strawberry fruit smoothie and the make-your-own breakfast sammie with a side order of eggs and an English muffin.
Friendly's Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl
Per meal: 1,418 calories, 90 g fat (35 g saturated fat, 0.1 g trans fat), 3,014 mg sodium, 103 g carbs (2.7 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 49 g protein
Wolfing down this breakfast means you'll set yourself back more sodium than if you ate 250 Lay's potato chips. Yikes! Instead, order pancakes with two slices of bacon instead. Or better yet, stay home and whip up one of these 11 Best Healthy Pancake Recipes.
Bob Evans Double Meat Farmer's Choice Breakfast
Per meal with hotcakes, two freshly cracked eggs, two sausage patties, bacon, and home fries: 2,020 calories, 89.9 g fat (26.5 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 4,810 mg sodium, 237 g carbs (7 g fiber, 43 g sugar), 69 g protein
With more than a day's worth of fat, saturated fat, and over two full days' worth of sodium, this Bob Evans breakfast plate is a real doozy for your arteries. Switch to the Rise and Shine platter for a tasty mix of cooked-to-order eggs, homefries, and breakfast meats. You'll save thousands of milligrams of sodium.
IHOP Country-Fried Steak&Eggs with Sausage Gravy
Per meal with steak, sausage gravy, two scrambled eggs, hash browns, and two buttermilk pancakes (syrup not included): 1,650 calories, 110 g fat (32.5 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fat), 3,840 mg sodium, 109 g carbs (8 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 56 g protein
When you see the words "fried" and "steak" next to each other on your breakfast menu, just keep scanning the menu. No matter what the chefs serve it with, and no matter where you place the order, it's a bad idea for your body—especially with as much sodium as nine bags of Rold Gold Pretzels.
If something hearty and meaty is what you crave, try IHOP's T-Bone steak with three poached eggs instead. Don't get it twisted, though; this swap is by no means healthy. But it will give you the flavors you're looking for while keeping hundreds of calories, as well as plenty of fat and sodium, off of your plate.
Perkins Hearty Man's Combo
Per meal with two eggs, smoked sausage, two bacon strips, breakfast potatoes, and a banana nut muffin: 1,870 calories, 131 g fat (39 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 3,000 mg sodium, 126 g carbs (5 g fiber, 54 g sugar), 48 g protein
It may not be the highest-sodium order at Perkins, but it's still pretty scary. This collection of processed meats amounts to 200% of your daily value of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, as well as over a day's worth of sodium and added sugars. You'd think that a muffin is a safe bet, but it actually has more sugar than Perkins' three buttermilk pancakes with pancake syrup.
Taco Bell Breakfast Crunchwrap
Per Sausage Crunchwrap: 710 calories, 45 g fat (14 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,210 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 21 g protein
Fried potatoes topped with creamy jalapeño cheese and cheddar—it's no shock that the Crunchwrap is by far the worst breakfast option at Taco Bell. Consuming more than half a day's allowance of sodium and saturated fat at breakfast is the worst possible way to start your day.
Jamba Juice Island Pitaya Bowl
Per bowl (545 g): 480 calories, 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 20 mg sodium, 102 g carbs (11 g fiber, 70 g sugar), 7 g protein
"Energy bowls" might be the biggest trend at juice places, but remember that another word for "energy" is "calories." While some of the sugar comes from fruit, a lot of it comes from honey and granola, leading to nearly two days' worth of sweetness in just one bowl. Instead, pick up a protein-rich bowl of Greek yogurt topped with berries to cut out 80 calories and 28 grams of sugar. For more calorie-saving swaps, check out these easy ways to cut calories.
Panera Vanilla Cinnamon Roll
Per roll: 620 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 490 mg sodium, 109 g carbs (3 g fiber, 72 g sugar), 8 g protein
This sad excuse for a morning meal has more calories and fat than every single breakfast sandwich Panera offers. Plus, it has 150% of your daily value of added sugars, or about what you'd find in a Starbucks Grande Vanilla Frappuccino.
Au Bon Pain Eggs, Sausage&Cheddar on Asiago Bagel
Per asiago bagel with two eggs, sausage, and cheddar: 670 calories, 34 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,160 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (4 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 36 g protein
Why order a nutrient-void bagel sandwich when you can order a healthier one that's just as flavorful? By moving your egg and sausage over to a smarter carb like the skinny wheat bagel, you save 160 calories and an impressive 30 grams of carbohydrates without altering the taste of your breakfast. And speaking of carbs done right, check out these 25 Best Carbs for Weight Loss!
Sonic Ultimate Meat and Cheese Breakfast Burrito
Per burrito: 840 calories, 58 g fat (19 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,220 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (2 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 30 g protein
What do bacon, sausage, tater tots, and cheddar all have in common? They're all filled with fat and salt, and they're all part of Sonic's sad excuse for a breakfast burrito. Paired with eggs—arguably the only healthy part of the entire concoction—and shoved into a nutrition-void carb blanket, this 840-calorie artery-clogger is better left unordered. Instead, stick with the SuperSonic breakfast burrito to shave 230 calories and 420 milligrams of sodium off your order.
Chick-Fil-A Hash Brown Sausage Scramble Burrito
Per burrito: 710 calories, 46 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 1,440 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (3 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 28 g protein
The craziest thing about this breakfast burrito is that you can eat two (two!) of our Eat This! Picks—the Egg White Grill—and still consume 130 fewer calories, 30 fewer grams of fat, and 9 fewer grams of saturated fat while eating nearly double the protein and almost the same amount of sodium. To learn more about better-for-you eats from the chicken baron, check out our report, Chick-Fil-A's menu ranked by nutrition.
Carl's Jr. The Breakfast Burger
Per burger: 830 calories, 44 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,590 mg sodium, 67 g carbs (4 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 42 g protein
Smash a plate of eggs, bacon, and hash browns between two buns, and you get a breakfast sandwich that's nearly three times the calories of an Egg McMuffin. Good going, Carl's Jr.—not! It's safe to say that some dishes—like burgers—are better off when they're left unaltered.
Hardee's Breakfast Platter
Per platter with biscuit and gravy, two eggs, two strips of bacon, and Hash Rounds: 1,050 calories, 68 g fat (21 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 2,420 mg sodium, 76 g carbs (12 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 31 g protein
Hardee's earns its reputation as one of the most perilous fast-food chains by continuing to sire one crazily caloric burger after the next—and by failing to offer many impressive breakfast options. The breakfast platter lives up to the chain's reputation, packing in over half a day's worth of sodium into one little meal.
Though it may come as a shock, this is one time opting for a starchy breakfast burrito is actually the better move for your belly. The chain's loaded breakfast burrito has 1,320 milligrams of sodium, which is a lot less than you'll find in this platter. For more simple ways to eat a healthy breakfast, check out these 15 Healthy Breakfast Ideas: 5 Minutes, 5 Ingredients!
Smoothie King 'The Hulk' Strawberry Smoothie
Per 40 oz smoothie: 1,690 calories, 64 g fat (31 g saturated fat), 730 mg sodium, 272 g carbs (20 g fiber, 227 g sugar), 57 g protein
You'll see that there are 227 grams of sugar in this smoothie, and 147 of those grams are "added sugar." The USDA recommends that we eat no more than 50 grams of added sugar a day, so this smoothie breaks through that barrier almost three times! Plus, liquid calories are absorbed more quickly than solid calories, because the digestion process is quicker. That's a sugar rush that will send you flying!
Not only will switching to the Vegan Nutty Super Grain ax 650 calories from your order, but it also reels in the sugar count to a much more respectable amount (and this one has 0 grams of added sugars). Plus, it has a reasonable amount of vegan protein for a post-workout shake. For even more ways to cut back on the white stuff, check out these ways to cut back on sugar!
Jack in the Box Grande Sausage Breakfast Burrito
Per burrito: 1,070 calories, 72 g fat (21 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,210 mg sodium, 70 g carbs (5 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 36 g protein
To put things into perspective, a 150-pound person would have to go on a three-and-a-half-hour stroll to burn off this breakfast. Opt for our Eat This! suggestion, the Meat Lovers' Breakfast Burrito, instead and you'd only have to walk for two-and-a-half hours to burn it all off. Not great, but definitely an improvement if you're in desperate need of a breakfast burrito.
McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
Per meal with three hotcakes, butter, one biscuit, two scrambled eggs, one sausage patty, and hash browns: 1,340 calories, 64 g fat (25 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,090 mg sodium, 155 g carbs (6 g fiber, 48 g sugar), 35 g protein
Buttermilk biscuits, savory hot sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and hotcakes join together to create a meal that might just make it hard for your heart to pump. Somehow Ronald and his pals managed to shove 49% of the day's fat and 65% of the day's saturated fat into one meal. Well, your gig is up, clown. We're comin' after you and branding this breakfast as an official dietary delinquent. To learn more about the best and worst options at the Golden Arches, check out our official report on McDonald's menu ranked!