Unhealthy Fast Food Breakfast
Taco Bell/Facebook

Unhealthy Fast Food Breakfasts — and What to Order Instead

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Unhealthy Fast Food Breakfast
Taco Bell/Facebook

Start the Day Right

If hectic mornings have you swinging by fast-food chains for breakfast, long drive-thru lines show you're far from alone. Although a convenient meal out may not be as healthy or cheap as breakfast can be at home, it doesn't have to be a nutritional disaster. We consulted with dietitians and nutritionists to discover healthier alternatives to some of the most indulgent, unhealthy breakfast menu items at 10 popular chains.

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Mcdonald's, Big Breakfast With Hotcakes
Yolanda R./Yelp

McDonald's

Big Breakfast with Hotcakes: 1,350 calories

Got a big appetite? It might be tempting to dig into McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes, which also includes scrambled eggs, a biscuit, hash browns, and sausage. But your big morning indulgence "is a horrific meal nutritionally in every sense," said Jennifer Glockner, a registered dietitian nutritionist and creator of Smartee Plate. The calorie count is almost three-quarters of what a person on a 2,000-calorie diet needs in a day, she said, and the 25 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat is actually over daily guidelines. Also hiding in this meal: close to a day's worth of sodium and sugar.

Related: Why McDonald's Fries Used to Taste Better

Mcdonald's, Egg White Delight Mcmuffin and Yogurt Parfait
Steven B./Yelp | Michelle K./Yelp

McDonald's: A Healthier Alternative

Egg White Delight McMuffin and Yogurt Parfait: 430 calories 

Instead, Glockner suggested digging into an Egg White Delight McMuffin (available at participating restaurants), made with grilled egg whites, extra-lean Canadian bacon, and white cheddar. With this meal, you're down to 7 grams of saturated fat. For a little bit of sweetness, add a yogurt parfait, which will "have added sugars, but not to the level of the big breakfast of hotcakes," she said. An even healthier choice: Snag some apple slices in place of the parfait.

Related: 20 Highest Calorie Counts at Fast Food Chains (and How to Lower Them)

Starbucks Almond Croissant
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Starbucks

Almond Croissant and Caramel Brulée Latte: 860 calories 

A steaming Caramel Brulée Latte from Starbucks is a tempting way to indulge your sweet tooth and get a nice jolt of caffeine, and an almond croissant seems like a natural choice to round out your breakfast. But beware: "With 450 calories and 47 grams of sugar, the Caramel Brulée Latte is more of a full-out meal than a cup of coffee," warned Lauren Harris-Pincus, a registered dietitian who specializes in managing weight and prediabetes. "An almond croissant, while tasty, packs 420 calories and a whopping 22 grams of fat, which equals 34% of the recommended daily intake of fat in one croissant."

Related: Biggest Fast-Food Flops of All Time

Starbucks wrap
Adele W./Yelp

Starbucks: A Healthier Alternative

Egg White, Roasted Pepper, Mushroom, and Cheddar Breakfast Wrap and Tall Skinny Latte: 487 calories 

Harris-Pincus' advice: Tear yourself away from the bakery items. This wrap is high in sodium but has almost 23 grams of protein. Pairing it with a Tall Skinny Latte tacks on only 100 calories and a more reasonable 14 grams of sugar.

Related: How to Satisfy Your $5 Starbucks Habit at Home

Burger King, Egg-Normous Burrito
Michelle M./Yelp

Burger King

Egg-Normous Burrito: 805 calories

We know it's a great idea to start the day with lots of filling protein to prevent overeating later on. In this respect, the Egg-Normous Burrito delivers, with a whopping 38 grams. But that's not all it's packed with. "Everything is wrong with this item," said Julie Cunningham, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes instructor. "It has half a day's calories, a whole day's fat and saturated fat, more than a day's worth of cholesterol and sodium, and a gram of trans fat — the worst kind of fat, which is known to raise your LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol."

Related: 20 Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Egg and cheese Croissan'wich
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Burger King: A Healthier Alternative

Egg and Cheese Croissan'wich: 370 calories 

If you just can't resist the lure of a breakfast sandwich, the Egg and Cheese Croissan'wich is a much better choice than the Egg-Normous Burrito, with only 370 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 610 milligrams of sodium.

Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Cake Muffin
Rick C./Yelp

Dunkin' Donuts

Coffee Cake Muffin and a Vanilla Chai Tea: 1,040 calories 

Tea and a muffin: It sounds innocent enough, right? Dunkin' Donuts even recommends the two together, calling them a "perfect pair" on its website. But just because you aren't eating a doughnut doesn't make this a better breakfast choice. A Coffee Cake Muffin alone has 590 calories, and a large Vanilla Chai adds 450 more. "This breakfast choice is low in protein but high in calories, sugar, and carbs," cautioned Natalie Allen, a registered dietitian and biomedical sciences instructor at Missouri State University. "Eating these types of foods in the morning will not keep you full." In other words, you've just scarfed down half your daily calories, and you'll be hungry again by 10 a.m. — not worth it.

Related: Expert Tips for Making Doughnuts at Home

Turkey Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Wake-Up Wrap
Michelle P./Yelp

Dunkin' Donuts: A Healthier Alternative

Turkey Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Wake-Up Wrap and Hot Coffee: 270 calories

Fortunately, Dunkin' Donuts has made it easier to make better choices. Allen said: "Look for items designated as 'DDSmart.' They are lower in calories and fat." She particularly recommended Wake-Up Wraps like the one with turkey sausage, which has just 240 calories. A medium cup of hot coffee with Splenda adds only 30 more, "but watch what you add to the coffee, such as sugar or flavored syrups," she cautioned — it's a quick way to add empty calories.

Taco Bell, Breakfast Crunchwrap Combo
Aimee H./Yelp

Taco Bell

Breakfast Crunchwrap Combo: 820 calories

Starting your run for the border in the morning doesn't necessarily mean you'll be choosing from healthier fare at Taco Bell. The Breakfast Crunchwrap Combo sure sounds delicious: The wrap comes with bacon, cheese, egg, hash browns, and creamy jalapeno sauce, plus you get a side of two decadent, icing-filled Cinnabon Delights. But Glockner warned of the high sodium content — 1,360 milligrams — and the high calorie count. Even worse, you could tack on tons more calories by selecting a drink like the Mountain Dew Baja Blast, she said.

Taco Bell, Grilled Breakfast Burrito Fiesta Potato
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Taco Bell: A Healthier Alternative

Grilled Breakfast Burrito Fiesta Potato: 340 calories

A better choice at Taco Bell: the Fiesta Potato version of the Grilled Breakfast Burrito, made with egg, pico de gallo, nacho cheese, and potatoes. "Grilled options are usually healthier than fried options," Glockner advised. "This meal has no processed meats, has grilled potatoes instead of fried hash browns, and has no creamy sauce." For extra health points, she recommended swapping in guacamole for the nacho cheese sauce ("It would be a healthier, unprocessed, plant-based fat") and pairing it with a plain hot coffee or unsweetened iced tea instead of a soft drink.

Related: 19 Places Where Diabetics Can Safely Eat Out

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit
Wendy's

Wendy's

Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit with Breakfast Potatoes: 1,020 calories 

Topped with eggs, sausage, and cheese, this biscuit is the epitome of a convenient, filling breakfast. But pair it with a large side of breakfast potatoes and you'll be downing 59 grams of fat, more than the FDA recommends for the whole day. 

Related: We Tasted All 9 Wendy's Breakfast Sandwiches and This Is the Best

Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich
Wendy's

Wendy's: A Healthier Alternative

Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich: 320 calories

For a lighter caloric load, try the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich. While still packing plenty of fat, the burrito lacks the the low-nutrient carbs of the biscuit and potato while still delivering a decent amount of protein in the eggs, bacon, and cheese. 

Related: Where to Order Good, Cheap Burritos in Every State

Chick-Fil-A, Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit with Hash Browns
Sheri R./Yelp

Chick-fil-A

Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit with Hash Browns: 920 calories

Chick-fil-A can be one of the healthier fast-food breakfast options if you play your cards right. One of the worst options, however, is this sandwich, served with sausage, folded egg, and cheese on a buttermilk biscuit. Allen noted that it has 670 calories and 46 grams of fat alone — the obligatory side of hash browns tacks on 250 more calories and another 17 grams of fat. Another concern, Allen said: 210 milligrams of cholesterol.

Chick-Fil-A, Egg White Grill and Fruit Cup
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Chick-fil-A: A Healthier Alternative

Egg White Grill and Fruit Cup: 350 calories 

"Choose the healthier Egg White Grill sandwich, which is less than half the calories, thanks in part to being on an English muffin," Allen advised. "The chicken on this breakfast sandwich is a lean protein, which provides satiety to fuel you for the morning." It has just 7 grams of fat and only 55 milligrams of cholesterol, too. If you need a little something extra, look no further than the fruit cup, which adds only 50 calories.

Hardee's Biscuit 'n' Gravy
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Hardee's

Biscuit 'n' Gravy: 620 calories 

This may sound like a simple, down-home breakfast choice, but that doesn't make it a healthy one. You get a "from scratch" biscuit slathered in gravy, but you also get 38 grams of fat, 14 of it saturated, and 1,670 milligrams of sodium. And that's a recipe for fluid retention, bloating, and increased thirst, according to Rebecca Stib, a registered dietician nutritionist with Dietician Thyme.

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Hardee's, Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit
Tom J./Yelp

Hardee's: A Healthier Alternative

Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit: 620 calories 

While most of Hardee's breakfast menu packs a punch when it comes to calories, Stib said you can still indulge a little more responsibly by opting for the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit. While still high in sodium at 1,530 milligrams, it's a step in the right direction. 

Panera Bread, Cinnamon Crunch Bagel with Honey Walnut Cream Cheese and Chai Tea Latte
Deniece L./Yelp

Panera Bread

Cinnamon Crunch Bagel with Honey Walnut Cream Cheese and Chai Tea Latte: 790 calories 

Panera beckons with its tempting bagels and bevy of hot drinks. But steer clear of the dessert-like Cinnamon Crunch Bagel, especially if you're watching carbs or sugar. It has 82 grams of carbs and 33 grams of sugar, and the cream cheese adds 5 more grams of sugar. The bigger surprise might be the Chai Tea Latte, though: It has 48 grams of sugar by itself. "The combined sugar will give you a major sugar crash even before you arrive to work," Stib warned.

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Cinnamon Swirl and Raisin Bagel
Agnes O./Yelp

Panera Bread: A Healthier Alternative

Cinnamon Swirl and Raisin Bagel and Skinny Café Mocha: 560 calories 

"To avoid a sugar crash, I would pick two items that complement each other nutritionally," Stib said. "Try pairing the cinnamon swirl and raisin bagel with a Skinny Café Mocha. You'll love the similar flavors, and it has a lot less sugar." That's 46 grams, to be exact — less than the Chai Tea Latte alone.

Sonic, Ultimate Meat and Cheese Breakfast Burrito
Lynn C./Yelp

Sonic

Ultimate Meat and Cheese Breakfast Burrito: 840 calories 

It's ultimate, all right — as in, the ultimate nuclear option for breakfast at Sonic. Yes, this combo of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, tots, and cheese has 30 grams of filling protein, but it also has "a whole day's worth of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium in one burrito," warns Cunningham. For those keeping score, that's 58 grams, 19 grams, 360 milligrams, and 2,220 milligrams, respectively.

Related: How Drive-In Restaurants Are Catering to Customers Amid the Pandemic

Sonic, Junior Breakfast Burrito
Jenna R./Yelp

Sonic: A Healthier Alternative

Junior Breakfast Burrito: 290 calories

"Have a junior breakfast burrito for about one-third of the calories, fat, cholesterol, and everything else in the Ultimate version," Cunningham recommended. It still has 12 grams of filling protein, plus the sausage, eggs, and cheese of its fattier big brother. And the 820 milligrams of sodium won't leave you feeling quite as bloated for the rest of the day, either.