What you eat for breakfast sets the stage for the rest of the day — and your diet sets the stage for the rest of your life. That's why choosing the right breakfast foods (and avoiding the ones that may shorten your life in the long run) is so important.
Poor diet is responsible for more deaths globally than any other health risk, including using tobacco, per an April 2019 study in The Lancet. The leading dietary risk factors for mortality are diets high in sodium, low in whole grains, low in fruit, low in nuts and seeds, low in vegetables and low in omega-3 fats.
As you can tell, there's a lot you should add to your meals to live a longer life. (In fact, here's the one breakfast longevity experts want you to eat more often.) But cutting out a few key offenders can also be helpful.
Here are the breakfasts that longevity experts recommend you skip to live a longer life.
1. High-Sugar Yogurts
Yogurt typically holds a health halo as a breakfast food, but it can be high in added sugar — aka sugar that is added during the processing of foods, foods packaged as sweeteners like table sugar, sugars from syrups and honey or sugars from concentrated juices, per the USDA. It does not include naturally occurring sugars found in milk, fruits or vegetables.
Over time, manufacturers have created more dessert-inspired yogurt flavors, which can have more than 40 grams of sugar per serving, per a February 2014 report in Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology.
This may be bad news for your lifespan: Over the course of 15 years, participants who ate 17 to 21 percent or more of their daily calories from sugar were 38 percent likely to die from heart disease than those who had less than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar, per an April 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Aim to make added sugar less than 10 percent of your daily calories, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One good way to fit healthy yogurt into your breakfast is to opt for unsweetened Greek yogurt.
"Just 3/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt has 18 grams of protein and is low in sugar," says Carin Kreutzer, RDN, associate clinical professor and coordinated program director at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and USC Keck School of Medicine. "You can add nuts and seeds to that to contribute protein and fiber."
2. High-Sugar Granola
Similar to yogurt, granola can seem like a healthy choice at first glance — but can be filled with sneaky ingredients that act as flavor enhancers.
"A lot of granola might not only be high in sugar, but it might also be high in salt and fat," Dr. Fruge says.
Eating too much sodium is associated with a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease, per the USDA. What's more, eating too much fat can lead to a host of issues that affect your longevity, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues and more.
What you pour into your cereal or granola makes a difference, too. "If you only have oat milk, you're going to be hungry later," Dr. Kreutzer says. Dairy milk or soy milk will provide more protein to keep you satiated all morning (and prevent you from overeating, which may lead to weight gain and its associated health risks).
3. Ultra-Processed Frozen Meals
In the frozen section of the supermarket, you may come across plenty of quick-and-easy meals like breakfast burritos, vegan egg sandwiches and more. But keep in mind that even if something is a "replacement" for unhealthy food (think: frozen plant-based bacon), that's not always a guarantee that it's healthy.
"We know for longevity that you want to avoid anything that is really processed because it does not have the nutrients that we need to thrive," says Dr. Fruge. "Things that have high sugar, high salt and high fat — regardless of if it is a breakfast food or not — are not good for longevity."
Plus, processed foods are major contributors of sodium in the diet as salt is often used to preserve foods and extend shelf life, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"The calories in a food might seem OK, but if the salt is high, that can contribute to blood pressure increases and other problems which can impact longevity," Dr. Fruge says.
4. Breakfast Bars
Breakfast bars may be quick and easy options for when you're on the go, but they won't benefit you for the rest of the day (or for the rest of your life, necessarily). One main reason: Breakfast bars can be high in calories but not very satisfying, which can lead to poor eating habits.
"Some of the bars out there can be high in fat," says Dr. Fruge. "It psychologically doesn't seem like you ate that much when in reality you are eating too much."
If you overeat as a result later on in the day, it could eventually lead to weight gain that affects your longevity.
"We know that anything that causes weight gain and fat gain, particularly around the middle, causes metabolic syndrome which is related to blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and more," Dr. Fruge says.
5. Baked Goods
Delicious baked staples like pancakes, waffles and doughnuts are often the worst choices for your longevity.
"These might not only have a lot of processed ingredients in them — which makes your blood sugar and your insulin go up — but they may also make you tired later in the day and make you crave food that is not good for you," says Dr. Fruge.
Of course, you can make your own versions of these foods in a healthier way.
"Typically, those types of foods are processed unless you're making them homemade," Dr. Fruge says. "But there is a way to make a healthy homemade pancake or waffle. If you do so with whole-grain flour, and you're not adding sugar, then it can be healthy — it's really about the quality of the ingredients and the serving size."
It also depends on what you pair baked goods with. Processed baked goods may not be rich in nutrients, so if they're the staple of your meals, you're missing out on important vitamins and minerals that can help you live a longer life (and getting too much of the stuff that may shorten your life).
"To me, the worst breakfast is one that lacks nutrients," Kreutzer tells us. "If I'm having a coffee with non-dairy creamer that has no protein, with two to three packets of sugar, and getting a croissant, I'm missing fiber and protein and getting way too much refined sugar."
The 7 Worst Breakfast Foods for Inflammation
Breakfast is your first opportunity of the day to feed your body foods that'll help fight inflammation. But, all too often, we pile our breakfast plates with stuff that can cause an inflammatory response.
While short-term, acute inflammation is a helpful tool that triggers the body's defenses to attack foreign invaders (like to fend off the common cold or heal a wound), chronic inflammation is a larger problem, Leslie Langevin, RD, author of and co-owner of Whole Health Nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Chronic inflammation happens when the immune system becomes overactive to protect itself from threats (which can result from an inflammatory diet, among other things), and the body secretes elevated levels of inflammatory molecules like cytokines, Langevin explains. But in the long term, this constant state of inflammation can do major damage to the body.
Indeed, persistent inflammation is linked to weight gain, GI issues, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, allergies, arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, as well as chronic pain and fatigue, Langevin says.
Start your day off right by avoiding these seven unhealthy breakfast foods that cause inflammation.
From muffins to doughnuts to pastries, baked goods and breakfast go way back, but these a.m. sweets may be sabotaging your overall health. That's because they're notoriously high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, which will spike your blood sugar and produce an inflammatory response, Langevin says.
Plus, baked goods often use butter or vegetable oils that contain more saturated fats or omega-6 fats, which are also pro-inflammatory when eaten in excess, she adds.
Eating these high-fat, high-sugar confectionaries for breakfast on the regular can lead to weight gain. And having a greater level of fat or adipose tissue in the body is a risk factor for even more inflammation because people who are overweight tend to secrete more inflammatory molecules, Langevin says.
If you want to enjoy a muffin or doughnut on occasion, bake your own healthier, less inflammatory versions. For starters, replace at least half the white flour in a recipe with a whole-grain variety like oat or whole-wheat flour. You can also add ground flax for more omega-3s and fiber, incorporate fruit and use extra-light olive oil.
2. Waffles and Pancakes
Waffles and pancakes are staple breakfast fare, but, like baked goods, they're usually made with white flour. This means they're stuffed with refined carbohydrates and have a high glycemic index, which will increase inflammation, Langevin says.
Remember, "foods high in sugar and processed refined carbohydrates can increase blood sugar levels, which may lead to more inflammation," Langevin says. Consequently, the body prefers lower glycemic foods (those that spike the blood sugar less).
To help the body control blood sugar spikes and reduce inflammation, try adding more fiber, plant protein and antioxidants to each meal, Langevin says. For instance, to make more nutritious waffles and pancakes, substitute fiber-rich oat flour or whole-wheat flour for white flour, toss in high-protein chia seeds, use heart-healthy extra-light olive oil and add antioxidant-rich blueberries.
"A little maple syrup is even OK on top because it's a lower glycemic sweetener," Langevin adds.
Buttery, flaky and doughy, croissants are the consummate breakfast food. Unfortunately, they're swimming in saturated fats, which are bad for inflammation.
Indeed, a diet heavy in saturated fats can raise your cholesterol, potentially resulting in clogged arteries, per Harvard Health Publishing. (To avoid this, try limiting your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calories.)
Plus, these puff pastries possess processed, refined carbohydrates, which we already know can increase blood sugar levels and promote an inflammatory response.
The takeaway: "Croissants are a fun food that should be enjoyed on the rare occasion," Langevin says.
4. Bacon and Sausage
Sure, they taste good, but breakfast meats like bacon and sausage supply little to no benefits for your body. In fact, these pro-inflammatory processed foods, which are high in saturated fat, might hurt your health in the long term.
Case in point: An April 2016 meta-analysis in Public Health Nutrition observed that people who ate more red meat and processed meat had a greater risk of death related to cardiovascular problems and cancer. And research has demonstrated that these diseases, among others, are connected to chronic inflammation.
If you're a bacon lover or a stickler for sausage, Langevin recommends trying a plant-based breakfast meat alternative. Just make sure you pick a brand that contains whole-food ingredients and is low in sodium.
5. Blended Coffees
Blended coffees are often crammed with sugar, which sets off inflammation in your body, Langevin says. That's because when you ingest excessive sugar, your body releases insulin, attempting to store the surplus sugar in your fat cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
But here's the problem: If you take in too much sugar too often, it may eventually cause weight gain and/or insulin resistance, which may lead to more serious metabolic conditions.
Instead, "try to optimize your coffee with a plant-based milk that is unsweetened or add a little maple syrup or stevia as your sweetener to help decrease blood sugar spikes," Langevin says. A drop of vanilla extract or a sprinkle of cinnamon are both excellent ways to enhance flavor without sugar.
6. Some Types of Dairy
From a glass of milk to cheese or yogurt and beyond, dairy covers a wide spectrum of foods you might find on the breakfast table. Previous studies have demonstrated that dairy can increase inflammation, Langevin says, adding, "this correlation is thought to be related to a leaky gut component."
And if you're lactose intolerant, you're probably already familiar with your gut's inflamed response to dairy (think: gas, diarrhea and bloating).
But, while full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fats and deemed pro-inflammatory, other fatty acids in dairy might boast benefits for your health, according to the Arthritis Foundation. For example, research has shown that eating yogurt is associated with a reduction in inflammation and insulin resistance and a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes. While more studies are still needed, researchers hypothesize that the probiotics in yogurt are the source of its anti-inflammatory effect.
Similarly, a September 2020 systematic review in Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded that dairy and dairy proteins exhibited neutral to beneficial effects on inflammatory biomarkers.
Still, since dairy products vary greatly, it's unclear which components of these foods can help (or cause) inflammation or how they might affect different people, per the Arthritis Foundation.
When it comes to dairy, your best bet is to consume in moderation. “Go easy on the butter and possibly try substituting plant milks for dairy milks,” Langevin says. “We do know that plant-based diets are effective for reducing inflammation, so limiting your animal products can help towards that as well.”
7. Home Fries
"Home fries are a good treat every now and then, but white potatoes are high on the glycemic index, and, when they are fried in vegetable oil, this can increase inflammation," Langevin says,
Higher levels of inflammation can also increase stress hormones, which makes it harder to lose weight, she adds. Adding insult to injury, inflammation can also cause leptin resistance, which occurs when your body isn't able to listen to its fullness cues as accurately, causing you to eat more, Langevin explains.
For a healthier side of anti-inflammatory home fries, mix white potatoes with sweet potatoes and sauté in a pan of extra-light olive oil or avocado oil over medium heat with garlic and herbs.
Anti-Inflammatory Breakfasts to Eat Instead