Let’s get real — why do most people head to their favorite fast-food chain for breakfast? Perhaps it's the convenience or the consistency, or maybe because it’s cheaper than grabbing a cappuccino and scone from that expensive artisanal bakery on the corner. Chances are, the vast array of nutritionally sound options is not coming into the decision-making process — but maybe they should be.
A host of major fast-food giants are making an effort to offer customers lighter and more nutritious ways to start their mornings, and there’s no denying the importance of a healthy breakfast to set you on the right track for the day.
According to nutritionist Kelly Aronica, M.S., the best morning choices with regards to proteins include eggs, smoked salmon, Canadian bacon, and yogurt. On the flip side, steering clear of super-sweet items, such as French toast sticks, pancakes, and pastries is a very smart move. She adds, "Go for high-fiber carbs like oatmeal (ideally without the serving of brown sugar or syrup) or granola. I'd say stay away from toast, but if it's necessary, whole-wheat is better than white." The same thought holds true for bagels, which are loaded with carbs and are often double what a person should be eating for breakfast (sometimes equaling four slices of bread). "A slice of whole-wheat toast alongside an omelette would be a better choice than a whole bagel," says Aronica. "If you need to have a bagel, just eat half, and top it with cream cheese, tomato, and salmon (the veggie and healthy protein)."
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To apply this knowledge to fast-food menus, try opting for the simpler items that include a combination of proteins and fiber, and include a relatively low amount of calories, saturated fats, and sodium contents. For example, Burger King’s BK® Breakfast Muffin Sandwich with eggs and cheese or Subway’s Black Forest Ham, Egg White, and Cheese Muffin Melt would be good options. To make them even better, add a serving of apple slices. Another big trend among fast-food chains is adding oatmeal to their breakfast menus, which is certainly a great choice — as long as you steer clear of the brown sugar and other additives.
Aronica also adds that when you’re ordering from a fast-food breakfast menu, you should "be careful of items that may seem healthy, like a bran or carrot muffin, that are [in fact] loaded with sugar and could potentially have more calories than the omelette. Also, be wary of big, sweet coffee drinks. No problem with a cup of coffee, but ideally without sugar or syrups."
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The chains with the healthiest breakfast menus overall are Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, with a multitude of nutritional options available at their locations nationwide.
Take a look through this collection of the healthiest breakfast options at the nation’s favorite chains and feel confident in making a more knowledgeable choice the next time you’re grabbing a Danish to go.