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Best and Worst Fast-Food Breakfasts

Eating on the run? Here's how to choose healthier breakfast foods.

A Starbucks on Every Corner

And what about the Starbucks Coffee cafes you'll find on nearly every corner in cities across America?

The specific items that are available vary by region, as many Starbucks markets buy fresh bakery products from local suppliers. But -- at least in the California area -- there are a number of nutritionally reasonable offerings among the lineup of muffins, scones, loaf cakes, coffee cakes, croissants, and bagels. The trick is finding lower-fat items that also boast some fiber, so look for foods made with whole grains when available.

"We provide options to all our customers," explains Alan Hilowitz, a spokesman for Starbucks. "We have indulgent items, and each Starbucks also carries some healthier items."

Here are some of the healthier items you might find at your local Starbucks (keeping in mind that bakery items vary regionally): 

  • Low Fat Bran Muffins: 360 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 40 g cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 7 g fiber
  • Reduced Fat Cranberry Apple Muffin: 310 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 460 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.
  • Low-Fat Oat Fruit Scone: 310 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 9 g protein, 30 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
  • Spinach Roasted Tomato, Feta & Egg Wrap: 240 calories, 10g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 730 mg sodium, 7 g fiber.
  • Reduced Fat Blueberry Coffee Cake: 320 calories, 6 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 4 g protein, 10 mg cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
  • Reduced-Fat Cherry Lemon Coffee Cake with Oatmeal-Pecan Streusel: 370 calories, 9 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 7 g protein, 50 mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
  • Reduced Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake: 290 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 4 g protein, <5 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, <1 g fiber.

Is Skipping Breakfast Better?

Is it better to skip breakfast or grab a bite at a fast food restaurant? If fast food is your only option, go ahead and go for some of the healthier choices on the menu. It’s definitely better to eat breakfast than to go without.

Results from a recent University of Minnesota study that noted breakfast habits and weight changes in 2,200 teens over a 5-year period, indicated that regular breakfast eaters tended to have the lowest body mass indexes (BMIs). As the frequency of breakfast skipping went up, so did the body mass indexes of these teens.

The Bottom Line

The truth is that fast food is here, and it isn't going away. An analysis of the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals by researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that 37% of the adults and 42% of the children surveyed reported eating fast food at least once over two survey days.

Should fast food take all the blame for our obesity crisis? No. Should we all try to make healthier choices when we find ourselves in a fast food restaurant? Absolutely, experts say.

"Fast food likely contributes to over consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle reduces energy expenditure," notes University of Minnesota nutrition researcher David Jacobs Jr. Yet, he notes, the causes of the obesity epidemic are many, and our susceptibility to weight gain varies from person to person.

The bottom line: When you find yourself at a fast-food or quick-serve chain before 11 a.m., choose a better breakfast option, keep your portions reasonable, and keep (or start!) exercising.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

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Reviewed on March 29, 2011

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