Bagels: Good or Bad?

by in Healthy Tips, January 12, 2010

Who doesn’t love a bagel for breakfast, but boy are they a calorie-dense breakfast. People are always surprised — and a little freaked out — to hear how many slices of bread actually equal a single bagel. Here’s the good and the bad.

Nutrition Facts
A modest, medium-sized, plain bagel (about 3.5 to 4 inches in diameter) has about 300 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. The bagels your local bakery or bagel shop serves are probably MUCH larger than this, weighing in at closer to 500 to 600 calories a pop. To compare, that’s like eating six slices of bread! Add on some regular cream cheese at 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon and you’ve already polished off a third of the average 2,000-calories-a-day diet.

What Is It About Bagels?
How can there be such a discrepancy between bagels and bread? It all comes down to density. Bagels are more dense — imagine those six slices of bread squeezed together. This is what gives bagels their chewy texture but also ups the calories.

As for the different bagel flavors, some have more calories than others. A chocolate chip or French toast bagel will have more calories than a plain; while a poppy seed or pumpernickel bagel have about the same as the plain. A lot of folks order wheat bagels, thinking they’re the healthier choice. Many “wheat” bagels just contain a small amount of wheat flour, which means they aren’t really whole grain. If they’re “whole wheat” they may have a bit more fiber but the calories will be the same (if not a bit higher). Bagels loaded with nuts and seeds on top may appear super healthy, but may have as much as 100 calories more calories and more fat.

Hope for Bagel Lovers
The good news is that the calories from bagels are nutritious and good for you (when you forgo the chocolate chips or sugary toppings), so you can make room for them in your diet.

As is often the case, portion size is most important. Opt for smaller bagels and stick to just a half. A single-ounce portion of a bagel (about the size of one of those mini-bagels) has 80 calories; use this as your guide on your next trip to the bagel shop. Instead of globs of full-fat cream cheese, get the light version to cut the calories and fat by almost 50%. Or choose other high-protein toppings such as peanut butter, smoked salmon, hummus or a scrambled egg — they will help fill you up and keep you from going for that other half of the bagel. If you’ll be tempted, offer to split a bagel with a family member or work friend.

And what about “hollowing out” your bagel? Sure, people do this and it saves calories (how many depends on how much bread you dig out), but it seems awfully wasteful. It’s much smarter to stick to half a bagel and just enjoy the other half for another breakfast.

Bottom Line: Save the bagels for one day a week. When you do enjoy it, have a half along with some protein to help keep you satisfied.

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Comments (19)

  1. Sara says:

    Thanks for talking about bagels! I figured eating half would be the best thing to do! My favorite bagel is cinnamon raisin….I feel like that's pretty healthy. With all that flavor, you don't need much cream cheese, if any at all.

  2. Tiffany says:

    Good tips! I buy either whole wheat english muffins or whole wheat mini bagels at around 80.

  3. cheeslover says:

    Oh dear! I have a bagel for breakfast every morning. I have recently switched to half a bagel though. I always buy the Thomas brand ones… I think its called wheat or hearty grains. How would you rate these brands?

  4. Adam says:

    Going off the BMR, isn't the average daily caloric intake supposed to be closer to 1700-1800 calories?

  5. Cindy says:

    What are your thoughts on Weight Watchers bagels? I've started eating those because they are a lot smaller. i would love any insight on the matter, though.

  6. Julie says:

    Cheeslover: We eat Thomas brand English muffins and know from that that Thomas is sneaky about labeling! They have some "wheat" ones, "hearty grain" ones, etc. It's very hard to tell from the label which one actually is whole grain wheat and which just has some grains tossed in.
    Read Thomas' label very carefully and pick the one that uses "whole wheat flour" as the first ingredient. Then, you'll always know which label to grab and won't be tricked by the promises of grains and whatnot.

  7. Alexia parada says:

    There is some awesome bagels from the zone diet that are super healthy and low carb, these are the only bagels i eat if i ever eat some, they have more bakes check them out!! its all balance, I think this is the best diet, its a guide for eating your entire life, weight watchers is not good at all.

  8. alicia says:

    i love the whole wheat mini bagels! :-) thanks for posting this!

  9. Megan says:

    Bagels are delish but have absolutely NO nutritional value! If you want to lose weight, there is NO room in your diet for this round monsters! Calorie-counting aside, the carbohydrates ALONE in these bad-boys won't help you lose lbs. Most bagels have 50 grams of carbs…which spikes your blood sugar first thing in the morning, only leaving you hungry an hour later! Why not eat a piece of fiber-rich toast and 2 eggs and a slice of cheese? You'll be eating less calories but will be more satisfied with fiber, protein, and a little fat.

  10. Sugar Pie says:

    In only eat a half of a bagel. Since I love Everything ones, it's HTF one that has "stuff" on top and bottom, but I do. Half a bagel and a Tbsp of lowfat vegetable cream cheese and I'm all set!

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