Health Benefits of Bagels

Bagels were first introduced to the United States by Eastern European immigrants in the late 19th century, but they became mainstream in the 1990s. More recently, bagels have gotten a reputation for being unhealthy. Read on to find out if bagels are really as bad as some people say they are.  

Bagels and Nutrition

Bagels are made with wheat flour, salt, yeast, and water. Often a sweetener like sugar, honey, or malt syrup is added. The dough is kneaded and shaped, then boiled and baked. 

Bagel sizes have increased over the years. Just 20 years ago, bagels were about 3 inches wide and 140 calories. Today the average bagel is about 6 inches wide and about 350 calories.

One plain medium-sized bagel –  about 100 grams – has about 271 calories, in addition to the following:

  • 9 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 55 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • 7 grams of sugars
  • 71 milligrams of calcium
  • 3 milligrams of iron
  • 82 milligrams of potassium
  • 376 milligrams of sodium 

The Downside to Bagels

Not all bagels are the same, but if you're watching your calories and carbs, bagels may not be the best choice to make.

High in calories. A plain, medium-sized bagel has about 271 calories. The larger-sized bagels at some bakeries are likely to have much more. Flavored varieties – chocolate chip, cinnamon crunch, and French toast – have even more calories. Adding spreads or toppings adds even more. By comparison, one 30 gram slice of white bread has about 80 calories.

Depending on age and lifestyle, women need about 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day. Men need about 2,200 to 3,00 a day.

High in carbohydrates. One bagel contains about 55 grams of carbohydrates, while two slices of white bread have about 30 grams. This means one bagel has almost as many carbohydrates as four slices of white bread. 

It’s recommended that carbohydrates make up 45% to 65% of your total calories a day. If you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, you should be eating 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day. That means about 75 to 108 grams of carbohydrates at each meal.

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Refined grains. Many bagels are made from white flour, which is a refined grain. Refined grains are processed for finer texture and improved shelf life. This also removes nutrients, such as fiber and B vitamins. Some refined grains may be enriched with the iron and B vitamins added back in. The fiber is not added back in.

Your body easily breaks down the carbohydrates in refined grains, which leads to a sudden increase in blood sugar. You’ll soon feel hungry again, which is likely to lead to overeating.

Health Benefits of Bagels

Whole grains. Some varieties of bagels are made from whole grains. Whole grains are high in dietary fiber and antioxidants. They have been found to offer some protection against diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Whole grains also have B vitamins, iron, selenium, and magnesium. These are important for many bodily functions like maintaining a healthy immune system and forming new cells.

Eating whole grains regularly has also been linked to a lower body mass index (BMI) and less weight gain. 

In a study of postmenopausal women, researchers found that those who ate more whole grain fiber had a 17% lower mortality rate.

The American Heart Association recommends that whole grains make up at least half of the grains you eat.

How to Make Your Bagels Healthier

The good news is that you can make bagels part of a healthy diet, if you make some good choices:

Pick a smaller size. Many varieties of bagels tend to be oversized. Check the nutrition labels on bagels to see how many calories they have. If it’s more than the recommended amount, consider going for mini bagels, bagel thins, or just half a bagel. 

Choose your bagel well. Look for bagels that are made from whole grains. Look for rye, spelt, or oats. It’s okay to have an occasional indulgence, but don’t eat sweetened bagels too often. 

Watch that spread. Instead of butter or full-fat cream cheese, try light cream cheese, avocado, hummus, nut butters, or Greek yogurt mixed with herbs. 

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Add proteins. A high-protein filling like turkey, smoked salmon, or scrambled eggs will help you feel more full and less likely to go for the second half of the bagel. 

Add vegetables and fruits. Turn your bagel sandwich into a more nutritious one by adding sliced tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, or avocado. Try making a fruit sandwich with light cream cheese, sliced kiwis and fresh berries.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber.”

The Atlantic: “The Secret History of Bagels.”

Cleveland Clinic: Health Essentials: “4 Starches That Don’t Belong on Your Plate.”

Journal of the American College of Nutrition: “Fiber from Whole Grains, but not Refined Grains, Is Inversely Associated with All-Cause Mortality in Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study.”

Mayo Clinic: “Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Portion Distortion.”

Nutrients: “Wholegrain Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Evidence from Epidemiological and Intervention Studies.”

Nutrition Research Reviews: “Whole grains and human health."

USDA: “FoodData Central: PLAIN BAGELS, PLAIN,” “FoodData Central: WHITE BREAD.”

USDA: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 - 2025.”

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