Bagels: Good or Bad?

Who doesn’t love a bagel for breakfast -- but are they a wise choice? People are always surprised (and a little freaked out) to hear how many slices of bread they’d have to eat to match the calories in one bagel. Here’s the good and the bad.

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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