Although bagels might be an easy option for breakfast, whether they are part of a healthy diet or more akin to a dessert depends on their size, type and the toppings on them. Eating a mini whole-grain bagel with nutritious toppings vs. a large, sweet bagel loaded with rich cream cheese and jam is the way to go to fit them into a healthy diet occasionally.
Although plain bagels are not a high-fat food in themselves and provide a small amount of nutrients, most contain mainly refined grains instead of whole grains and are high in calories, making them relatively unhealthy. A medium, 3.5- to 4-inch plain bagel contains 289 calories, 11 grams of protein, 1.7 grams of fat and 56 grams of carbohydrates, including 2.4 grams of fiber, which is almost 10 percent of the daily value, or DV, of 25 grams. Those 56 grams of carbs are nearly a fifth of what the FDA recommends daily in a 2,000 calorie diet. This bagel does provide 10 percent of the DV for phosphorus and 11 percent of the DV for thiamine. Phosphorus is essential for muscle and nerve function and thiamine helps your body deal with stress and turn the food you eat into energy.
Choosing Your Bagel
Avoid blueberry bagels, chocolate chip bagels and other sweet bagels because they contain more added sugars, making them less healthy options. Instead, choose a 100-percent whole-wheat bagel, or at least one made with whole grains, because these contain more fiber and essential nutrients. A medium whole-wheat bagel contains 4.3 grams of fiber, as well as 16 percent of the DV for iron, 14 percent of the DV for magnesium, 15 percent of the DV for phosphorus, 28 percent of the DV for thiamine, 13 percent of the DV for riboflavin, 18 percent of the DV for niacin and 28 percent of the DV for folate.
Proper Portion Size
A large, 4.5-inch bagel counts as four of the six grain servings recommended per day for women by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and also contains about 360 calories and 70 grams of carbs all by itself. You would need to eat other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy or foods containing healthy fats, along with your bagel to turn it into a healthy meal. Opt for a small, 3-inch bagel instead, to save 170 calories, or a mini bagel.
Serving Your Bagel
Typical bagel toppings include loads of fattening cream cheese, sugary jellies or a high-fat and -calorie mix of eggs, cheese and breakfast meat. More nutritious options include topping your small bagel with a tablespoon of peanut butter, which will provide you with protein and healthy unsaturated fats to make your meal more filling. Add some apple or banana slices to fit a fruit serving into your meal. If you prefer savory toppings, spread your bagel with a small amount of mustard and use an ounce of turkey or low-fat cheese for protein along with a few slices of avocado for some healthy fat and vegetables such as lettuce, tomato and onion.
- Encyclopedia.com: Bagel
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Bagels, Plain, Unenriched, Without Calcium Propionate (Includes Onion, Poppy, Sesame)
- Consumer Reports: Healthy Breakfasts
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Bagel, Wheat
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients
- Choose My Plate: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent of Grains?
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.