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There is almost nothing more satisfying than biting into a warm, toasted bagel. You get the crispy, the chewy—and all the feels. There’s been a lot of debate over the decades about this baked favorite. We often get asked, “How bad is a bagel for you?”

Read on to get the answer. 

The History

For a couple decades, many Americans thought eating a bagel was a breakfast hole in one (see what we did there?). It’s quick to prepare (toast and go), comes in a variety of flavors, and during the low-fat craze of the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was viewed by some as a healthy-ish choice. It’s cholesterol-free and low-fat, right?!

Enter Atkins-era carb-phobia and bagels were immediately ghosted. Since then, the general consensus by the majority of U.S. eaters was, “No way—only on cheat day!” as they viewed the doughy “O”s to have too many carbs.

Instead of relying on popular opinion and the latest diet trend rules, let’s crunch the numbers to find out.

Bagel Nutrition Facts

Bagel nutrition facts vary widely based on brand and size—just compare a New York deli bagel to a typical freezer version and you’ll have a visual explanation as to why there are far more carbs and calories in the latter.

As a rough guide, here’s what you’ll find in a “regular” bagel (105 grams, like the size you would get at the grocery store or freezer aisle), according to the USDA’s FoodData Central nutrition facts database

  • 277 calories
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 11 grams of protein
  • 55 grams of carbohydrates (including 9 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber)

For perspective, on the typical 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, it’s recommended to consume roughly 50 percent carbs, 30 percent fat and 20 percent protein. So as a frame of reference, this would mean a daily total of about 350 grams of carbs, 93 grams of fat, 140 grams of protein. At Nutritious Life we generally recommend slightly less carbs and say to aim for roughly one-third, one-third, one-third calories from each of the macronutrients and that friend of yours on keto isn’t eating over 50 grams of carbs for the entire day!

RELATED: Decoding the Macro Counting Diet 

Bagel Pros and Cons

PROS

Bagels can be an easy way to score a couple servings of whole grains

Choose a bagel that has whole-wheat flour or sprouted grains and you’re on your way to a balanced breakfast. Make sure to top it with natural pb or avocado mash and a hard boiled egg and you’ve got a well rounded start to the day. Reminder, consuming two to three servings of whole grains daily has been linked to lower risk for chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

It makes for a quick and affordable bite

Stock up on some healthy bagels for your freezer and you’re never more than minutes away from a hangry-fighting option. (See below about how to dress up a bagel to make it a meal!)

Bagels are easy to digest

Unless you have a gluten intolerance or allergy, a bagel can be a good energy-boosting pre-workout snack.

CONS

Bagels are fairly high in calories

The typical size of a bagel has almost doubled in the past 20 years, according to the National Institute of Health, and that portion size edit is the main culprit behind the oversized calorie count. Some jumbo bagels can be more than 500 calories alone, and that’s before you add any spreads or toppings. What’s most significant here is that bagels are virtually nutrient devoid. 

Bagels are high in carbs

While these carbs are complex carbs (meaning they’re made up of longer chains of sugar molecules and are sometimes higher in fiber than simple carbs), the carbs found in bagels are refined, are essentially very similar to eating sugar due to the way they are digested. This also means they lack the important nutrients and fiber found in whole grains. You also want to look out for sneaky sugar bombs in sweeter styles like blueberry, cinnamon-raisin and cinnamon-sugar. 

They’re rarely super-filling on their own

Since the average bagel is low in fat, fiber and protein, the satiety factor can be fairly low and the blood sugar rise and fall can be more dramatic than a meal or snack that offers a more balanced macronutrient ratio

Bottom Line

Just like many nutrition decisions, the answer to “are bagels healthy?” isn’t yay or nay.

You can certainly make bagels part of a healthy, well-balanced diet (and counteract most of the cons listed above). Try a sprouted grain bagel, egg, and avocado for your next morning meal and you won’t be disappointed. 

And be careful with your condiments. Instead of butter, jelly or cream cheese, consider topping your serving with a source of protein and/or fat like:

  • ¼ cup hummus + ¼ cup diced bell pepper 
  • ¼ of an avocado, smashed + 1 teaspoon everything bagel seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons nut butter + ½ banana, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Kite Hill Everything cream cheese + 1 ounce smoked salmon
  • 1 scrambled egg or 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced


RELATED: How to Choose the Healthiest Bread 

5 Healthy Bagels You Can Buy Online

With an eye out for total calories, carbs, portion size and quality of ingredients, we’ve browsed through the online supermarket “aisles” to round up a few healthy bagel products you can order online and have shipped to your door. Here’s five of the healthiest bagels you can buy:

  • Silver Hills Bakery Organic Everything Sprouted Power Bagels ($5.99 for 5, target.com)
  • Canyon Bakehouse Gluten-Free Bagel and Bread Variety Pack ($38.68 for two loaves and two bagel 4-packs, amazon.com)
  • O’Dough’s Sprouted Whole Grain Flax Bagel Thins ($35.39 for three 6-packs, amazon.com)
  • Dave’s Killer Bread Epic Everything Bagels ($4.79 for 5, target.com)
  • Daily Kneads Cauliflower Whole Grain Vegetable Bagels ($3.99 for 5, amazon.com

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

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