Bagels have long been a breakfast staple. The bagel’s origin dates back to the 17th century, when Polish bakers decided to honor their king on horseback by fashioning a roll into a stirrup and boiling it. Bagel comes from the Yiddish word beygel. After Jewish immigrants brought bagels to the United States, the doughy delights were popularized by Polish-American baker Harry Lender.
Unfortunately, after decades of enjoyment, bagels have become a killer food due to their carbohydrate content, leading some people to think they are not worthy of fitting into a healthy diet.
Bagels come in a variety of flavors, from rye to everything from raisins to cinnamon to blueberry. So their nutritional value varies from bagel to bagel.
According to the USDA, a typical medium plain bagel contains:
- Calories: 289
- Protein: 11 gr
- Fat: 2 gr
- Carbohydrate: 56 g
- Fiber: 2 gr
- Sodium: 561 mg
Are bagels healthy?
If you like bagels, here’s a look at the potential health benefits and pitfalls of eating them regularly.
You may feel more energetic
Bagels have a lot of problems because of their carbohydrates. However, your body and brain depend on carbohydrates as their primary source of fuel to fuel your body. The medium plain bagel provides about 56 grams of carbohydrates.
All carbohydrates provide energy, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Many bagels are made with refined flour, which your body digests quickly, raising your blood sugar. Whole grain bagels provide more fiber-rich carbohydrates, which take longer to digest and promote more stable blood sugars.
While carbohydrates are essential for nutrition, B vitamins are also essential for energy production, notes a 2020 study in the journal Nutrients. A deficiency in B vitamins can impair your body’s metabolism. A medium bagel is a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin B3 (niacin).
You could improve your heart health
According to the Oldways Whole Grains Council, 40 percent of Americans eat no whole grains at all. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least three servings a day. To eat more whole grains, choose bagels with the terms whole grain, whole grain, or multigrain in the ingredients list. A medium whole grain bagel has 4 grams of fiber, according to the USDA.
Fiber offers a number of benefits, including improved cholesterol and blood pressure. A 2022 study published in BMC Medicine followed three large groups of adults in three long-term studies (totaling more than 200,000 people). Using food survey data, the study found that consuming at least one serving of whole grains per day was associated with a 17 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who ate less than one serving per month.
You may be fuller for longer
It all depends on the type of bagel you choose. If it’s whole grain, you may find that you stay full longer. “Bagels made with whole or whole wheat flour will have slightly more protein and fiber than those made with refined flour. Those topped with seeds may offer even more protein, healthy fats, and fiber,” says Maxine Yeung, RD, owner of The Wellness Whisk in the Bay Area of California. Protein and healthy fats help keep you full between meals.
Rarely eaten on their own, bagels are typically paired with toppings, such as nut butters, a schmear of cream cheese, or eggs, that make them more nutritious with added protein and healthy fats. You can also try adding more food groups to turn a simple bagel into a balanced meal. Add proteins like eggs, salmon, hummus or tofu, and fats like hemp seeds, cream cheese or avocado. Adding vegetables like cucumber, tomato or onion for vitamins and minerals,” says Kolesa.
You may be exceeding your sodium limit
One downside to a bagel is that it can be full of salt, which can backfire on your heart health. “Some bagels contain higher levels of sodium to preserve them and keep them fresh,” says Patricia Kolesa, MS, RDN, owner of The Dietitian Dish in New Jersey. High amounts of salt in the diet can be harmful, especially [for] those with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions,” he explains. The AHA recommends limiting salt intake to less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, although the organization says the ideal daily maximum is 1,500 mg. limit can help keep your blood pressure in check and protect your heart.
What types of bagels are best to eat every day?
The best types of bagels to eat are the ones you enjoy and help you reach your health goals. Here are some ideas for eating bagels that offer the most nutritional benefits.
Whole grain bagels
“Most bagels are made with refined white flour, which doesn’t offer too many nutritional benefits. Look for bagels that contain at least some whole grain such as rye, whole wheat, oats, or multigrain,” says Philadelphia-based Melissa Altman-Traub, MS, RDN.
Small or thin bagels
“The serving size of most packaged bagels is a little more than three slices of bread. Enjoying a bagel every morning is fine if you pay attention to serving size. Consider eating half a bagel a day and the other half the next day,” says Laura M. Ali, MS, RDN, a culinary nutritionist in Pittsburgh. Mini bagels and thin bagels contain fewer calories and carbohydrates, which may be right for you, depending on your nutritional goals.
Bagels with no extras
Bagels with lots of cinnamon sugar, extra cheese, or lots of chocolate chips are higher in calories and saturated fat. More often, opt for bagels with more fiber and heart-healthy ingredients like seeds, fruit, or oats.
The bottom line
You can enjoy just about any bagel in moderation, though whole-grain bagels provide more filling fiber and protein. That said, bagels can be high in sodium, so make sure you’re aware of other sources of sodium in your diet when you eat them. Be careful with portion sizes, as bagels can be large. If you enjoy a bagel a day, the best thing you can do is pair them with foods that contain protein or fat. Go for this Bagel Gone Bananas or try a Green Eggs & Ham Bagel Breakfast Sandwich.
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