Bagels: Healthy Breakfast or Just Hype?

Bagel with Lox
Photo by jeredb via Flickr

You’re running late for work and have no time to make breakfast.  So, you make a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and grab a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee on your way to work.  You’re trying to be more health conscious and you heard that bagels were a wholesome way to start your day.  But are they?

Are bagels healthy?
Many people can’t resist the taste of a hot, fresh bagel in the morning.  However, bagels are not as healthy as some people claim. Here are three reasons why bagels might not be the healthiest choice.

  1. High in calories: Bagels tend to be high in calories.  The average bagel has around 300 calories, with some having quite a bit more than that.  How many calories a bagel has depends on the type of bagel you eat (plain, wheat, blueberry, cinnamon raisin, etc.) and the size of the bagel. The average plain bagel has the same amount of carbohydrates as 3 or 4 slices of bread (an average slice has about 90 calories).  But the likelihood of you eating that many slices of bread is unlikely. However, with bagels, people often have more than one because they like the taste so much.  So, people end up consuming a lot more calories than they think and therefore eat more calories during the day than they otherwise would.
  2. Unhealthy toppings: The second problem is that most people don’t eat bagels plain.  They add unhealthy toppings that are high in saturated fat and calories, such as cream cheese, butter, ham, bacon and egg on their bagels.  Those toppings make the bagel even more unhealthy.  Here is an example of a commonly eaten bagel:
    • A Dunkin’ Donuts plain bagel with plain cream cheese has almost 500 calories.  It also has 9.5 grams of saturated fat, which is 50% of the recommended daily value (RDV) for someone on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Getting 25% of the calories and 50% of the saturated fat that you are recommended to get in a day from one breakfast item, isn’t good.
  3. Low in vitamins, minerals & fiber: Plain bagels are not very high in nutrients.  Some of the other varieties are better, but almost all are low in fiber, which results in the starches in the bread being quickly converted to sugar.  This will give you quick energy, but it will not be sustained energy. This means your energy level will ebb faster and you will be hungry again sooner than if you had consumed a fiber rich food, such as 100% whole grain bread. This can result in you consuming more calories during the day.

Can I still eat bagels without being unhealthy?
If you are choosing among different bread products, you are better off eating 100% whole grain bread or an english muffin in the morning, since they have less calories.  But if you can’t give up bagels, there are a few things you can do to make them a little healthier.

  1. Choose a smaller size: Go for a smaller bagel, such as a mini bagel.  You will save a lot of calories that way.  Or if you are unable to get a smaller size, only eat half of the bagel and save the other half for another meal.
  2. Find a whole grain bagel: Whole grain bagels have more nutrients and a lot of fiber, which makes you feel more full and slows down the conversion of starch to sugar.  That gives you a one, two punch of eating less calories and having the calories you get give you energy for a longer period of time.  Plus eating enough fiber helps reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and bowel disorders. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find whole grain bagels.  And be careful because just like with wheat bread, wheat bagels are mostly white flour with a little whole wheat thrown in.  You need to find one that is labeled as 100% whole wheat flour.
  3. Choose healthier toppings: Watch the toppings that you put on your bagel.  Instead of spreading high fat cream cheese, switch to hummus, low fat cream cheese, cottage cheese or just eat your bagel plain.  The key is to not add too much unneeded fat to the bagel.  Some fat is good, but most people get more than they need throughout the day.

The bottom line:
If you are on a diet or watching your weight, bagels may not be the best breakfast option for you.  Most don’t have many nutrients, are low in fiber and are not a low calorie food.  While they may be convenient and tasty, they are not especially healthy.  So, if you are trying to watch your weight, try not to eat too many bagels too often!

Comments (27)

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  1. GlobalFit says:

    It’s common for people to think that a bagel is healthier because it is bread, not a sweet muffin or danish. I remember working in a cafe when I was younger, and seeing customers choose less-sweet items in an attempt to be ‘healthier.’ We’d sometimes break the news to them that their bagel with cream cheese had, in some cases, more calories than a chocolate chip cookie from our cafe!

  2. […] posted here: Bagels: Healthy Breakfast or Just Hype? Share and […]

  3. jen boda says:

    Thanks for the great post. Once in a while I will crave a bagel. I try to get the sprouted grain variety and eat half with some eggs on top. Other than that there usually just too many carbs and they make me as hungry as if I had a donut.


  4. Maria Isabel says:

    I didn’t know that bagels had so many calories. I was never very found of them and now there is a another reason not to eat them.

  5. chole says:

    i almost never eat them because its bleached flour
    but im having one right now. oh well.

  6. Lesley says:

    i had a whole grain bagel from Safeway with lower fat cream cheese just one tablesoon and fresh strawberries for my breakfast with a nice tall glass of water…. since i work out four to fives times a week ( heavy) I get hungry and need lasting meals to avoid nip picking and still being hungry… Good Post… Education is the battle against this weigh epidemic we are in has a society.


  7. […] 2008 ← Bagels: Healthy Breakfast or Just Hype? Oatmeal: The Breakfast of Champions! […]

  8. Karen says:

    There is no such thing as a healthy commerically baked bagel, piece of bread, muffin, pastry or anything else that isn’t home made, they are all made with over processed gunge flour, full of chemicals and probably disgusting margarine (a molicule away from plastic) or worse hydrogenated vegetable fat. Topping them with more processed crap when bought from a bakery – it takes your body so long to process this stuff that you’re not going to get any fibre even if it does say “wholegrain” on the packet. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day as it kicks off the metabolism, no wonder we in the western world are suffering so much poor health, asthma and obseity!

  9. Michelle says:

    Bagels are an amazing invention. It’s fun to make and thanks for the tips on how to make them healthier. I would hate to give such a good carb up. and people don’t attack the bagel. You just have to incorporate it into your day by not eating other really high carbs like pasta.

  10. […] 500 calories and 15-20 grams of fat. Similarly, those huge deli bagels can equal as much as four servings of bread. Throw in cream cheese and you may be doubling the fat and calories of your breakfast bagel. In […]

  11. […] runs our department brings in bagels and cream cheese every Thursday. I once read somewhere that one bagel represents about four servings of bread, and don’t even get me started on the cream cheese. Really, if you’re just going to […]

  12. BILLY BOB says:


  13. Max B says:

    There is no such thing as a healthy bagel. There are “healthier” bagels. Healthy Me makes all-natural, kosher bagels with high fiber and omega-3 content. The bagels are 4oz each, compared to some of the larger alternatives that weigh 5 or even 6 ounces. High Fiber bagels each have 12 grams of fiber and Flaxseed bagels have over 2 grams (2000mg) of omega-3 per bagel. All the bagels are also high in protein.

    Bagels are typically “healthier” than bread, even the most unhealthy ones, if you compare equal amounts. Less calories, less carbs.

    So if you are set on having a delicious bagel, pick a healthier bagel.

    More information on Healthy Me is available at http://www.healthymefoods.com.

  14. Melissa says:

    Nothing is healthy anymore. People try and knock down anything and everything. I eat some cereal and fruit in the morning. I need carbs to stay full, and I exercise 4 times a week. People think carbs and fat are the worst things in the world, but you need them if you are physically active. A bagel contains around 60 carbs for a full bagel. I eat half a bagel, which is around 30 carbs. A bowl of cereal is around 20-30 g of carbs. They’re not that bad, and if someone else would like to suggest something else for breakfast that will keep you full without any carbs, I would like to see it.

  15. Lydia says:

    I rather enjoy my bagel in the morning with my cup of coffee. If that means I have to stay on the treadmill a little longer, then so be it. Life is too short to deprive yourself of life little pleasures. Carpe Diem! Long live the Bagel!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Karen Margarine has its issues but it’s not “a molecule away from plastic.” Please don’t go around spreading lies like that.

  17. Istace says:

    I love bagels. I mostly eat them as a snack, mainly around 12 in the morning after a night. There so good, and warm bagel with creamy cream ceese 🙂 <3

  18. ryan says:


  19. phoebe says:

    Try toppings like almond, peanut, or casher butter! Dee-rishuss!

  20. Name says:

    I eat a bagel for dinner instead… and nothing else… hopefully it will work… i eat it with a LITTLE bit of ranch… hope thats not too unhealthy

  21. Hannah says:

    I never really cared about bagels until I went to college (where there’s an Einsteins Bagels a short walk from my dorm), luckily their bagels aren’t quite as bad and they have a large selection including 100% whole grain, 9-grain and “power protein.” They’re honeslty not that bad. Today I had a grren chile bagel with chive cream cheese for lunch, which was about 470 calories with 15g of protein and 4.5g of saturated fat. I think if that’s all you have for a meal it’s not a big deal. I’m still staying within my calorie limit and getting adequate nutrition (it also helps that I’m too poor to get one every day, lol).

  22. Alicia says:

    This was a great article. I googled “are bagels healthy”? and this article told me all that I needed to know. I have started a healthier lifestyle and I am finding out what to eliminate from my diet. Thanks!

  23. Maggie says:

    This is pretty silly. Most of the whole grain bread I see on the shelves of grocery stores is 100-110 calories per slice. Most of the bagels I see in the same aisle are 190-250 calories each. If you choose a 220 calorie whole grain bagel, you’re getting roughly the same calories. I usually scoop some of the bagel out and then fill it with about 100 calories (3ish TBSP) worth of low-fat cream cheese. That’s a 320-350 calorie breakfast with protein. I’m allergic to eggs, but one of those is about 70 calories and also a source of protein to keep you full. Lox, hummus and avocado are good sources of healthy fat.

    Two slices of whole grain bread with 2.5 tbsp of natural peanut butter, on the other hand, is at least 450 calories. If you’re just aiming for nutrition, it’s a good option, but if weight control is your goal it’s not as simple as what seems “healthier.”

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