Dating as far back as the 17th century, bagels are one of the most beloved comfort foods around the world.
Though frequently eaten for breakfast, it’s not uncommon to see bagels on lunch or dinner menus as well.
In recent years, these baked goods have earned a rather negative reputation amidst claims that their high carb content makes them inherently unhealthy.
This article reviews whether bagels can fit into a healthy diet and provides tips for maximizing their nutritional value.
The nutritional content of bagels can vary widely, as countless varieties made from an array of ingredients are available in different sizes.
The most basic bagels are made from a combination of refined wheat flour, salt, water, and yeast. Certain types may contain additional ingredients, such as herbs, spices, sugar, and dried fruit.
A typical, medium-sized, plain bagel (105 grams) may contain the following (1):
- Calories: 289
- Protein: 11 grams
- Fat: 2 grams
- Carbs: 56 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Thiamine: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Manganese: 24% of the DV
- Copper: 19% of the DV
- Zinc: 8% of the DV
- Iron: 8% of the DV
- Calcium: 6% of the DV
Bagels tend to be very high in carbs while supplying only small amounts of fat and protein.
They also naturally contain small quantities of vitamins and minerals, but in some countries, such as the United States, bagels and other refined grain products are enriched with some of the nutrients that are lost during processing, namely B vitamins and iron (2).
Summary Though their nutritional content varies widely, bagels tend to be high in carbs and low in fat and protein. In certain countries, some nutrients are added to bagels to improve their nutritional value.
Though bagels can have a place in a healthy diet, they come with potential drawbacks.
High in calories
One of the biggest potential problems with bagels is how many calories they provide and how easy they can be to inadvertently overeat in one sitting.
According to the National Institute of Health, the serving size of an average bagel has nearly doubled over the last 20 years (3).
Though most bagels appear to be a single serving, some larger-sized varieties can pack upwards of 600 calories. For many people, that’s enough to constitute an entire meal — and it doesn’t include the butter or cream cheese you may spread on top.
It may be best to enjoy bagels in moderation and be aware of how many calories they contribute to your diet.
High in refined carbs
Bagels are traditionally made from refined wheat flour, and certain varieties may also contain a hefty dose of added sugar.
Moreover, diets rich in ultra-processed foods tend to be associated with poor overall diet quality (8).
Of course, none of this means you should be worried about enjoying an occasional bagel.
It’s simply important to ensure that you’re also including plenty of nutrient-dense, whole foods in your diet.
Summary Bagels tend to be high in calories and refined carbs. Therefore, it’s important to practice moderation.
Not all bagels are created equal, but choosing varieties that contain whole-food ingredients can help you build a more nutritious diet.
Most bagels are made from refined wheat flour, which can provide a lot of calories and very few nutrients. Yet, some are made with whole grains that can offer a variety of nutrients and potential health benefits.
Whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and many health-promoting plant compounds that refined grains lack. These nutritional features can help balance your blood sugar and promote healthy digestion (9).
Some research suggests that eating up to 2–3 servings of whole grains per day may help prevent chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer (10).
To take advantage of these benefits, look for bagels that are made from whole grains like oats, rye, spelt, or whole wheat — but remember to keep your portion size in check.
Summary Bagels made from whole grains may help balance blood sugar, support healthy digestion, and prevent disease.
It is possible to stay on top of your health goals while including bagels in your diet. All it takes is a little forethought and planning.
Pay attention to portion size
Check the nutrition label on the package of your favorite bagels to see what they contain.
If you find that they pack more calories or carbs than your dietary goals allow, opt for smaller bagels or consider eating only half. Save the other half for later or share it with another person.
Many brands also offer miniature bagels or bagel thins. These options tend to be a more appropriate serving size.
If you find that your favorite bagel isn’t the healthiest choice, switch to a healthier option or try eating it less frequently. Vary your breakfast options and save bagels for special occasions to cut back and maintain a more balanced diet.
Be mindful of ingredients
The ingredients in your favorite bagel can significantly affect its nutrient content and your health.
The most nutritious options are made from whole grains and contain little to no added sugar. If you’re following a low-sodium diet, you should avoid bagels that contain a lot of salt.
Choose your toppings wisely
Many of the most popular bagel toppings like cream cheese, butter, and jam can harbor a lot of excess calories in the form of saturated fat and sugar.
While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, there are more nutritious options.
Consider choosing hummus, avocado, or nut butter instead of cream cheese for more fiber and nutrients. For extra protein, add sliced turkey, salmon, or a scrambled egg.
Bagels are also an excellent opportunity to sneak in a serving or two of vegetables with your breakfast. Pile on sliced tomatoes, spinach, cucumber, and onions to turn your bagel into a veggie-rich sandwich.
Summary To boost the nutritional profile of your bagel, choose a whole-grain variety and top it with nutrient-dense ingredients like avocado, nut butter, eggs, or veggies.
Bagels are frequently made with refined wheat flour and sugar. Plus, portion sizes are often too large.
Still, with a few modifications, they can fit into a healthy diet.
For optimal health, be mindful of your portion size and choose bagels and toppings made from whole, minimally processed ingredients.