Bagels have long been a staple in many diets, gracing breakfast tables since the 17th century and enjoying widespread popularity as comfort food.
Though traditionally consumed during the morning, bagels have found their way into lunch and dinner dishes too.
However, the modern health-conscious era has cast a shadow on bagels, primarily due to their high carbohydrate content, leading some to label them as less healthy.
This article will explore if bagels can be incorporated into a balanced diet and offer suggestions to enhance their nutritional profile.
Bagel nutrition facts
The nutritional content of bagels can vary widely, as countless varieties made from various 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:
- Calories: 289
- Protein: 11 grams
- Fat: 2 grams
- Carbs: 56 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Thiamine: 14% of the daily value
- Manganese: 24% of the daily value
- Copper: 19% of the daily value
- Zinc: 8% of the daily value
- Iron: 8% of the daily value
- Calcium: 6% of the daily value
Bagels are 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 nutrients lost during processing, namely B vitamins and iron.
Summary: Though their nutritional content varies widely, bagels are high in carbs and low in fat and protein. Some nutrients are added to bagels in certain countries to improve their nutritional value.
Bagels are not always the healthiest choice
Though bagels can have a place in a healthy diet, they come with potential drawbacks.
Bagels are high in calories
One of the biggest potential problems with bagels is how many calories they provide and how easy it can be to overeat in one sitting inadvertently.
According to the National Institute of Health, the serving size of an average bagel has nearly doubled over the last 20 years.
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.
Overconsumption of calories from any food, including bagels, may lead to unhealthy weight gain and make it more challenging to lose weight.
It may be best to enjoy bagels in moderation and be aware of how many calories they contribute to your diet.
Bagels are high in refined carbs
Bagels are traditionally made from refined wheat flour; certain varieties may also contain a hefty dose of added sugar.
Some research suggests that a higher intake of refined carbs, such as those in bagels, may contribute to an increased risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Moreover, diets rich in ultra-processed foods tend to be associated with poor overall diet quality.
Of course, none of this means you should be worried about enjoying an occasional bagel.
It’s simply essential to ensure that you’re also including plenty of nutrient-dense, whole foods in your diet.
Summary: Bagels are high in calories and refined carbs. Therefore, it’s important to practice moderation.
Certain bagel varieties may offer health benefits
Not all bagels are created equal, but choosing varieties that contain whole-food ingredients can help you build a more nutritious diet.
Suggested read: Is pizza healthy? Nutrition tips for pizza lovers
Whole grain bagels
Most bagels are made from refined wheat flour, which can provide many calories and 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.
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.
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.
How to make your bagel healthy
With a little planning, you can enjoy bagels while still achieving your health goals.
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.
Suggested read: 14 foods to avoid (or limit) on a low-carb diet
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 famous 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.
Choose hummus, avocado, or nut butter instead of cream cheese for more fiber and nutrients. Add sliced turkey, salmon, or a scrambled egg for extra protein.
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 often made with refined wheat flour and sugar, and their portion sizes are usually too large.
Still, they can fit into a healthy diet with a few modifications.
Be mindful of your portion size for optimal health, and choose bagels and toppings made from whole, minimally processed ingredients.