Battle of the Bagels: Comparing the Health Benefits of Different Types of Bagels

From the “Spiderverse” movies to “Everything, Everywhere All At Once” to New York culture, bagels are an ever-present food. Two to ten million bagels are sold every day in the United States with New York, New Jersey, and Colorado being the top states where bagels are consumed. Typically, a dozen bagels cost between $7 and $15 depending on the type of bagel and where you buy it, making them a slightly higher priced grocery item. However, these circular delights are packed with calories and carbs. Bagels usually have small amounts of fat and protein, but this all depends on what type of bagel you are consuming—and the toppings you choose to put on them. So it’s natural to ask oneself: What do different bagels have to offer?

Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth 

Cinnamon sugar bagels, fruity bagels, french toast bagels: all of these and more can make for a sweet start to your day. But are they the healthiest option? Sweet bagels will often have more sugar than savory bagels. This not only adds to how much sugar you are consuming in a day, but it can also lead to a spike in blood sugar levels and contribute to weight gain. However, the extra sugar can also provide a quick boost of energy (while also being delicious). Sweet bagels also unlock the opportunity to have many different fruity toppings, which could potentially make the nutritional trade-offs worth it.

Wholesome Delight with Whole Grains

As with most other foods, whole grain bagels are typically much healthier. While most bagels are made from refined wheat flour—providing lots of calories and fewer nutrients—there are some that are made from whole grains. A whole grain includes the entire grain: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Refined grains only contain the endosperm, making them less nutritious. Whole grains are rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins however these will vary based on what whole grain you are consuming. Because of these nutrients, whole grains can help balance your blood sugar and aid in healthy digestion. Bagels that contain whole grains are commonly made from oats, rye, spelt, or whole wheat. These bagels are healthier than others made from refined wheat flour, but the toppings you add can make them just as unhealthy.

The Uniqueness of Specialty Bagels

There are many different types of bagels and many will have a gluten-free alternative. Gluten is the protein found in the grains of wheat, barley, and rye. It makes the dough cohesive, stretchy, and makes the outcome (whether that be bread, buns, or bagels) chewy. When something is gluten-free, it means it is typically made from refined rice, potato flour, or tapioca flours. But does gluten-free actually mean healthier? For the most part, it really is going to depend on your individual circumstances; if you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, the answer is probably yes. But gluten-free is not inherently healthier. A lot of times, gluten-free items will have increased sugar, fat, and salt to make them taste better; they will often also have more water, fat, and refined starch which causes them to spoil and become stale more quickly. They also tend to be more expensive, making them unhealthy for your wallet. Of course, if you need to have a gluten-free diet, this is a healthy option for you. If you don’t have any kind of intolerance to gluten, it might not be worth the hassle. 

There are also many specialty bagels. While this term can mean any type of bagel that isn’t plain, it is typically used to describe more extravagant bagels such as jalapeño, asiago cheese, or sun-dried tomato bagels. These bagels can be found in grocery stores, bakeries, or bagel shops. The nutritional profile of specialty bagels varies depending on their added ingredients. For some bagels, they might be considered healthier due to the nutrients in the added ingredients—think spinach, multigrain, everything bagels, or sun-dried tomato. For other bagels, the added ingredients might mean more added sugars or added calories. This is where sweet bagels come into play, as well as cheesy bagels. The added ingredients can affect the health of specialty bagels, but it also comes down to portion sizes and what you eat with the bagel.

Maximizing the Health of All Bagel Types

There really is no “healthiest” bagel. Overall, bagels are dense in calories and carbs without even factoring in added ingredients that further improve their flavor. But this doesn’t mean you can’t eat bagels and still be healthy. Portion sizes are a major factor in maintaining your health while also eating something delicious. Instead of eating a whole bagel, try eating only half. This cuts the amount of calories you’re eating in…well, half! You can also purchase bagel thins instead of regular sized bagels; with many of the same flavors, these bagels are smaller and allow you to be a bit healthier while eating something you know and love. 

The other big factor in the health of bagels is the toppings. Whether you are having a bagel for a meal or a snack, you are likely eating it with something. Cream cheese, butter, avocado, jelly, Nutella—there are endless possibilities. But these endless possibilities also allow for an endless addition of calories and unhealthy ingredients. Cream cheese is a common pairing with bagels. The creamy topping contains calcium and vitamin D, promoting healthy bones. However, cream cheese is full of fats—whether you are eating low-fat or not—and has around 99 calories per ounce. This is also for plain cream cheese; different flavors tend to be higher in fat and calories due to the added ingredients. Avocados are another common topping for bagels. This option is much healthier than some other toppings, as they are filled with nutrients and can help reduce inflammation, maintain healthy cholesterol, and aid your cardiovascular system. Paired with the nutrients of a bagel, the two can be a winning combo. The price of avocados is one of their biggest drawbacks. Depending on the season you purchase them, the price fluctuates but it is typically $2 to $3. With the speed at which avocados go bad, this is not an ideal cost. 

None of this is to say you should stop putting cream cheese, avocados, or anything else on your bagels, or even stop having bagels all together. Most things are good in moderation. While they aren’t the healthiest option on the market, bagels still offer enough health benefits to be worth it—just cut down on the portion sizes and some of the toppings. Do some research into the type of bagel you are buying along with the topping; be as informed as you can about what you are consuming and you should be fine. Any food is worth it if you are happy while eating it. Go get sucked into the world of bagels and have fun!

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