Whether you're a city dweller or suburbanite, a breakfast person or trying intermittent fasting, we can all agree on one thing: Bagels are marvelous. But if you're looking to stay on track with your health and wellness goals, the breakfast sandwich can pack on quite a bit of carbs and calories.
Good news: You don't have to break up with your favorite a.m. meal! Sarah Pflugradt, RD, has come up with four hacks to give your morning bagel the ultimate health-conscious makeover — and you can keep the cream cheese!
1. Smaller Is Better
Although getting a bang for your buck is great — especially when it comes to food — you may not want to choose the biggest bagel at the bakery. Bagels are usually a super-sized food and may amount to multiple servings, Pflugradt says.
In fact, bagel sizes have doubled within the past 20 years, according to the National Institutes of Health. Two decades ago, your typical bagel was just three inches in diameter and boasted 140 calories whereas nowadays, your average bagel packs in about 350 calories!
Select a mini bagel, get the insides scooped out or go with a flagel — a flat bagel — to save some extra calories. That will allow you to load up on more healthy toppings, too.
2. Go Whole Wheat — Not Multigrain
"The everything bagel is king and it's hard to pass up," Pflugradt admits, but if you're looking to pick the healthiest bagel out there, you'll want to go whole wheat, she says. "If you find a whole wheat everything bagel, you're going to have a good day."
Whole grains, like whole wheat, are a solid source of antioxidants not commonly found in vegetables, in addition to B vitamins and vitamin E, according to the Whole Grains Council. That's because, unlike refined white bagels, whole grains are made with the entire wheat grain kernel including the bran, germ and endosperm. Thanks to their nutrients, whole grains have even been linked to a lowered risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Whole wheat bagels are also a source of fiber, which many people don't get enough of. Fiber helps aid digestion and slows the speed at which food passes through your digestive system, keeping you full for longer, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Go for any extra fiber you can squeeze in throughout the day," Pflugradt says.
And when it comes to multigrain bagels, skip them. Sure, multigrain products are made with multiple types of grains — but that doesn't necessarily mean that the whole grain was used. Multigrain bagels may very well be just as refined as the plain white bagel in the basket next to them.
3. Choose Healthy Spreads
When it comes to cream cheese, consider your current dietary goals when choosing between the full-fat and low-fat versions. Take inventory of your overall diet: If your objective is to trim calories wherever you can, go low-fat, Pflugradt says. But if you have a little wiggle room, the extra calories from a tablespoon of full-fat cream cheese won't make a huge difference. However, some bodegas tend to pile on the cream cheese, so specify how much you want when you order.
Avocado is a better-for-you cream cheese substitute to give your bagel a nutritious boost. Avocados are a great source of heart-healthy fats and provide nearly 20 essential vitamins and nutrients, including fiber and folate, according to the California Avocado Commission. Pflugradt recommends adding some everything bagel seasoning to your smashed avo.
If you prefer a sweeter spread, go with your favorite nut butter. Like avocado, nut butters such as peanut or almond butter are full of healthy monounsaturated fats, according to Harvard Health Publishing. If you're prepping a bagel at home, opt for a nut butter without added sugars and watch your portions when adding this calorie-dense spread.
If you're going with a nut butter combo, top your sandwich with sliced fresh fruit instead of sweetening it with jelly or jam.
4. Boost Nutrition With Toppings
Toppings are your opportunity to really bump up the nutrition of your bagel, says Pflugradt. "Your bagel will become a delicious vessel for more nutrition."
When it comes to veggies, think beyond the realm of strictly breakfast foods. She recommends piling on veggies like cucumber, radishes or even onions (so long as your workday doesn't start with a morning meeting). Shredded carrots or beets can add a sweet note to your bagel while seasonings like basil or pico de gallo can contribute a unique flavor.
Pairing your veggies with lean protein will help keep you full throughout the morning, according to Pflugradt. Some great lean protein options include smoked salmon, chicken breast or hard-boiled eggs.