Many experts, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommend eating breakfast for benefits to overall health and wellbeing. So does your go-to favorite — a bagel with cream cheese — count as healthy?
A 4 1/2-inch bagel has about 360 calories, and 1 tablespoon of cream cheese has about 70 calories.
Grains and Carbohydrates
A bagel is a great source of carbohydrates from grains, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults consume 6 to 8 ounces of every day. But it's not that simple — at least half those grains (about 3 to 4 ounces daily) should be whole grains. And a single bagel might contain more servings that you think it would.
Whole grains are exactly what their name suggests: the entire grain, not just part of it. When you eat whole grains, you're getting lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals. When you eat refined grains, such as white bread or white rice, you might enjoy the finer texture, but you're not getting as many nutrients.
Examining a Bagel and Calories
A closer look at a bagel and nutrition facts reveals that a large plain bagel measuring 4 1/2 inches in diameter weighs in around 130 grams, or a little more than 4 1/2 ounces. That means one bagel is more than the average adult's recommended intake of refined carbohydrates for the day.
That 4 1/2-ounce bagel has about 360 calories. Add 1 tablespoon of cream cheese, and that's another 70 calories. That bagel delivers far more refined carbohydrates than a slice of white bread, which weighs in at only 1 ounce and has 79 calories. That means a single bagel equals about four slices of bread.
You might assume that an egg bagel would add a boost of protein because it has egg in it, but that's not exactly the case. An egg bagel has 364 calories, as well as the same 14 grams of protein as a plain bagel.
On the other hand, a multigrain bagel might be a better choice. A 4 1/2-ounce serving has only 313 calories and more than 8 grams of fiber. Cream cheese calories can be lessened by opting for low-fat cream cheese, which has 31 calories per tablespoon, down from 70 calories in regular cream cheese.
Bagels and Weight Management
A whole-grain bagel is going to be a better option for weight loss than a white bagel, because the complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, reducing insulin spikes, according to Mayo Clinic.
The exception to this might be after intense or prolonged exercise, when it is better to eat foods that are digested and absorbed quickly. The quick breakdown of simple carbohydrates means that energy gets to your muscles faster for recovery.
Also, that plain bagel nutrition label might seem a little, well, underwhelming. Find ways to make it more nutritious! Topping the cream cheese with fruits and vegetables will deliver a punch of vitamins and minerals for a great start to your day.
If you want something sweet, add strawberries, which are full of vitamin C and folate. If savory is more your style, cream cheese tastes great with sliced tomatoes, which have vitamin A and potassium, or carrots, which also have vitamins A and C. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics even recommends spreading your bagel with hummus instead of cream cheese.
While a plain white bagel might not be the most nutritious option, you can find ways of making it healthy and still enjoy your favorite breakfast.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "6 Tips for Better Breakfasts"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "All About the Grains Group"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Bagel, Plain, Unenriched"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Cheese, Cream"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Bread, Wheat"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Bagel, Egg"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Cheese, Cream, Low Fat"
- Mayo Clinic: "Could a Low-Carb Diet Give You an Edge in Losing Weight?"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "What Is Glycemic Index?"
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: "Strawberries"
- Produce for a Better Health Foundation: "Tomatoes"
- Produce for a Better Health Foundation: "Carrots"