The Inside Scoop on Bagels

by Danielle Starin, MS, RD on September 9, 2016  |  Topics: Uncategorized

Americans love bagels. In fact, according to a study by Packaged Facts, over 61% of Americans eat them. With varieties like asiago, jalapeno cheddar, pumpernickel and French toast, and toppings ranging from blueberry cream cheese, to smoked salmon, to almond butter or even pizza, it’s no wonder they’re a staple.

However, with the high demand for this popular bakery item, we must ask: how healthy is the average bagel? How many calories are in that bagel from the local bagel shop? How much cream cheese is in the standard schmear?  Does ordering a bagel “scooped” — where part of the inner bread is “scooped” out to cut back on carbs and calories — really make a difference? We took the liberty to find out the answers to these questions for you.

First, we set out to determine how many calories bagels contain. According to the USDA, a standard medium bagel weighs about 105 grams and contains 277 calories. While this size may be the standard, is it the norm?

We weighed packaged bagels by Thomas’ along with bagels from a local grocery store bakery, Starbucks, Panera Bread, and a local bagel bakery to see how they compared. The Thomas’ bagel and the bagels from Starbucks and Panera Bread were pretty on par with a standard medium bagel and hovered around an estimated 260 calories. The bagel from the local grocery store bakery was a bit larger and contained an estimated 310 calories. The far and away largest of the bagel bunch was the bagel from our local bagel shop, clocking in at 180 grams and packing an estimated 475 calories. That’s nearly double the size (and calories) of the bagels from the other stores.

Now on to the cream cheese. The standard serving size for cream cheese is 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons), which contains around 100 calories. But how much cream cheese are bagel shops actually spreading on that bagel? Starbucks and Panera Bread take the guesswork out of the equation by providing containers of cream cheese on the side. You’ll get 150 calories worth of cream cheese from Starbucks’ 1.5 oz packet and 200 calories worth from Panera Bread’s 2 oz container. Add that on to your 260-calorie bagel and you’re looking at around a 450-calorie breakfast. Not bad.

The local bagel shop was a completely different story. We were shocked to find that our local shop had slathered a whopping 5 ounces (over ½ a cup!) of cream cheese onto our bagel, adding nearly 500 calories to the already oversized bagel. The grand total? A gut busting 975 calories! Not a great way to start the day.

Bottom line: Expect around 400-500 calories in a typical bagel and schmear. If your local shop serves up bigger bagels or really piles on that cream cheese, be careful or you could walk out of there with a 1,000 calorie breakfast. If you want to save calories, follow some of our tips:

  • Control the size of your schmear by asking for cream cheese on the side
  • Split a bagel with a friend or save half for tomorrow
  • Shave about 75 calories off your bagel by ordering it “scooped” or scooping some of the bread out yourself.
  • If you are buying bagels from the grocery store, look for “mini” or “flat” bagels that hover around 100 calories each.

Story composed by Nutrition Intern, Zahra Nomni and edited by Manager of Data Quality, Paige Einstein, RD

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