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What Happens to Your Body When You Eat a Bagel

If you happen to eat one daily, you might want to rethink that plan...
Pile of bagels

Bagels are arguably one of the most delicious breakfast foods around. Whether you enjoy the carb-loaded, grab-and-go treat smothered with cream cheese, butter, or stuffed with fried eggs, cheese, and breakfast meat, no matter how you slice it, bagels aren't necessarily the best choice to kick-start your day.

"Bagels are denser than a slice of bread. That is what gives them a chewy texture, but that also means they have more calories," Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook, says, "Bagels have over three and a half times the calories compared to a slice of bread."

And while you may think so, whole wheat bagels aren't actually that much better of an option since such a small amount of wheat flour is actually used to make them. "Bagels labeled 'whole wheat,' may have additional fiber, but the calories will be the same or a bit higher," Amido says, while also noting that bagels with toppings like chocolate, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds will carry more calories than a plain bagel.

But let's be honest, even though bagels are high in calories and carbohydrates and only have B-vitamins as well as some iron and fiber because they are made with enriched flour, they're really hard to resist. That said, Amidor explains that portion control when eating bagels—think going for a mini bagel or only eating half of a regular-sized one—can help make it a healthier option. "However, I don't advocate pulling out the center as it ends up as food waste," she said.

She also suggests pairing a bagel with other healthy foods to build nutrient intake and help fill you up.

"Because bagels don't contain much fiber, filling up with protein and fiber-filled vegetables can help keep you full for longer," Amidor says. "Top your bagel with protein like nut butter, canned salmon, or cooked eggs and pile high with vegetables like lettuce, tomato, radishes, and pepper."

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If you're going to treat yourself, it's important to understand that once you eat a bagel, they go through a whole digestion process that could potentially have effects on your body, both negative and positive, especially if they are consumed more frequently.

So what does happen?

Well, here's a breakdown of exactly what happens when you eat a bagel regularly, although Amidor points out that there are no health consequences to eating a bagel on occasion. Paying attention to what you consume in the rest of your diet is also important when considering the facts below.

1

Your body may not reap the benefits of fiber.

Assorted bagels
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Per the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans, fiber is pinpointed as an under-consumed nutrient for Americans. When it comes to bagels, they're certainly not known for their high fiber content.

"Bagels, even wheat bagels, don't have much fiber, and if included regularly in your diet, it may affect your gastrointestinal tract if you aren't getting fiber from other foods, such as beans or lentils," Amidor says.

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2

It can help promote healthy digestion.

whole wheat bagel
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In addition, the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans recommends making half your grains whole, so eating whole-grain bagels could help you have healthy digestion. Amidor notes eating bagels that aren't made with whole grain as your primary carbohydrate/bread won't help you meet those guidelines, though.

Bagels made with whole-grain are typically filled with more fiber, which is beneficial for digestive health. The other nutrients are the same in whole wheat bagels vs. those made with enriched flour.

"Getting enough fiber helps with several health benefits including the health of your gastrointestinal tract and a lower risk for colon cancer," the RD says, per a 1999 study.

Another study conducted in 2016 additionally showed a link between eating two-three servings of whole grains a day and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity.

3

Energy will be provided to your brain from glucose.

Bagel with cream cheese
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If eating a bagel could help our brain in addition to our taste buds, then sign us up!

"[In fact,] 90% of the energy to your brain comes from glucose," Amidor says. "Once bagels are broken down, they turn into glucose, which helps provide energy."

She explains that during digestion, these single sugar units are absorbed into the body and entered into the bloodstream, which carries them to the liver. "Once in the liver, they are turned into glycogen to provide energy or stored as fat, which is a way to provide longer-term energy storage for the body."

Glucose will go where it is most needed in the body, and since the brain is such an energy-demanding organ, a lot of the time the sugar becomes the brain's main source of fuel.

4

Increased consumption over time can lead to weight gain.

scale weight loss
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It's likely no surprise that overdoing calorie consumption and eating a surplus of carbs could potentially lead to unwanted weight gain. In fact, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the amount of calories in a bagel has more than doubled over the last 20 years.

"Eating too many bagels with about 500 calories each vs. 80 calories for one slice of bread can lead to overeating and ultimately weight gain," Amador said. "This would happen over time, depending on how many bagels you are eating and the size of the bagels."

5

You could develop chronic conditions.

Everything bagel
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Bagels unfortunately fall into the category of refined carbs. And a higher intake of the refined carbohydrates could lead to the development of chronic conditions. Of course, eating a bagel from time to time probably won't cause these types of health issues, but consuming a lot of refined carbs could trigger inflammation, which could then lead to obesity, a 2014 study showed.

A 2017 study also associated increased intake of refined carbs to the rise of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

All in all, when it comes to eating bagels, they're safe to enjoy from time to time without much risk to your health. The main thing you should do when eating a yummy bagel is watch the frequency of intake, portion size, and choice of toppings.

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Samantha Faragalli Younghans
Samantha Faragalli Younghans is a freelance food, health, and lifestyle writer. Read more
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