That hearty whole-grain bagel might seem like a healthy morning choice, but today’s monster-sized orbs might just land carb lovers in the hole. While bagels do offer a small boost of iron, fiber, and protein, at up to 360 calories a pop, they’re packing roughly 100 more calories and twice the carbs of the average doughnut— frosting and all.

Slow Your Roll — The Need-To-Know

BagelRather than bagels, muffins, and doughnuts, healthier sources of carbohydrates include fiber-rich whole-grain cereals, vegetables, legumes, and fruits Carbohydrate intake and obesity. van Dam, R.M., Seidell, J.C. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007 Dec; 61 Suppl 1: S75-99. Carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to body mass index. Gaesser, G.A. Department of Human Services, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2007 Oct; 107(10): 1768-80..A longtime coffeehouse staple, the traditional bagel is made from high-gluten flour, water, salt, yeast, and malt. Once rolled, boiled, and baked, the result is a carbohydrate-heavy concoction that, though delicious, quickly converts to sugar in the body. And while bagels once weighed in at just 3 ounces apiece, in today’s supersized nation, they often clock in at twice that. That’s about 70 grams of carbohydrates in one 4½ inch bagel— almost half the USDA’s daily recommended intake.

Getting A-round — Your Action Plan

But bagels aren’t all evil when ordered strategically. Look for whole-wheat options, which pack a healthy dose of filling dietary fiber. Just don’t take all “wheat” bagels at face value. Some are actually white flour bagels dressed up with food coloring and a few whole grains mixed in. They can also pack just as many calories and added sugar (hint hint, cinnamon raisin bagels!), so if nutrition facts are available, take a closer look. And when the rounds start looking a bit bigger than normal, there’s always the option to order it “scooped” (with the bready middle removed) to reduce the carb-overload. Or split it with a friend!

And while pre-packaged varieties aren’t necessarily as fresh and tasty as the bagel shop’s, portions tend to stay on the smaller side. Mini bagels are a great option too, sneaking in at about 70 calories each.

A final word to the wise: “schmear” with caution. While traditional spreads like cream cheese, whitefish salad, and smoked salmon might make a bagel feel complete, many restaurants slather on 2 ounces or more (that’s 4 times the recommended serving size), adding on an extra dose of unnecessary fat and calories.

Updated January 2012

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