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Bagels are used in so many ways – bagels and cream cheese, breakfast bagels with egg and sausage, lunch sandwich bagels, mini bagels, bagel chips… there are even square bagels, or “squagels”. Some places have turned them into more of a dessert than anything else, creating them with chocolate chips, cinnamon and sugar, asiago cheese, or even caramel.
For those who have asked about bagels, the honest answer is that they are not the most nutrient-dense foods out there (nutrient-dense foods are high in nutrients, low in calories – think vegetables). BUT, that doesn’t mean we can’t eat them, of course! We just need to choose wisely.
Whole wheat bagels can be found fairly easily now. Wheat, in its most unrefined, natural state, provides many nutrients including manganese, fiber, tryptophan and magnesium. Whole wheat bagels provide some of these nutrients too (but they are still not the strongest food sources of them).
Manganese is needed for strong bones, proper absorption of other nutrients (they all depend on one another, which is why variety in your diet is so incredibly important), steady blood sugar levels, and protection of cells from free radical damage (which leads to diseases such as cancer). Other foods high in manganese include pineapple, brown rice, garbanzo beans, spinach, whole grain rye, whole grain oats and cloves. If you are not getting enough manganese in your diet, you may be experiencing skin rashes, high blood sugar, bone loss, or reproductive system difficulties, among other things.
Fiber supports regular bowels and helps to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also crucial for those wanting to lose weight, because it keeps your digestive system functioning properly. Other sources of fiber include split peas, lentils, barley, all types of beans, collard greens and even raspberries! People with high blood sugar, high cholesterol or constipation may need more fiber in their diet.
Tryptophan is an important amino acid because it helps regulate appetite, improve quality of sleep and elevate our mood. Our bodies need amino acids in order to create proteins. Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids, meaning it must be obtained from food (vs. nonessential amino acids, which are synthesized by the body). Other food sources of tryptophan include tuna, soybeans, beef and chicken, nuts, seeds, bananas and dairy products. If you are experiencing cravings for carbohydrates, depression, anxiety, unexpected weight gain or loss or impulsiveness, your tryptophan levels may be too low.
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, helps keep bones healthy and improves blood circulation. Other foods containing high amounts of magnesium include spinach, swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, salmon, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, black beans and halibut. Signs of a magnesium deficiency include high blood pressure, muscle spasms, fluctuations in blood sugar and headaches.
One thing to remember is that “wheat” is not the same thing as “whole wheat”. Wheat usually has certain parts of the grain removed, and can be lacking in important nutrients. Whole wheat, however, is the complete grain and a more wholesome food. Remember what I said last week about eating the entire egg, not just the egg white, in order to get all of the health benefits? The same goes with the grain. Always choose whole wheat over plain wheat, and if you’re not sure if something is whole, don’t be afraid to ask. The Ezekiel (Food For Life) brand of bagels sold in many health food stores is great because they are made from sprouted grains, which are easier for us to digest.
Whereas whole wheat bagels can contain many important nutrients, plain white bagels are considered a simple carbohydrate and don’t do much for us other than elevate our blood sugar and lead to increased hunger and sugar cravings throughout the day. Whenever possible, try to choose whole grain bagels. If those are not available, choose one that has oats or seeds.
Topping your bagel is another topic, but here’s my two cents: stick to the nutrient-dense foods like smoked salmon, eggs, veggies, hummus, turkey, or nut butter. Try to avoid processed cheeses, cream cheese, mayo, etc.
And remember that bagels are high-calorie foods, containing 300-450 calories each (not including toppings). If you’re heading into your office cube for the day, you may not need such a high-carb, high-calorie breakfast. But if you’re heading up to Vail to ski 12 inches of fresh snow all day, it may be just what your body needs! In other words, use judgment when choosing to eat a bagel for breakfast. Sometimes I just eat half if it’s the only option, and it’s plenty to keep me full as long as I top it with some good fats and protein.