Should Diabetics Eat Bagels?

Should bagels be added to the list of foods diabetics should avoid? Isn’t it bad enough to ban birthday cake and chocolate cream pie?

For many, bagels have long been considered a healthy food choice. Surely the chewy goodness is better for you than pasty white bread. But what if you learned it was worse?

Both bagels and white bread are made of flour, water, and a few other ingredients. The white flour in standard bagels is the same as that in white bread. Nowadays nearly everyone knows white bread is bad for diabetics. It raises blood glucose levels as quickly as table sugar.

So how could a bagel be worse than bread?

A single slice of white bread provides 60-80 calories in the form of carbohydrates. Two slices of toast or bread for a sandwich amounts to about 150 calories. But what about a bagel? A mini-bagel also provides about 150 calories, but a regular-size bagel has 250-300 calories, whereas one of the yummy over-size varieties can be as much as 500 calories! That’s how a bagel can be worse than bread. It’s unlikely you’d sit down and eat 7-8 slices of bread, but that’s exactly what you’re doing if you indulge in a large bagel.

All bagels are not created equal in other nutritional regards. For example, a whole wheat bagel may have about the same calories as a french toast bagel (250 to 300 calories), yet contain only a third as much sugar but three times the fiber. Whole grains take longer for the body to digest and therefore do not elevate the blood sugar as quickly. Dietary fiber improves bowel function and promotes a feeling of satiety (fullness after eating). A bagel loaded with melted cheese will be higher in fat than a blueberry or raisin bagel.

And what about toppings? Two tablespoons of reduced-fat cream cheese adds another 70 calories, not a bad choice for a light breakfast or lunch. However, two tablespoons of peanut butter (or butter, or mayonnaise-based spread) amounts to an additional 200 calories, most of which comes from fat. A better choice would be an equal serving of sugar-free preserves (as little as 10 calories per tablespoon) or a few slices of lean turkey breast (about 50 calories).

People like bagels largely due to the texture. It feels like you’re eating more when you have to chew more vigorously. That’s not a bad thing, especially for diabetics who feel deprived much of the time.

While it’s true a diabetic should avoid eating a giant bagel slathered with peanut butter (a 700 calorie feast), a whole-wheat mini-bagel with low-fat cream cheese provides less than half that many calories and is fair game for the famished female diabetic craving a carbohydrate fix.