Are bagel with cream cheese healthy?

Quick Answer

Bagels with cream cheese can be a healthy breakfast option in moderation. A plain bagel with around 1-2 tablespoons of light cream cheese provides carbohydrates for energy, some protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, bagels and cream cheese are high in calories and easy to overeat. Consuming too many refined carbs from bagels can contribute to weight gain and health issues. Choosing whole grain bagels and limiting cream cheese portions makes this breakfast more nutritious. Overall, bagels with a schmear of cream cheese are fine occasionally as part of a balanced diet. But they should not be a daily habit.

Are Bagels Healthy?

Bagels are a popular bakery food made from wheat flour, yeast, water, and salt. Here is a look at the nutrition facts for a plain bagel (without cream cheese):

Nutrition Facts Plain bagel (1 medium, about 4 inches diameter)
Calories 277
Carbohydrates 54g
Fiber 2g
Protein 10g
Fat 1g

Bagels are high in carbohydrates, providing a substantial amount of energy from their refined flour. A plain bagel has over 50 grams of total carbs, with minimal fiber. Refined grains like white flour break down quickly into blood sugar. This can cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.

Bagels also offer some protein, but not a huge amount. There are trace amounts of vitamins and minerals from the wheat flour as well.

But on their own, bagels are lacking in nutrients compared to whole grain options. Refined grains like white flour have the bran and germ removed in processing, stripping away beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

So are bagels healthy? Plain white flour bagels are better than doughnuts, but they cannot be considered a nutritional powerhouse. They rate moderately on the glycemic index scale, with a GI of 72. Foods under 55 are low GI, while 70 and above is high. The higher the GI, the bigger the impact on blood sugar.

Bagels are also extremely dense in calories, with around 250-350 calories each depending on size. It’s easy to overload on calories by eating multiple bagels or large bakery bagels.

In small amounts, plain bagels can be incorporated into a balanced diet. But they should not be a dietary staple. Choosing whole grain bagels over refined flour versions is better for getting more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Are Cream Cheese and Bagels Healthy?

Cream cheese is often paired with bagels for breakfast or a snack. Traditional cream cheese is high in calories, fat, and saturated fat:

Nutrition Facts Cream cheese (2 tablespoons)
Calories 100
Total Fat 10g
Saturated Fat 6g
Carbohydrates 2g
Protein 2g

Just two tablespoons provides 100 calories, half of which come from saturated fat. There are minimal nutrients in cream cheese beyond calories and fat.

Spreading cream cheese atop a refined flour bagel creates a high-calorie, high-carb breakfast. For example, a 4-inch bakery bagel with two tablespoons of cream cheese would contain around 350-400 calories.

Consuming these calorie-dense bagels and cream cheese frequently can lead to weight gain over time. The refined carbs from the bagel also get absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream.

Does this mean you should avoid all bagels and cream cheese for health? Not necessarily. You can make some tweaks to make this breakfast combo healthier:

– Choose a whole wheat or multi-grain bagel for more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

– Limit cream cheese to 1-2 tablespoons maximum, or try Neufchatel reduced-fat cream cheese.

– Top your bagel with sliced tomato, onion, smoked salmon, or other vegetables to increase nutritional value.

– Opt for a lighter breakfast the rest of the week, such as oatmeal or yogurt.

So are bagels and cream cheese healthy? In moderation, they can be part of a nutritious diet. But balance is key, as well as controlling portions and frequency. Bagels with cream cheese should not become a daily habit.

Health Risks of Too Many Bagels with Cream Cheese

What happens if you start eating a bagel with cream cheese every morning for breakfast? Here are some potential health risks of overdoing it on bagels and cream cheese:

Weight gain – Bagels and cream cheese are high in calories and fat. Consuming them too often could lead to excessive calorie intake and weight gain over time. Even “healthy” whole grain bagels are around 300 calories before adding cream cheese.

Blood sugar spikes – Refined flour bagels digest very quickly into glucose. This can spike blood sugar levels and may worsen insulin resistance. People with diabetes or prediabetes need to be cautious of large flour-based bagels.

Increased inflammation – Refined grains and dairy products can increase inflammation levels in the body when consumed in large amounts. Chronic inflammation is linked to diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

High LDL cholesterol – Cream cheese is high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL “bad” cholesterol levels. High LDL is associated with plaque buildup in the arteries.

Lack of nutrients – Heavily processed bagels lack the vitamins, minerals, and fiber found naturally in whole grains. Cream cheese is also low in nutrients. This can lead to micronutrient deficiencies.

Food sensitivities – Some people are sensitive to wheat or dairy products. Eating bagels and cream cheese often could trigger digestive issues, skin conditions, headaches, or fatigue in sensitive people.

The key is moderation. An occasional bagel with cream cheese as a treat likely won’t harm your health. But making it a daily habit could increase risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation-related conditions.

Healthier Alternatives to Bagels and Cream Cheese

If you’re looking to improve your breakfast nutrition, here are some healthier alternatives to try instead of bagels with cream cheese:

– Avocado toast on whole grain bread
– Smoked salmon and capers on whole wheat toast
– Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts
– Oatmeal with milk or yogurt, fruit, nuts, and seeds
– Veggie omelet with whole grain toast
– Cottage cheese with sliced tomatoes and avocado
– Smoothie with protein powder, milk, yogurt, fruits, and greens
– Whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter
– Apple slices with natural nut butter
– Banana with nut butter

All of these options provide more fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats compared to bagels with cream cheese.

Some other ideas are chia seed pudding, an acai bowl, or whole grain cereal with milk. Be creative and choose whole foods that you enjoy eating! Having some protein, fiber, and healthy fat will keep you feeling satisfied all morning.

Healthy Bagel Alternatives

If you don’t want to give up your morning bagel, here are some healthier bagel options:

Sprouted grain bagels – Made from whole grains that have been sprouted, these contain more vitamins and digest more slowly. Brands like Ezekiel offer sprouted bagels.

Whole wheat or multigrain bagels – Choose whole grains like whole wheat or oats and look for at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving.

Mini bagels – Opt for a smaller, lighter bagel to control calories and carbs.

Gluten-free bagels – For those avoiding gluten, brands like Canyon Bakehouse have gluten-free whole grain bagels.

Lettuce wrap “bagels” – Use large lettuce leaves wrapped around fillings for a lower-carb bagel alternative.

Bagel thins – These slimmer bagels have less dough, slashing calories, carbs, and starchiness.

Everything bagels – Poppy, sesame, onion, and garlic seeds ramp up nutrition on these flavorful bagels.

The healthiest bagel is one packed with whole grains, seeds, and fiber.Limiting size, portions, and frequency is important too. Enjoy your bagel as an occasional treat, not daily habit.

Healthier Cream Cheese Alternatives

To lighten up your cream cheese, here are some better-for-you options:

Whipped cream cheese – Has air whipped in to cut fat and calories while maintaining rich, creamy texture.

Neufchatel – This low-fat cream cheese has about half the calories and fat of regular cream cheese.

Organic cream cheese – Made with organic milk and without artificial preservatives or colors.

1⁄3 less fat cream cheese – One-third fewer calories and fat grams than regular cream cheese.

Part-skim ricotta – Less fat than cream cheese with a mild flavor; spreadable and bagel-ready.

Greek yogurt cream cheese – Blends tangy yogurt and creamy cream cheese for a protein boost.

Vegan cream cheeses – Made from nuts, soy, coconut, or other plant-based ingredients if you want to avoid dairy.

Limit portions to 1-2 tablespoons, and top your bagel with veggies, smoked salmon, or nut butter for extra nutrition.

Healthy Cream Cheese Substitutes

In place of cream cheese, try one of these healthier substitutes:

– Hummus or avocado – For more protein and fiber than cream cheese, use hummus or mashed avocado as spreads.

– Peanut or almond butter – Nut butters contain healthy fats that keep you full and provide protein.

– Ricotta cheese – With less fat than cream cheese, part-skim ricotta adds protein.

– Greek yogurt – Plain nonfat Greek yogurt can stand in for cream cheese in both taste and texture.

– Cottage cheese – Puree cottage cheese in a food processor for a tangy, lower-fat cream cheese.

– Soy or coconut yogurt – For plant-based options, try unsweetened soy or coconut milk yogurts.

– Mash white beans – For an ultra-low-fat vegan substitution, puree cannellini beans with lemon juice and garlic.

Any of these alternatives can provide a healthier base for your bagel than traditional cream cheese.

Tips for Healthy Bagels and Cream Cheese

If you want the occasional bagel with schmear, keep these tips in mind:

– Stick to 1⁄2 or 1 whole mini bagel or bagel thin.
– Choose whole grains like whole wheat or multigrain.
– Limit cream cheese to 1-2 tablespoons maximum.
– Opt for reduced-fat or light cream cheese products.
– Load your bagel up with veggies – tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, etc.
– Add smoked salmon, turkey, roast beef for lean protein.
– Consider nut butters instead of cream cheese for healthy fats.
– Drink a protein smoothie or eat yogurt too for more nutrients.
– Keep portions of baked goods small – half a large bagel is plenty.
– Avoid eating bagels and cream cheese every single day.

Ultimately, moderation and balance is key if you want to enjoy bagels and cream cheese as part of an overall healthy diet. Be mindful of portions, ingredients, and how they fit into your day’s nutrition.


Bagels with cream cheese can be part of a nutritious diet, but should not be a daily habit. Refined flour bagels are low in nutrients and spike blood sugar. Cream cheese is high in calories and saturated fat. Together, they can lead to weight gain, inflammation, cholesterol issues, and nutrient deficiencies if consumed frequently. The healthiest approach is to enjoy a whole grain bagel with light cream cheese occasionally as a treat in moderate portions. Choosing alternative whole grain breakfasts like oatmeal, avocado toast, or a veggie omelet most days of the week will provide better nutrition. Bagels with cream cheese taste delicious, but balance and variety is key for your best health.

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