Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Bagels With Cream Cheese Bad For You?



Short answer

Bagels with cream cheese are high in calories, refined carbs, and can be high in sodium and fats, depending on cream cheese type. Opt for whole-grain bagels and low-fat cream cheese for a healthier choice. Consume in moderation, especially if monitoring diet for health conditions like diabetes or heart disease.



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Long answer

Nutritional Profile of Bagels with Cream Cheese

A popular breakfast choice, bagels with cream cheese are a staple in many diets. To assess whether they might be a poor dietary choice, it is essential to delve into their nutritional makeup. Typically, one medium plain bagel paired with two tablespoons of regular cream cheese will provide the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 290-350 kcal for the bagel, 100 kcal for the cream cheese
  • Total Fat: 1.5-2g for the bagel, 9-10g for the cream cheese, with saturated fats constituting about 6g
  • Cholesterol: 30mg from cream cheese
  • Sodium: 400-500mg for the bagel, 85-100mg for cream cheese
  • Carbohydrates: 50-60g for the bagel, 1-2g for the cream cheese
  • Dietary Fiber: 2-3g for the bagel
  • Sugars: 5-6g for the bagel, 1-2g for the cream cheese
  • Protein: 10g for the bagel, 2g for cream cheese

From a macronutrient standpoint, bagels with cream cheese offer a significant amount of carbohydrates and moderate protein, with a notable amount of fats when cream cheese is added. The combination is low in dietary fiber compared to whole grain options and could also contain trans fats, depending on the type of cream cheese used.

Many bagels are made from refined wheat flour unless labeled as whole grain. Refined grains are associated with higher blood sugar spikes due to their lower fiber content and higher glycemic index. An alternative would be a whole grain bagel, which would provide more fiber and nutrients. On the other hand, cream cheese contributes additional calories and saturated fat. Although cream cheese does offer some calcium and protein, it is also high in cholesterol and sodium, which could impact heart health when consumed in high quantities.

Furthermore, many varieties of bagels and cream cheese contain added sugars and preservatives to enhance flavor and shelf life, potentially impacting one's sugar intake and overall health. Some flavored varieties of bagels and cream cheese contain additional calories, sugar, and artificial flavorings that can also alter their nutritional value.

For those closely monitoring their diet, especially individuals with conditions like diabetes or heart disease, understanding the nutritional profile of this meal is crucial for managing their health. Upgrading the bagel to a whole grain option and opting for low-fat or no-fat cream cheese can help improve the overall nutritional profile.

It is advisable to consume bagels with cream cheese in moderation, considering their high calorie, dense nature and the potential impact on blood sugar levels. Including additional protein or fiber, like eggs or fresh vegetables, and monitoring portion sizes could balance out the meal, making it more conducive to a healthful diet.

A careful inspection of labels can also guide healthier choices. Selecting cream cheese with no added sugars and low sodium content, along with a bagel made from whole grains, can mitigate some of the less healthy aspects of this common pairing.

Caloric Density and Weight Management Implications

When discussing the caloric density and its implications on weight management, we must start by understanding what caloric density means. Caloric density refers to the number of calories present in a given weight of food, usually expressed as calories per gram. Foods with high caloric density provide a large number of calories in a small amount of food, whereas foods with low caloric density provide fewer calories in a larger volume.

Bagels with cream cheese are considered to be of high caloric density. A typical medium-sized plain bagel contains about 245 to 300 calories, while a serving of cream cheese (1 oz or about 2 tablespoons) adds around 50 to 100 calories depending on the type and brand. When combined, a single bagel with cream cheese could contain between 300 to 400 calories. This count can increase further with additional toppings or flavored cream cheeses.

  • Average caloric content of a medium-sized plain bagel: 245-300 calories
  • Average caloric content of 1 oz of cream cheese: 50-100 calories
  • Total caloric content of a bagel with cream cheese: 300-400 calories

From a weight management perspective, consuming foods with a high caloric density without accounting for their place within your overall diet can lead to a caloric surplus, which may result in weight gain over time. It's important to consider the nutritional balance of meals throughout the day, ensuring that the intake of higher-calorie foods does not exceed energy expenditure, especially for those with sedentary lifestyles.

Several studies have explored the relationship between caloric density and satiety, finding that lower-calorie, nutrient-dense foods tend to promote a feeling of fullness for longer periods. This, in turn, can help reduce overall caloric intake. In comparison, high-caloric density foods like bagels with cream cheese might not provide the same level of satiety, possibly leading to increased food consumption throughout the day.

Food Component Calorie Range
Plain Medium Bagel 245-300
1 oz Cream Cheese 50-100
Total for Bagel with Cream Cheese 300-400

In terms of dietary guidelines, incorporating bagels with cream cheese into a balanced diet requires careful portion control and an awareness of the meal's contribution to daily caloric intake. Particularly for individuals concerned with weight management or those with calorie-restrictive diets, it's crucial to consider the role of such high-caloric density meals in the context of their broader nutritional goals.

With that said, occasional indulgence in a bagel with cream cheese can be a part of a balanced diet when consumed mindfully and in moderation. Pairing this food item with nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help balance the meal and contribute to overall dietary diversity and satiety.

Refined Carbs and Glycemic Index in Bagels

Bagels are a popular staple at many breakfast tables, often enjoyed with a generous spread of cream cheese. While they provide a quick and convenient meal option, the health implications of consuming bagels, particularly in regard to their refined carbohydrate content and glycemic index, merit closer examination.

Refined carbohydrates refer to grains that have been processed, stripping away beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This process leaves behind easily digestible carbs that can quickly elevate blood sugar levels. Most commercially available bagels are made from refined wheat flour, which falls into this category. The absence of fiber in these refined grains has two main health implications: it can lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar followed by a swift decline (known as a "crash"), and it may contribute to overeating, as fiber is key in promoting satiety.

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI are digested and absorbed rapidly, causing a quick rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Regular consumption of high-GI foods has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Bagels, especially those made from white flour, have a high glycemic index, typically ranging between 70 and 72—where anything above 70 is considered high.

To provide a clearer perspective, here's a brief comparison of GI values:

Food Item Glycemic Index
White Bagel 70-72
Whole Wheat Bagel Approximately 49
Oatmeal 55-79 (depending on preparation)
Table Sugar (Sucrose) 65

Studies have suggested that choosing whole grain options, such as whole wheat bagels, can lessen these effects as they have a lower glycemic index and contain more nutrients and fiber. For instance, a research article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that a higher intake of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

It's critical for individuals, especially those with insulin resistance or diabetes, to be aware of the glycemic impact of their meal choices. Integrating bagels into a balanced diet can be achieved by opting for whole grain varieties and being mindful of portion sizes. Additionally, complementing a bagel with proteins or healthy fats can help to reduce its overall glycemic load, which represents both the quality (GI) and quantity of carbs in the food.

To sum up, the refined carbs and high glycemic index in bagels can potentially disturb blood sugar regulation and contribute to negative health outcomes when consumed in excess. Selecting whole grain options and pairing them with other macronutrients can create a more balanced meal that lessens these impacts while still allowing for the enjoyment of this classic food.

Saturated Fats and Cholesterol Content in Cream Cheese

When enjoying the rich, creamy texture of cream cheese on a bagel, it's important to consider its saturated fat and cholesterol content. Saturated fats are a type of fat found mostly in animal products, which, when consumed in excess, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other health issues.

Let's break down the content in a typical serving of cream cheese:

  • A tablespoon of regular cream cheese contains about 5 grams of total fat, of which 3 grams are saturated fat.
  • Cream cheese also provides cholesterol, which can contribute to the daily limit suggested by health experts. A tablespoon contains approximately 16 milligrams of cholesterol.

Gazing through the lens of nutritional science, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 5% to 6% of total daily calories. For someone consuming 2,000 calories per day, that's about 13 grams of saturated fats. When you calculate the figures, indulging in cream cheese on a daily basis, particularly in generous amounts, can add a significant amount of saturated fat to one's diet.

It's also worth noting that some studies, such as a 2018 review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggest that the association between saturated fat intake and heart disease may be more complex than previously thought, and that whole food sources of saturated fat may have a different effect on health compared to isolated fats. Nonetheless, the consensus in the medical community still advocates for moderation.

Moreover, the cholesterol content in cream cheese can have varying effects on blood cholesterol levels depending on the individual. The current dietary guidelines no longer set a specific limit for dietary cholesterol for the general population, but they do stress the importance of eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible. Some individuals, known as "hyper-responders," may experience a more significant change in their blood cholesterol levels when consuming dietary cholesterol.

For those actively managing their cholesterol levels or with existing heart health concerns, it may be wise to consider lower-fat or plant-based alternatives to traditional cream cheese. Options like reduced-fat cream cheese or products made from almonds, cashews, or soy can offer the pleasure of a creamy spread without the same levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

In conclusion, while cream cheese adds a delicious dimension to a bagel, being mindful of its saturated fat and cholesterol content is vital. Balancing indulgent mornings with healthier choices throughout the day can help maintain a well-rounded diet.

Additives and Preservatives in Processed Bagels and Cream Cheese

When considering the health impact of bagels with cream cheese, it's important to factor in the potential presence of additives and preservatives—something that is often overlooked in the simplicity of this popular breakfast option. Processed bagels and cream cheese can contain a variety of these substances, each with its own set of health implications.

Common Additives in Processed Bagels:

  • Dough Conditioners: Such as azodicarbonamide (ADA) and L-cysteine, which can improve texture but have raised health concerns. ADA, for example, is recognized as a respiratory sensitizer.
  • Preservatives: Including calcium propionate and potassium sorbate, which inhibit mold growth but may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): Often used to sweeten bagels, HFCS has been linked to obesity and metabolic disorders when consumed in excess.
  • Emulsifiers: Like soy lecithin, which are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA but could pose issues for those with soy allergies or sensitivities.

Common Additives in Processed Cream Cheese:

  • Stabilizers and Thickeners: Ingredients such as carrageenan and xanthan gum are used to achieve the desired creamy texture but have been controversial due to potential gastrointestinal upset in some people.
  • Flavor Enhancers: Artificial flavors might be used to replicate the taste of natural cream cheese, which can be concerning for those avoiding synthetic additives.
  • Artificial Colors: Sometimes added to flavored cream cheeses to make them more visually appealing, though linked to hyperactivity in children and other potential health issues.

In light of these concerns, many dietitians and health experts recommend opting for bagels and cream cheese with minimal additives. For example, choosing bagels made with simple, whole-food ingredients (like whole wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt) and cream cheese that lists only milk, cream, salt, and bacterial cultures can be a healthier choice.

Studies have shown that long-term consumption of certain additives and preservatives may have adverse health effects. For instance, a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives highlights the potential risks of consuming ADA, particularly concerning its potential to decompose into semicarbazide, which can cause lung and blood vessel damage in animals. Moreover, research referenced in Nutrition Reviews has indicated that certain emulsifiers might contribute to gut inflammation and associated conditions.

It's crucial for consumers to be vigilant about checking food labels and understanding what each ingredient entails for their overall well-being. Staying informed represents the first stride towards making healthier dietary choices and mitigating potential risks linked to additives and preservatives in processed foods.

Balancing Bagels with Cream Cheese in a Healthy Diet

The incorporation of bagels with cream cheese into a healthy diet is all about balance and moderation. While both can be parts of a balanced diet, it's crucial to consider the nutritional profile and the portion sizes. Consumed in large quantities or too frequently, they can contribute to an excessive intake of refined carbs, saturated fats, and calories.

Here's how to keep your bagel and cream cheese habit in check:

  • Choose whole-grain: Opt for whole-grain bagels which have more fiber and nutrients compared to their white, refined counterparts. Dietary fiber helps support digestion and can contribute to a feeling of fullness, possibly helping in weight management.
  • Watch the portion size: Bagels have grown in size over the years and can pack a significant number of calories. Consider eating half a bagel or look for mini bagels to keep your calorie intake in check.
  • Limit high-fat cream cheese: Traditional cream cheese is high in saturated fats. Use a light or non-fat version to cut down on these fats, or try a small amount of nut butter or avocado as a healthier fat option.
  • Add protein: Including a source of protein, such as smoked salmon, a slice of turkey, or a spread of hummus, can help turn a carb-heavy bagel into a more balanced meal.
  • Incorporate vegetables: Top your bagel with vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, or spinach to add vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Practice mindfulness: Be aware of how often you're eating bagels with cream cheese. They are okay as an occasional treat rather than a daily staple.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that diets high in refined grains, such as those found in many bagels, were associated with greater adiposity and insulin resistance. Hence, choosing bagels made from refined flour sparingly is key to maintaining a healthy diet.

Moreover, it is advisable to keep in mind the overall dietary patterns. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can accommodate the occasional bagel with cream cheese without significant health risks. On the other hand, for individuals with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, it's important to seek advice from a healthcare provider or a dietitian about how best to include such items in their meal plans.

Finally, being informed about the options available allows for better choices. Many bakeries now offer nutritiously enhanced bagels, such as those with added fiber or protein. By choosing these more beneficial varieties and keeping toppings light and nutrient-rich, you can enjoy your bagel and cream cheese without compromising on your health goals.

Healthier Bagel and Cream Cheese Alternatives

When it comes to bagels and cream cheese, the concern often lies with the high calorie content, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats. However, indulging in this classic combination doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning nutritional value. There are several healthier alternatives to traditional bagels with cream cheese that not only deliver on taste but also offer more substantial health benefits.

Whole Grain Bagels: Opting for bagels made from whole grains is a great way to introduce more fiber into your diet. Fiber aids digestion, helps maintain blood sugar levels, and can keep you feeling full for longer periods, which helps in weight management. A systematic review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted that whole grain intake is associated with various health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Low-Fat or Non-Fat Cream Cheese: Cheese made from skim or low-fat milk provides the creamy texture you crave but contains less saturated fat and calories. According to the USDA, switching to a low-fat version can significantly decrease calorie consumption while still providing essential nutrients like calcium and protein.

Cream Cheese Alternatives: For those looking to further reduce calorie and fat intake, or for vegan and lactose-intolerant individuals, plant-based spreads made from ingredients like cashews, almonds, or tofu can be used as a substitute for traditional cream cheese. Not only do they tend to be lower in saturated fat, but also often provide healthy fats, proteins, and additional vitamins and minerals.

Lighter Toppings: Instead of piling on the cream cheese, why not try a thinner layer and add toppings that are both nourishing and energizing? Here are some wholesome toppings to consider:

  • Sliced avocado, which is rich in monounsaturated fats and can reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Smoked salmon, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, crucial for brain health and reducing inflammation.
  • Tomato slices with a dash of pepper and sea salt, which adds flavor without significant calories.
  • Fresh cucumber slices, for a refreshing crunch and hydration without added fats.
  • Almond or peanut butter, offering a good balance of protein and healthy fats.

Serving Size Awareness: Being mindful of the portion size can also make a significant difference. A mini bagel or an open-faced bagel with toppings on just one half provides the flavor experience while reducing overall intake.

Choosing healthier options when it comes to bagels and cream cheese doesn’t mean sacrificing taste. By being selective about the bagel base, opting for a healthier spread, and adding nutritious toppings, you can transform this traditional breakfast item into an energizing, guilt-free meal that supports your well-being.

Frequently asked questions

Bagels with cream cheese are high in calories and often low in fiber, which may not be ideal for weight loss diets. However, if you enjoy bagels, you can opt for a mini or half bagel with low-fat or non-fat cream cheese and pair it with healthy toppings like vegetables or lean protein to make it more appropriate for a weight loss diet while still satisfying your craving.

Yes, consuming bagels made from refined wheat flour can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels due to their high glycemic index. To minimize this effect, consider choosing whole grain bagels and pairing your meal with protein or healthy fats, which can slow the absorption of carbohydrates and promote a steadier blood sugar response.

To increase satiety without significantly raising the calorie count, add a source of lean protein—such as a slice of turkey or smoked salmon—to your bagel. Alternatively, top your bagel with a variety of fresh vegetables like spinach, cucumbers, or tomatoes to add fiber and volume to your meal.

Flavored cream cheeses often contain additional sugars, artificial flavorings, and colorings, which can alter their nutritional value and may increase calorie content. For a healthier option, choose plain cream cheese and add fresh herbs or vegetables for flavor without the extra sugars and additives.

Ask a question about Bagels With Cream Cheese and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • blood sugar spikes
  • overeating
  • allergic reactions
  • inflammation
  • gastrointestinal upset

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • elevated cholesterol levels
  • obesity
  • insulin resistance
  • adiposity

Ingredients to be aware of

  • saturated fats
  • cholesterol
  • trans fats
  • sodium
  • refined wheat flour
  • added sugars
  • preservatives (calcium propionate, potassium sorbate)
  • additives (ada, l-cysteine, hfcs, soy lecithin, carrageenan, xanthan gum)
  • artificial flavors
  • artificial colors


  • provides protein
  • moderate fiber (whole grain options)
  • calcium (from cream cheese)
  • aids digestion (whole grain options)
  • satiety (whole grain options)

Healthier alternatives

  • whole grain bagels
  • low-fat or non-fat cream cheese
  • plant-based spreads
  • smoked salmon
  • avocado
  • tomato slices
  • cucumber slices
  • nut butters
  • mini bagels
  • open-faced bagels

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Dave's Killer Bread Bagels

  • Organic ingredients
  • Rich in fiber
  • Natural flavors
  • Non-GMO
  • Whole grain nutrition
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-05-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-05-2023

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