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Think muffins and bagelsare healthy? Think again

Even doughnut lovers will admit that the doughnut is a poor nutrition choice. But how much better off are people with muffins or bagels?
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Most people know that doughnuts are not a healthy choice, but when it comes to calories and fat content, doughnuts may actually be better for you than muffins and bagels.Bruno Vincent / Getty Images file

Even doughnut lovers will admit that the doughnut is a poor nutrition choice. But how much better off are people with muffins or bagels?

In regards to calories — the most important factor for weight control — doughnuts vary. Yeast or raised donuts usually contain from 170 to 270 calories each. But the denser cake doughnuts can run from 290 to 360 calories, while cream-filled options tend to be 300 to 390 calories each.

Contrary to what you might expect, muffins are rarely lower in calories. The 3-inch muffins grandmother made had only 120 to 160 calories. But today’s giant bakery muffins contain from 340 to 630 calories each, without any butter or other spread.

Bagels, on the other hand, can have fewer calories — if you are careful about portion size. The 2 ½-inch “mini-bagels” have about 72 calories. But 4 ½-inch deli bagels contain 300 to 380 calories each — without any cream cheese. Beware of “reduced-carbohydrate” bagels. In at least one such product, the amount of fat is increased, so there are as many calories as in a regular bagel.

The health concerns about doughnuts extend beyond calories, however. Most doughnuts have from two to five grams of saturated fat and two to five grams of trans fat. That’s a quarter to one-half the recommended daily limit for saturated fat.

Unfortunately, the bakery muffins for sale are hardly better. Most contain from 11 to 27 grams of total fat. Of that total, 2 to 8 grams are saturated fat. Although the trans-fat content of muffins is extremely low in most cases, the total saturated fat plus trans fat of giant bakery muffins is only slightly less than doughnuts.

Reduced-fat muffins are usually a better option. They have only 2 to 5 grams of total fat, and only 0 to 2 grams of that is saturated fat. And unlike other reduced-fat products, the sugar content in these muffins is generally the same as in regular muffins. Calories remain in the 300 to 400 range.

Bagels are another good choice for limiting total and saturated fat. Even those big deli bagels usually have no more than 2 grams of total fat and only a trace of saturated fat. Bagels with cheese or chocolate, however, can hold as much saturated fat as a doughnut.

Pick your toppings wisely
Of course, the fat content of bagels is heavily influenced by the topping. About two tablespoons of regular cream cheese add around 100 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat. This will make your bagel the saturated plus trans fat equivalent of a doughnut and the calorie equivalent of one or two donuts. Light cream cheese is a healthier topping with 90 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat, but peanut butter is even healthier.

Although two tablespoons of peanut butter has 185 calories, the fat content has a better makeup with only 3 grams of saturated fat and just a trace of trans fat. Because of the protein, a peanut butter bagel should satisfy your hunger for a long time, too, while doughnuts probably won’t.

If you choose carefully, bagels offer another advantage: nutritious whole grains. But you will need to look for whole-grain bagels closely. Bagels with a “whole wheat” label come from whole grains, but “nine-grain” and “multi-grain” bagels may not. To know for sure, look at the list of ingredients. A whole grain should be the first item. If you see just the word “wheat,” the product is mostly made with refined white flour.