Are Bagels for Breakfast a Good Idea?

Breakfast is not an option (unless, of course, you are shooting for the sumo-wrestler look, then skip breakfast..), but what you choose can make all the difference.

At some point in the past 15 or so years donuts lost their attraction as the breakfast of champions.  All that hubub about too much fat and oils drummed up by the now defunct USDA food guide pyramid.

Thus began the rise of the bagel.

Granted, New York delis didn’t really create the bagel (its origins date back to the 1600’s), but they may have played a role in the increase in popularity of this little breakfast gem.

For many years following the switch from donuts to bagels, the health conscious breakfast consumer proudly purchased bagels in an attempt to follow the low fat craze.  Forget the fact that they are frequently coated in butter or cream cheese…

Here’s a shocker.  Bagels are not good for you.

There are almost always made with enriched wheat flour, which is a refined carbohydrate.  Refined carbohydrates are evil.

But just how evil is a bagel for breakfast?  I think you’ll be a little shocked.  But first, a little physiology lesson.

The term “incretin” refers to one of two hormones produced in the body that drastically effect how your body will react to the foods we eat.  There are two main types that have been identified:

  1. Glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP for short) keeps blood sugars and insulin levels lower after a meal. However, it also speeds up gastric emptying time, which is generally not a good thing because slower digestion allows for sugars to trickle into the bloodstream instead of hitting in a rush.  GIP has no effects on hunger, desire to eat, fullness or eating again after a meal.
  2. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) also decreases blood sugar and insulin after a meal, but it increases gastric emptying time.  GLP-1 lowers hunger, desire to eat and eating again after a meal.

For those of you who recognize the term GLP-1, you’ve probably read previous articles that relate to fancy new diabetic drugs that hijack the pathway used by this hormone and the potential problems it may cause.  You can read one of these articles by clicking here.

All of this brings me to this particular article looking at how a low and high glycemic index breakfast affects GIP and GLP-1 levels.

Researchers looked at how a high glycemic index breakfast (think processed cereals, bagels and donuts) and a low glycemic index breakfast affected these hormone levels.  Here’s what they found:

  • On the high glycemic index breakfast, glucose, insulin and GIP were higher than in the low glycemic breakfast.
  • On the high glycemic index breakfast, GLP-1 levels were lower.

To put this in English, a high glycemic index breakfast, consisting of foods that will show up as sugar quickly in the bloodstream, raised the levels of GIP and lowered the levels of GLP-1.  Since GLP-1 is the heavy hitter in protecting us from diabetes, this is NOT a good thing.

In case you were wondering, the bagel, made of enriched wheat flour, falls under the high glycemic index breakfast.  Incidentally, for those of you who think that Cheerios are a good breakfast option–it’s high glycemic as well.  Did I mention that most oatmeals have a higher glycemic index?

Based on this knowledge, do you think that schools should remove bagels and other high glycemic index foods from the breakfast lineup?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.


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2 thoughts on “Are Bagels for Breakfast a Good Idea?

  1. Melanie,

    Yes–I should’ve clarified that–whole grain with NO enriched wheat flour, would likely be ok. Ezekiel, for example, makes bagels that are truly whole grain.

    Dr. Bogash

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