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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Bagel Dilemma

What could be more simple than a bagel? It would appear to have simple ingredients like flour and water and, when flavored, ingredients like cinnamon, raisins, sesame seeds, onion, and garlic. All seem fairly wholesome. What could be a better snack or source of energy when a meal is several hours away or an exercise session is planned within 2-4 hours?

Just to check on the ingredients in fresh bagels available to me, I did a web search on their ingredients, and found the following counts for plain bagels:

  • Stop and Shop: calories 290, sodium 520 mg, sugars 4 mg
  • Finagle a Bagel: calories 290, sodium 410 mg, sugars 8 mg
  • Dunkin Donuts calories 320, sodium 660 mg, sugars 6 mg
  • Bruegger’s: calories 300, sodium 530 mg, sugars 7 mg
  • Starbucks: calories 300, sodium 460 mg, sugars 8 mg
I have nothing against the calories. We all need them to survive. And when carbo loading for athletic activity, healthy calories are what we’re looking for. It’s the sodium that’s the problem. Based on average caloric intake and recommended sodium limits, we should be taking in very roughly about one milligram of sodium per calorie consumed. That means that any food containing significantly more milligrams of sodium than calories should be considered a high-sodium food. Thus, all of the bagels listed above are high in sodium. If a plain bagel can’t be low to moderate in sodium, what can? Anything you put on top of the bagel is likely to be high in sodium as well. One slice of cheese contains about 300 mg, 2 slices of cold-cuts have 600-800 mg. But the real dilemma is, if even a plain bagel is high in sodium, how can we possibly keep our sodium levels under control?

The best we can do is to carry our own snacks and energy foods that have healthy ingredients and low to moderate sodium levels. That means either using fresh fruits or buying products whose ingredient labels pass muster. And when we prepare dinner, we can use as many fresh ingredients as possible and use processed products like sauces and salad dressings that have reasonable sodium levels listed on their labels. Fruit juices are not recommended as a major energy source because of their high sugar content. The same goes for chocolate milk, which has recently been touted as a good recovery drink. Skim or 1% milk isn’t a bad alternative if one prefers a liquid rather than solid snack. A glass of 1% milk contains 102 calories, 107 mg of sodium, and 13 mg of natural sugars.

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