Creating the perfect bagel is an art form rivaled only by the quest for said bagel. Bruegger’s seems to have earned a solid following in Washington for coming close enough. With 25 bagel choices (depending on the location) and lots of opportunities to mix and match, it’s a pretty convenient place to grab a filling lunch.
But according to this week’s expert, registered dietitian Rose Clifford, “the thing with bagels is that they’re so dense and weigh so much that it’s like eating four or five slices of bread.” That, plus the high levels of sodium in most deli-style eats, makes this menu a challenge to navigate.
However, Clifford says you can still create decent lunches at this sandwich shop. “I love bagels, but I suggest eating them only occasionally.” Here’s what to watch out for when you do decide stop by Bruegger’s.
• Worst—Ham on honey wheat: Don’t let the honey wheat fool you; although this sandwich is only 540 calories, the 2,430 milligrams of sodium makes it off-limits.
• Best built: We asked Clifford to help us build a tasty and wholesome bagel sandwich and she gave us a few tips. Start with a skinny whole wheat bagel, which “reduces the [bagel’s] calories by a third and gives you a little fiber,” she says. Add any of the light cream cheeses and any of the fresh vegetables (skip the brined ones, such as pickles and jalapeños). Choose roast beef or turkey for meat—though high in sodium, they’re comparatively your best bet—and if you want cheese, stick to the natural ones, such as Swiss. “American cheese is the worst choice—it has the most fat and most sodium,” she says.
• Worst—Four cheese and tomato: This cheesy meal on grilled white bread clocks in at 630 calories, but that’s not the worst part—it’s also 80 percent of your day’s worth of saturated fat (16 grams). “Saturated fat really does cardiovascular harm,” Clifford says. “It’s not so much the cholesterol or total fat in food but the saturated fat that makes your liver produce more cholesterol.”
• Better—Turkey, artichoke, and mozzarella: Although high in sodium (as is just about everything at Bruegger’s), this sandwich is pretty tame. With 520 calories, 14 grams of total fat (5 saturated), and 36 grams of protein, this sandwich makes a decent lunch. This item is only at select locations, however, so if it’s unavailable near you, you might want to try a signature sandwich instead, because . . .
• Best—Undecided: “I really couldn’t find a best,” our expert explains. The panini are mostly comparable in terms of their calorie counts, fat, sodium, and the like (with a few reaching excessive levels). Clifford says, “I’m hesitant to choose. I’d make my panini at home.”
• Worst—Roma roast beef: Roast beef slices, asiago and provolone, sundried-tomato mayo, green peppers, tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette atop “hearty” white bread—it sounds delicious, but it’s a lot for one sandwich. It clocks in at 750 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat, and almost a day’s worth of sodium, meaning you’d have to pare down this meal quite a bit to make it healthy.
• Better—Tarragon chicken salad: If you like your sandwiches jam-packed, here’s a better way to do it. This sandwich includes almonds, fresh veggies, and lean chicken, and if you swap the bread for a whole wheat option, you can shave off some of the 640 calories.
• Best—Thai peanut chicken: “It’s lower in fat, has light plain cream cheese, lettuce, cucumbers, and sprouts, and it has the best nutrition profile out of all the sandwiches,” our expert explains.
As far as the bagels themselves go, these bulky breads need to be chosen carefully. Stay away from the salt bagel and the ones with cheese baked in (especially the hefty jalapeño cheddar, which is 450 calories and 650 milligrams of sodium on its own).
Clifford also says the condiments are “not too bad,” and that if you peruse the menu properly and look at the nutrition information, you can make a lunch choice that’s right for you.
“You can eat bagels,” Clifford says, “but you have to be aware of how much you’re eating. And make choices with your full day in mind.”