Beef jerky is said to be a high-protein, low-carb, and moderate-calorie snack but is beef jerky actually healthy? Here is a review of beef jerky; what it is, how it’s made, the nutrition facts and health benefits of beef jerky, and things to consider when buying beef jerky.
What is Beef Jerky?
Beef jerky is made from lean beef meat that has been cut into strips and dried to create a shelf-stable form of meat. The word jerky is actually derived from the word “charqui” (ch’arki), which describes dried meat strips, jerky may be produced using a combination of curing, smoking, and drying procedures. (1)
Traditionally, jerky was made from the sun, wind, and smoke of fire as a method to preserve meat without refrigeration. Today, most jerky products are made from a combination of curing, smoking, and drying procedures, and are often flavored with a mixture of seasonings.
Beef Jerky Nutrition and Benefits
Beef jerky is predominantly a source of protein with a moderate amount of fat and very little carbohydrate, sugar, and fiber. On average, one ounce (28 grams) of beef jerky contains (2):
- Calories: 116
- Fat: 7.3 grams
- Protein: 9.4 grams
- Carbohydrates: 3.2 grams
- Sugar: 2.6 grams
- Fiber: 0.5 grams
In addition to being a high-protein and low-carb food, beef jerky is also rich in many vitamins and minerals. Per one-ounce (28 grams) serving, beef jerky contains (2):
- Zinc: 21% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin B12: 12 % of the DV
- Phosphorus: 9% of the DV
- Folate: 9% of the DV
- Iron: 8% of the DV
- Copper: 7% of the DV
- Choline: 6% of the DV
- Selenium: 5% of the DV
- Potassium: 4% of the DV
- Thiamine: 4% of the DV
- Magnesium: 3% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 3% of the DV
- Niacin: 3% of the DV
The exact macronutrient and micronutrient composition of beef jerky will vary based on the cut of meat and seasonings used.
Benefits of Beef Jerky
High in Protein
Made with lean cuts of meat, beef jerky is high in protein while being low in carbohydrates and moderate in fat. A mere one-ounce serving of jerky contains 9 grams of protein, while it only contains 3 grams of carbohydrates and 2.5 grams of sugar.
Low in Sugar
Compared to many other portable snacks, beef jerky is very low in sugar. Although some brands do contain added sugar, on average, a one-ounce serving of jerky contains a mere 2 grams of sugar, which is far less than the average granola bar, flavored yogurt, or trail mix.
Rich in Micronutrients
In addition to being high in protein, beef jerky is also a dense source of micronutrients, especially zinc, vitamin B12, phosphorus, folate, and iron.
One of the biggest benefits of beef jerky is its convenience. Given its dehydrated and, therefore, shelf-stable, beef jerky is a convenient and portable no-cook protein source and makes a great snack for travel, hiking, camping, or other instances when refrigeration is not an option.
Other Things to Consider
Because it’s cured, jerky is high in sodium. Although brands will vary, on average, a one-ounce serving of jerky contains 506 milligrams of sodium, or roughly 22% of the recommended daily amount, which is 2,300mg per day. (3)(4) Whenever possible, look for brands and flavors with lower sodium content.
Beef jerky is considered a processed form of red meat and some studies have found a correlation between the consumption of red meat and processed meat and higher risks of heart disease and cancer. (5)(6)(7)(8)(9) However, the studies on processed meat consumption are all observational in nature and, therefore, simply show that people who eat processed meat are more likely to get these diseases, they can not prove that processed meat caused them. In general, the evidence that links both processed and unprocessed meat to disease is weak and low certainty.
It’s also important to consider the ingredients used to make beef jerky. Although brands will vary widely, some may also contain unnecessary additives or common food allergens, such as soy or gluten, which may be of concern to some individuals.
Is Beef Jerky Good For Weight Loss?
Beef jerky can certainly be consumed as part of an effective weight-loss strategy. Protein helps to boost satiety hormones and reduce hunger hormones and increase the body’s thermic effect of food, which have all been shown to be beneficial for weight loss. (10)(11)(12) When total calories are controlled for and when consumed in a calorie deficit, beef jerky is a high-protein snack that can help to support a goal of weight loss.
Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Snack?
Beef jerky is most definitely a healthy snack. Portable, high in protein, and low in sugar, beef jerky is a nutritious and very convenient healthy snack and is a great option whether you are at home, at the office, or on the go.
How to Pick a Healthy Beef Jerky
Here are a few tips to consider when buying beef jerky:
- Read the Ingredients: Be sure to read the ingredients and look for options with real food ingredients such as beef, salt, and spices.
- Look for a High Protein Content: Look for options with the highest protein content per serving, and lower fat and carbohydrate content.
- Aim for a Lower Fat Content: Although not essential, opting for jerky made from leaner cuts of beef can help to keep total fat content, and therefore calorie content down, making it a more optimal choice when looking to support a goal of weight loss.
- Keep it Low Sodium: While salt is an essential ingredient in jerky production, consumed in excess it is less than ideal. Look for options with less than 500mg of sodium per one-ounce serving.
- Look for Less Sugar: While small amounts of sugar can add texture and taste, it’s best to limit it overall. Look for options with less than 3 grams of sugar per one-ounce serving.
Although it may not work perfectly every time, simply make the best choice with the options that are available.
Alternatives to Beef Jerky
In addition to beef, jerky can be made out of a wide variety of proteins. While the most popular options include beef, pork, and turkey, jerky can also be made from bison, elk, venison, and fish such as salmon and tuna. All of the options are highly nutritious choices and great alternatives to a classic beef jerky if you’re looking for a variety of jerky options.
The Bottom Line
Beef jerky is a high-protein and nutrient-rich snack that can most certainly be included in a healthy diet. Although beef jerky can be made at home, it is a portable and convenient snack that you can also find in grocery and convenience stores. When buying beef jerky, be sure to read the ingredients list and nutrition label and look for options made of whole foods that are higher in protein and lower in sodium.