Is beef jerky healthy? Here’s what a nutritionist wants you to know about the popular snack


With the popularity of paleo and keto diets, and consumer interest in protein, beef jerky has become more popular than ever. The category has grown from a few, long-standing mainstream brands to a wide range of options, available not only at gas stations and convenience stores, but also in health food stores and farmer’s markets. As for how safe this portable snack is, a lot of it depends on how it’s made. Here’s what you need to know, including what the research says and why reading labels is essential.

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a piece of cake: The ingredient list is an important place to look when it comes to evaluating the safety of beef jerky.

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The ingredient list is an important place to look when evaluating the safety of beef jerky.

The nutrition of beef jerky

The nutritional value of jerky beef can vary by brand, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) database, a 1-ounce serving provides 116 calories, 9 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, and 3 grams of fat. grams of carbohydrates. It also contains 15% of the daily value of zinc which supports the immune system; 11% for phosphorus, a mineral necessary for energy production and cell repair; and 8% for iron, which helps carry oxygen around the body. These key minerals, along with the fact that it is a convenient, non-perishable source of protein, are some of the benefits of beef jerky.

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Beef jerky and sodium

Jerky beef is generally quite high in sodium. A 1-ounce serving can contain almost 20% of the daily sodium limit recommended for adults. According to the American Heart Association, nine in 10 Americans consume too much sodium, which can increase water retention, potentially leading to swelling, bloating and weight gain. The organization also says that over time, excess sodium can increase the risk of various health problems, including an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and kidney stones.

Beef jerky is processed red meat

Much like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, beef jerky is a form of processed red meat. In 2020, researchers looked at the relationship between eating red and processed meat and cancer risk. In their article, they wrote that a “significant and consistent” body of epidemiological research demonstrates associations between these foods and the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

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If you decide to eat processed meat, the American Cancer Research Institute, which provides scientific information on cancer prevention and survival through diet, recommends eating very little. And if you do decide to eat red meat, the group says to limit your intake “to no more than three servings per week or about 12 to 18 ounces (cooked)”.

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Beef jerky ingredients

When evaluating any packaged food, including beef jerky, the first and most important thing to consider is the list of ingredients. You may be surprised to discover common allergens, such as soybeans; barley malt extract (a source of gluten); and preservatives, like sodium nitrite, which the Mayo Clinic says can increase the risk of narrower, harder arteries and heart disease.

While you can buy products that are nitrite free, keep in mind that they will probably still be quite high in sodium. Otherwise, look for simple, recognizable ingredients. And consider options that are both USDA certified organic and grass-fed, such as Organic Valley Mighty Organic 100% Grass-Fed Dried Beef Sticks ($ 45 for a 24-pack, amazon .com); they are made from organic grass-fed beef, organic honey, sea salt, organic spices, organic garlic powder, cultured celery juice powder and starter culture. encapsulated lactic acid.

Plant alternatives

Short-term studies have shown the benefits of replacing red meat with vegetable protein in reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol and other heart risk factors. So if you’re trying to eat less meat but love jerky, then there are a variety of plant-based options to choose from now. One of my personal favorites is the Mushroom Jerky, which offers a comparable umami texture and taste. The one I like is the Pan’s Original Mushroom Jerky ($ 11, Although it provides only 1 gram of protein per serving and 7 grams of fat and is higher in total carbohydrates (16 grams), it also contains 6 grams of fiber, or 21% of the daily goal. . Pan’s also contains 45% of the Daily Value of Vitamin D, a key nutrient needed for immune function and bone health; and fun fact: mushrooms are actually the only plant source of this vital nutrient. Pan’s Mushroom Jerky also contains only 8% of the Daily Value for sodium per 3 tbsp serving. The simple ingredients include organic dried shiitake mushrooms, water, avocado oil, organic coconut sugar, pink Himalayan salt, and organic chia seeds. Other herbal options include jerky made from dried jackfruit or coconut.

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At the end of the line

As a nutritionist, I wouldn’t call beef jerky a “healthy food”. This is due to its high sodium content and categorization as processed red meat. However, if jerky beef is on your personal must-try list, consider it an occasional treat. When you eat it, balance its high sodium content with plenty of plant-based foods that are naturally low in sodium; and consider snacking on mushrooms or other varieties of plants more often.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Healtheditor-in-chief of nutrition, a New York Times Best-selling author and performance nutritionist in private practice who has been a consultant for five professional sports teams.

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