Beef jerky is snack-sized seasoned and dried meat. It provides protein, zinc and other minerals and nutrients essential for overall health.
While it’s a filling option on the go, beef jerky also tends to be high in sodium. It is considered processed red meat, which may have some health disadvantages. Because of this, some people may want to limit eating it often or be mindful of portion sizes and preparation.
This article provides an overview of the nutritional benefits of beef jerky, with information on the ideal portion size and who should avoid it.
Beef Jerky Snacking: healthy or not?
Foods low in carbohydrates, high in protein and rich in essential minerals are considered by some nutritionists to be suitable snacks and food choices. The nutritional profile of Beef Jerky fits this description. But this snack also contains a lot of not so useful minerals, which is not ideal when it comes to certain health problems and risks.
A big plus of beef jerky is that it’s packed with protein, with a 1-ounce serving of jerky meeting nearly 10% of the daily protein benchmark of most healthy adults.
Protein helps the body repair and develop cells that keep your muscles, bones and other organs healthy. The body cannot produce certain essential amino acids (building blocks of proteins), so it must get them from food. Protein from animal sources (such as beef) and soy contain all nine essential amino acids.
The amount of essential mineral zinc in beef jerky is a bonus. Zinc helps support the immune system and energy levels. The body tends to absorb it well from animal sources, such as beef jerky.
Beef jerky is also a good source of iron. Iron is needed to produce hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. This can make beef jerky an especially useful snack for people concerned about iron deficiency.
A notable disadvantage is that beef jerky can contain a lot of sodium (salt). Most adults in the United States consume too much salt. For example, a standard 1-ounce serving of beef jerky contains 505 milligrams (mg) of sodium, which is about 20% of the daily recommended sodium intake for most healthy adults.
Too much sodium can lead to water retention, which causes bloating, weight gain and possibly a risk for other health problems such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis (progressive bone thinning), kidney stones and an enlarged heart.
Beef jerky is a form of processed red meat. Some studies have suggested a link between consumption of this type of meat and the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Other evidence shows that red meat can cause high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) and may be better replaced with plant-based protein options.
What Are Better Choices for Beef Jerky?
The type of beef jerky you choose often depends on nutritional and taste preferences. But you can also take these factors into account:
- Low-sodium beef jerky is commercially available. Look for jerky with less than 140 mg per ounce. Check portion size to ensure this is met. Low sodium jerky recipes and packaged treatments are also available. Make sure you follow the directions strictly for food safety.
- Some types of beef jerky are naturally fermented. They are marinated in a live culture of “good” acid-producing bacteria instead of using encapsulated citric acid or lactic acid to increase the acidity of the meat and inhibit the growth of unwanted bacteria. Fermentation can add flavor to the jerky.
- Terminology can also help you determine if binders or extenders have been added. Products labeled “beef jerky” are produced from a single strip of beef and contain no binders or extenders. “Beef jerky chopped and shaped,” “beef jerky ground and shaped,” or “beef jerky chopped and shaped” are shaped and shaped before being cut into strips and may contain binders or extenders.
How Beef Jerky is Made
Beef jerky is prepared by drying (dehydrating) lean cuts of meat. It can be purchased at the store or made at home.
Commercially prepared beef jerky is produced through a variety of processes and can be dried, smoked and air or oven dried. It can be made from a single piece of beef or formed from chunks or ground beef and then cut into strips. The facilities are federally inspected to ensure safety.
Making beef jerky at home carries the risk of failing to kill bacteria, which can lead to illness Salmonella or Escherichia coli (E.coli). Drying the strips in a food dehydrator (usually at 130 to 140 degrees F) does not sufficiently kill these bacteria. The meat should be heated to 160 degrees F (preferably before drying) to ensure it is safe.
Methods for making beef jerky at home include marinating (preferably in the refrigerator), heating meat strips to 160 degrees F, and then drying them. Different types of herbs can be used. It is less safe to dry the meat strips first and then heat them in an oven at 160 degrees F, as this is not as effective at killing the bacteria.
Homemade beef jerky should be properly packaged and stored in a cool, dry place for up to one to two months. Commercially produced beef jerky is stable for up to one year under proper storage conditions.
Additionally, jerky can be made from other sources, such as turkey, chicken, venison, bison and more.
Shouldn’t Someone Eat Beef Jerky?
Most adults in the United States consume too much sodium, but an occasional beef jerky snack is usually not harmful.
That said, there are people who might consider avoiding beef jerky because of the sodium, including:
Pregnant people should contact a health care provider before eating beef jerky because of the health risks associated with high sodium consumption and the potential for infection from E.coli and other bacteria.
Because some store-bought beef jerky may contain added ingredients, anyone allergic to meat, soy or gluten should check the ingredient labels before consuming jerky.
Sodium Nitrate in Beef Jerky
Beef jerky also usually contains a lot of sodium nitrate. These compounds are often added to processed foods to help preserve them and give them a salty taste.
Research has shown that consuming these additives can lead to a risk of developing high blood pressure and some types of cancer. However, it is likely that other environmental and genetic factors also play a role.
That’s why most experts recommend limiting eating processed foods like beef jerky, hot dogs and lunch meat.
Serving Size of Beef Jerky
A standard serving of beef jerky may be 1 ounce (28 grams). This is approximately 100 calories per serving.
Although this snack can be beneficial due to its high nutrient content, it is still a good idea to consume beef jerky in moderation whenever possible. Nutritionists and experts generally recommend foods that are whole and not processed to meet dietary needs for protein, zinc, iron and other essential nutrients.
Beef jerky is a hearty, high-protein, low-carb snack that is packed with other essential minerals and is nutritious in moderation. But because it is a processed meat with a high sodium content, it may not be the best choice for some people if you snack regularly. Consult a healthcare provider before using beef jerky if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, a meat allergy, or are pregnant.