Beef jerky is the perfect salty road trip snack. It comes in a variety of flavors (homemade teriyaki jerky, anyone?) and has a long shelf life. It’s also a popular work-from-home snack because of its high protein and low carb content.
But a lot of people wonder: Is beef jerky healthy? Well, the answer is complicated…
Beef Jerky Benefits
Beef jerky is a protein powerhouse, with over 6 grams of protein per serving to fill you up without weighing you down. It’s made from lean cuts of beef that have been dried and cured, and they are usually marinated in seasonings beforehand. These lean cuts are low in fat and carbs. One large piece of beef jerky has about 82 calories, 2.2 grams of carbs, 5.1 grams of fat and 6.6 grams of protein.
In addition to being a good source of lean protein, beef jerky is rich in iron, folate, calcium and vitamins A and C. Because it’s been preserved, beef jerky is a convenient on-the-go snack and can easily be tossed in a work bag for snacking emergencies.
Is Beef Jerky Good for You?
While beef jerky is chock-full of health benefits, it has its share of downsides as well. Because of the curing process, it’s high in sodium with 443 milligrams in one serving (about 18% of the recommended daily total).
The American Cancer Society recommends limiting your intake of red and processed meats like beef jerky. That’s because the World Health Organization has concluded that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day (about 2 to 3 large pieces of jerky) increases your risk for colon cancer by 18%. Eating that much red meat every day can also up your risk for pancreatic and prostate cancers.
The bottom line: Yes, beef jerky can be part of your healthy diet, but it isn’t an everyday food.
How to Find Healthy Beef Jerky
The best way to find healthier beef jerky options is to be a food label expert. First, look for no added nitrites or nitrates; those are the preservatives that prevent bacteria growth but have been linked to certain types of cancer. Next, look for grass-fed, organic beef; this will give you more vitamins and minerals without the extra antibiotics and fillers.
If you’re up for a project, try making your own beef jerky so you know exactly what ingredients are being used. No time to make your own from scratch? Try these healthy brands of store-bought jerky.