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Is Beef Jerky Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Plate with spicy beef jerky on white background

Is Beef Jerky Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

When traveling, having portable, easy-to-access, and on-the-go snacks is important. Yet, consuming healthy foods is still at the forefront of many minds, especially parents! While there is no denying that beef jerky meets all the above criteria, the question remains: is beef jerky healthy? 

With the rise of low carbohydrate diets like keto, beef jerky can be a convenient way to consume plenty of nutrients, and it's easy! Just grab and go. This article is going to take a look at the science of beef jerky and the effect it may have on your health, good or bad. Let's take a look below. 

What is Beef Jerky? 

In a nutshell, beef jerky is a processed red lean meat that undergoes plenty of processing methods. It is conveniently sold as a snack food that is easy to grab and go, which is excellent when traveling! There are several flavors of beef jerky because the seasoning can be many types of sauces and spices. 

The word jerky comes from a Quechua word, Ch'arki, which means dried salted meat, which is precisely what beef jerky is. 

While beef jerky contains plenty of nutrients that benefit our bodies, it is a highly processed food that undergoes curing, smoking, and drying. With this information in mind, we will get into the question at hand: is beef jerky healthy? 

Beef jerky
Beef jerky is a quick and convenient snack to take on a road trip with you or keep in your pantry for the family.

©successo images/Shutterstock.com

Health Benefits of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky does contain valuable nutrients that benefit our health. These nutrients include iron, zinc, and protein. Let's take a look below at the health profile of beef jerky to gain a deeper understanding of the nutrients that it offers. 

  • Calories: Beef jerky has around 116 calories in one ounce. However, this will vary depending on the size. The calorie content is appealing as a snack that is easy to grab and eat. 
  • Protein: There are around 9.4 grams of protein in one ounce of beef jerky. Protein helps repair muscle and is vital to overall health. 
  • Fat: Healthy fats are great for aiding in lowering the chance of heart disease and controlling blood sugar. Beef jerky contains around 7.3 grams of fat. 
  • Carbohydrates: This nutrient is important because it gives our bodies energy. However, too much is not always a good thing. Beef jerky is low in carbohydrates, coming in around 3.1 grams in one ounce. 
  • Zinc: Beef jerky may also aid in supporting immune health. It contains 21% of the daily value of zinc, which helps our bodies fight viruses. 
  • Potassium: Our cells need fluid to function efficiently. Potassium aids our health by keeping fluid levels in our cells regular, reducing sodium effects, and helping maintain muscle contractions. 
  • Iron: This nutrient is vital because it helps produce hemoglobin. Our bodies need hemoglobin protein to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of our bodies. 

Low Carbohydrates and High Protein

Beef jerky is low in carbohydrates and high in protein, making it a good snack option for those who are on a low-carbohydrate diet or restriction. There are also the following nutrients and minerals in beef jerky that can benefit our overall health: 

  • Vitamin B12
  • Phosphorus
  • Folate
  • Copper
  • Choline
  • Selenium
  • Thiamine 
  • Magnesium
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Pantothenic acid 

Additionally, beef jerky has a long shelf life and is very portable. However, like most things, there are some downfalls to consuming beef jerky. 

Downfalls of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky may be high in nutrients that are beneficial to us, but there are a few downfalls that mean it is best eaten in moderation. 

  • For starters, beef jerky is high in sodium. A diet high in sodium can have adverse effects on our overall health, like increasing blood pressure as well as risks of heart issues and stroke. The amount of sodium in beef jerky is 22% of the daily value. 
  • Beef jerky also contains a higher amount of cholesterol, coming in at 14 mg. A diet that consists of high cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease, affecting blood vessels and arteries. 
  • Beef jerky is a highly processed food. With highly processed foods, some studies lean towards these products having a higher risk of cancer in those who consume them. Therefore, some people opt to reduce their consumption of processed foods significantly. 
  • It may contain mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are a fungus that can contaminate foods, especially meat, and increase the risk of developing cancer. 
  • It is processed red meat. While red meat comes with many health benefits. However, some studies point towards red meat consumption possibly contributing to several health conditions, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 
beef jerky and spice on old table
Beef jerky is a processed lean red meat. It also can come in numerous seasonings and sauces for a unique flavor.

©Jiri Hera/Shutterstock.com

Key Takeaways

  • Beef jerky contains plenty of nutrients that are excellent for our bodies. These nutrients include protein, zinc, iron, and potassium.
  • It is a convenient and easy snack found in most gas stations and grocery stores. This makes it easy to grab and go. 
  • Beef jerky is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, making it a go-to snack for those on diets such as paleo and keto. 
  • It is high in sodium, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Beef jerky is also highly processed and red meat. These two factors may have a link to the risk of certain conditions such as cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. 
  • There is a possibility that beef jerky may contain mycotoxins, fungi that can contaminate food. Consuming too many mycotoxins can lead to adverse health issues.

So, Is Beef Jerky Healthy? 

The question remains: is beef jerky healthy? While it may be tempting to grab several of these easy and portable snacks, it may be more beneficial for your overall health to opt for whole and unprocessed foods. While there are several nutrients that beef jerky can give us, such as iron and potassium, beef jerky is a highly processed, lean, red meat. 

 Considering that the risk of adverse health conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, increases when red meat and processed foods are consumed, there are healthier options to choose from. The answer to the question depends on what side of the coin you are looking at. Beef jerky has a ton of beneficial nutrients, such as protein, iron, and zinc, that we need daily. However, beef jerky also undergoes plenty of processing as red meat, and one should eat it in moderation.  

How to Make Beef Jerky At Home For a Healthier Version

If you love beef jerky and want to try your hand at making it in your own home to skip all the high processing, this method is for you!

First, grab the ingredients you will need. These include:

  • The type of steak you want to use: some people swear by sirloin steak, others prefer flank steak.
  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • Worcester sauce
  • Honey
  • Desired seasonings. Some great ones to use are salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and paprika.

Next, grab the tools you need; these include a baking sheet and a wire rack to place on top.

Place the steak in the freezer and keep it there for at least an hour. You want the steak to be cold enough to cut easily. After an hour, take the steaks out of the freezer and cut them into thin slices. Do this while cutting against the grain.

Place the sauce ingredients and seasoning in a ziplock bag and mix together. Then, add the steak strips, closing the ziplock. Make sure to squeeze all the air out! Add the steak strips to marinate for 30 minutes to several hours.

When you are ready to make the beef jerky, preheat the oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit, then squeeze all the extra juice out of the steak strips with a paper towel. Next, place the wire rack on the baking sheet and put the steak strips on top of the rack. Next, put the baking sheet into an oven. You will want to cook for four hours or until the steak is leathery, with the oven door slightly cracked for the moisture to escape. After cooking, take it out of the oven and enjoy your homemade beef jerky!

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