Beef jerky is one of our favorite snacks because it's easy to pack and delicious, but it can't be good for us, right? We wondered ourselves whether beef jerky is a healthy snack option, and were surprised by what we learned. It turns out that beef jerky can be good for you, but choosing the best beef jerky is the important thing. There are lots of factors impacting the healthiness of beef jerky. Today we'll tell you about the benefits and drawbacks to beef jerky as a snack.
What is Beef Jerky?
Many people picture those strange plastic packs of thin dried meat at a gas station when they think of beef jerky. While we admit to buying our fair share of that stuff, it's not the best stuff out there. Beef jerky comes in all sizes and flavors, but what is it exactly?
Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Snack?
Because beef jerky is made from thin-sliced, lean cuts of meat, it's low in saturated fat and provides high protein along with other vitamins and minerals. It's also high in sodium and many flavors include a significant amount of sweeteners. Because of that, a lot of people wonder "is beef jerky healthy?" To get to the bottom of whether beef jerky is healthy or not, we turned to our friends over at the United States Department of Agriculture, the government agency responsible for food safety and nutrition labels.
Is Beef Jerky Good for You?
The USDA states that a 100 gram serving of beef jerky contains around 30 grams of protein. Compare that to hard-boiled eggs, a food source that's considered to be a protein powerhouse and you see a major difference. Two eggs equals about 100 grams of total weight, but contains only 12 grams of protein, less than half what a similar sized portion of jerky provides.
Jerky also contains a good amount of vitamins and minerals that are essential for health. In particular, beef jerky is high in calcium, iron, and magnesium. Vitamins including B6 and B12 are also present, but in smaller amounts. These are essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
There are numerous health benefits to jerky, primarily for people who are on the move or looking for a quick and easy solution to adding protein and vitamins to your diet.
Is Jerky Bad for You?
But what about fat? The USDA tells us that our 100 gram serving of beef jerky contains about 10 grams of saturated fat, while a similar portion of egg contains only about 3 grams. Saturated fat can raise your levels of bad cholesterol, so it's one of those nutrition elements you need to watch. The American Heart Association recommends that a person consuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet should limit saturated fat to around 13 grams per day.
Salt is another one of the main elements that you need to pay attention to for a healthy diet, particularly for individuals suffering from high blood pressure. It's no secret that jerky is a high salt item. But, how high exactly is the salt content of beef jerky? Our buddies at USDA filled us in on how much salt is in an average piece of jerky. It turns out that the salt content is really high – 1,750 mg of sodium per serving, which is nearly the recommended limit for an entire day's worth of eating.
So, beef jerky has some benefits as a healthy source of protein, but the high sodium content and fat mean that beef jerky shouldn't be a primary snack source.
How Many Calories in Beef Jerky?
A calorie is a unit of measurement that relates to the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree. We count calories when dieting because limiting caloric intake is thought to promote weight loss. Obviously, it's more complex than that, but for dieters who need to keep count of calories, it's necessary to know how many calories are in beef jerky. The USDA says that a 100 gram serving contains 410 calories. You can see that only a few pieces of beef jerky can easily push you over the caloric limit for your diet.
Other Less Healthy Ingredients
One significant issue you'll find when you start looking at labels on commercially produced beef jerky is the broad range of ingredients. Some flavors will include lots of sugar, which makes the jerky less healthy. Many products are also filled with a wide range of unnatural and potentially harmful ingredients like preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and questionable seasonings.
How Much Beef Jerky is Too Much?
Beef jerky makes an easy, portable snack that provides good nutrition, but if you rely on beef jerky as a primary source of nutrients, your likely to have some negative effects on your health. Livestrong.com points out that diets high in dried meat can lead to rapid weight gain and heart problems.
Rather than relying on beef jerky, it should be one of many snack options. Compliment beef jerky with dried fruits and vegetables, for example, and you'll get a more balanced snacking diet. Jerky is certainly better than a junk food snack, but you should limit your consumption to just a few pieces per day.
The History of Beef Jerky
The term "jerky" originates from the Incan Empire where thin-sliced alpaca and llama meat was salted and dried over a low fire. Spanish Conquistadors brought the word North with them where Native Americans pronounced it as Jerky. High protein beef jerky was an important invention for our nomadic ancestors. Jerky allowed people to stay well-fed on long journeys thousands of years before the invention of refrigeration.
How is Beef Jerky Made?
Beef jerky is made by drying salted, thin-sliced lean meat at a low temperature. It's important to use lean meat because the fat will not preserve and will turn rancid. Salt is used to extract moisture and prevent bacterial growth.
Jerky can be made in a smoker or in a special jerky maker. You can even make jerky in the oven. The key is low heat. Making jerky at home is a ton of fun, and if you haven't tried it, you should check out our YouTube video to see how we do it.
Traditional jerky was simply salted, dried meat. It had a long shelf life and was easy to carry around, but it didn't taste very good. Modern jerky makers marinade the thin-sliced beef before drying to add delicious flavor. A marinade allows you to salt and flavor in one step which makes the whole process easier.
What Kind of Beef Jerky is Healthiest?
When you go to a store, the selection of beef jerky can be overwhelming. There are lots of jerky brands, and all types of flavor combinations. Jerky can be made from whole strips of beef, ground and pressed beef, or made into smoked sticks. Finding healthy jerky can be a challenge, but by reading labels, you'll be able to make good choices.
Even better than trying to find high-quality jerky in the store, you should try making it yourself. You can use lean cuts of beef, like top of the round or even flank. Making it yourself allows you to chose to start with grass fed beef, then use all-natural ingredients and seasonings like those from the Bearded Butchers, and dry your healthy jerky in your oven, smoker, or food dehydrator.
How Long is Beef Jerky Good For?
Commercially prepared beef jerky often has preservatives and it's made under strict controls established by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. Commercial jerky is usually shelf-stable for up to 12 months. Making jerky at home is a lot of fun and really easy, plus it lets you make unique flavors you won't find in the store. In general, your homemade beef jerky should be consumed within one month.
Stick to Jerky With Only a Few Ingredients
While beef jerky can be a healthy snack, it shouldn't be a primary source of protein and vitamins. You should include other healthy options, particularly dried fruits, vegetables, and nuts to get a high-quality snack that's low carb and good for you. The best beef jerky is going to have few ingredients.
The best way to get high-quality beef jerky is to make it at home. Jerky is a fun thing to make, and something we enjoy doing as a family. It's a great way to preserve meat, and all the fun flavors that are possible make the entire process something the entire family can enjoy.