Beef jerky has been a non-perishable staple for centuries. It's found in hikers' backpacks and kitchen pantries alike. People enjoy the taste, but its nutrition value is impressive too.
Beef jerky is simply dried slices of beef. The "jerking" process is a way to preserve the meat and give it a long shelf life without refrigeration. In most cases, herbs, seasonings, or flavorings are added. Beef jerky can be healthy snack if you make it yourself or choose healthier brands.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a one-ounce serving of beef jerky has the following nutrition values:
- Calories: 116
- Fat grams: 7.26g (just over 3 saturated fat grams)
- Cholesterol: 14mg
- Sodium: 627g
- Protein: 9g
Beef jerky is generally a low-calorie, low-fat food, as well as a good source of protein. However, it doesn't fare as well for sodium. Salt is used to cure and preserve beef jerky, so it's a main ingredient. It only takes a few pieces to exceed the sodium recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 1,500 mg. If you're on a sodium-restricted diet or at risk of developing high blood pressure, avoid beef jerky or purchase lower-sodium brands. For example, Krave's Pineapple Orange Beef Jerky contains 250g of sodium per one ounce serving.
Beef jerky that uses leaner cuts of beef may be healthier option than jerky that does not if you are on a fat-restricted diet. Low-fat and fat-free beef jerky options are available; however, be cautious when purchasing low-fat versions. Additional sugar or sodium may be added to make up for the fat loss.
Vitamins and Minerals
Beef jerky is vitamin and mineral-rich. It's a good source of iron, zinc, and phosphorous. It's also rich in B vitamins and provides smaller amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and pantothenic acid.
Beef jerky in its purest form isn't high in sugar, coming in at about 2.5g per serving. However, some varieties, have added sugar, especially flavored brands. For example, Krave's Sweet Chipotle Beef Jerky has 9g of sugar per once ounce serving.
Homemade Versus Store-Bought
Store-bought versions of beef jerky typically have higher amounts of sodium and sugar than homemade, but it varies depending on the recipe you use and the brand you choose. In addition, store-bought jerky may contain artificial preservatives, flavorings, and chemical flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Homemade beef jerky is a great option if you're concerned about nutrition because you control the ingredients. According to the USDA, meat temperature is critical to eliminating dangerous bacteria such as E. coli when making homemade jerky. Besides taking basic food safety precautions, they recommend steaming or roasting meat to 165 degrees Farenheit before dehydrating. They also suggest using a dehydrator with an adjustable thermometer capable of maintaining a temperature of 130 - 140 degrees Farenheit throughout the drying process.
Read Labels Carefully
Overall, beef jerky makes a tasty, healthy snack when eaten in moderation, but not all beef jerky is created equal. All-natural options that are lower in sodium and sugar and contain no artificial ingredients are the best options. Since nutrition values differ significantly from brand to brand, read labels carefully to be sure you're getting the healthiest jerky possible.