You’re in the kitchen, grabbing some snacks before you and your significant other settle into the couch to watch a movie or TV show. A cold beer, check; some popcorn, check; a bag of beef jerky, check.
You usually have this delicious snack since it’s so tasty and convenient. But have you ever stopped to think: is beef jerky healthy?
To answer your burning question, we’ll have to take a closer look at this morsel.
What Exactly Is Beef Jerky?
You probably think beef jerky is just a hunk of meat, but you’d only be half right. There’s actually a whole process to get the meat from a cow and turn it into this delectable piece you’re holding.
First, lean cuts of beef are cut into thin strips, then marinated in a curing salt solution. After they’ve been cured, the manufacturer then prepares the jerky with their unique spice rubs or liquid. Lastly, the strips are smoked at low heat to produce what you see in the packages.
Jerky is a great snack to have because it doesn’t require any refrigeration and it has a long shelf life, thanks to its preservation through curing. But is it actually good to have? Let’s take a look.
Is Beef Jerky Healthy?
Now that we know a few details about beef jerky, let’s take a look at each component.
In a portion that’s 1 ounce, there are around 100 calories in beef jerky. This makes it a good snack to have when you’re hungry, as it has a decent calorie content. It’s certainly better than eating a sugary cupcake that’s over 300 calories and won’t keep you satiated for very long!
In beef jerky, you’ll find both saturated and monounsaturated fat. While monounsaturated fats are of the “healthy” type, saturated is not.
Unfortunately, the majority of fats found in beef jerky are of the saturated type. Having too much of this snack can increase your chances of heart disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
Beef jerky really shines when it comes to carbs. In a 1-ounce piece, you’ll find just 2 or 3 grams of it. Since jerky has both low fats and carbs, it’s a good choice to pick when you need to satisfy your empty stomach but are watching your weight.
Other snacks are processed foods, meaning they may fill you up quickly, but also have you feeling hungry quickly as well. As a low-carb option, beef jerky will fill you up without you feeling bloated or weighed down.
Protein is an important substance when you need to have lots of energy throughout the day. Beef jerky is rich in protein, which means when you need some fuel during a low-energy point of your day, all you need is to eat a piece and you’ll be ready to go again.
While beef jerky performs alright or even excellent in other categories, sadly, it falls flat when it comes to sodium. Since a large quantity of salt is used in the curing process, beef jerky will have more sodium content than a lot of other snacks.
Adults should only have 2,300 mg of sodium a day; a serving of jerky can contain almost 600 mg of salt. If you regularly consume excessive quantities of sodium, this can increase your chances of high blood pressure, stroke, and other health problems. Because of this, you probably shouldn’t eat beef jerky as a meal every day.
Iron and Zinc
These two minerals play key parts in your immune system; without them, you’d feel lethargic and won’t heal as quickly. You can find plenty of iron and zinc in beef, which means you’ll get a healthy dose of both minerals when you chew on some beef jerky.
Unfortunately, some brands out there put additives in their products. While beef jerky can last a while due to the curing process, some companies want to further extend the shelf life of their products and put things like MSG and sodium nitrite so the flavors and colors stay strong as your jerky sits in your pantry.
MSG has a decent amount of sodium in it, so combined with the salt content, your sodium levels may shoot through the roof. Also, some people have MSG senstivities, so if you’re one of those people, you might want to search for an MSG-free product, such as LOL Jerky.
The great thing about sodium nitrite is it can fight off bacteria growth, which means your jerky would be less susceptible to contamination and spoiling. However, in high quantities, it can possibly cause cancer. So to be safe, you should look for beef jerky that doesn’t have MSG or sodium nitrite.
Some Other Factors to Consider
While red meat comes with some health benefits, there’s some indication that diets with this type of meat can increase your chances of certain types of cancer. So if you already eat a diet high in red meat, you might want to think about cutting back, including on jerky.
Also, some lower quality beef jerky products are made from a mix of cows, usually scraps. You’ll want to do your research and purchase from companies that use only good quality meat.
Choose Your Beef Jerky Wisely
So is beef jerky healthy? It can be, if you make the right choices. By sticking to brands that use all-natural and high-quality ingredients, it can be a much better choice than a bag of potato chips.
Plus, the key thing is moderation. Obviously, if you stuff yourself with 10 bags of beef jerky at once, that might not be the most wholesome thing for you. But if you just eat a little of a bag at a time, any negative effects on your health are sure to be negligible.
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