Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Snack?

Thanks to decades of effective advertising campaigns, beef jerky tends to evoke certain mental imagery: stereotypically masculine men wearing flannel (the manliest of clothing), driving their big trucks to camping or hunting sites, ripping apart the thick, tough meat with their teeth.

two bags of public goods beef jerky, water canteen, map, swiss army knife, flashlight, wooden table

Brands such as Jack Link’s have emphasized some of the product’s qualities, including its portability, taste and the fact that it’s a filling meat that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Beef jerky has been a staple in the military and space exploration because it is a source of protein that can survive harsh environments and last for weeks without spoiling.

It doesn’t exactly scream healthy.

Unfortunately this reputation is justified. The most recognizable brands of beef jerky pump their products full of unhealthy ingredients such as nitrates.

My friends and I used to think of beef jerky as the meat version of a cheap dessert. It was what we picked up at a gas station during a road trip. Often store managers would place the bags right next to Twinkies and Yodels.

I perceived the product as inherently bad for you. Like donuts, I thought there was no health value, only degrees of unhealthiness.

It seems like other men from my generation had a similar perception.

“My first memories of jerky are of Slim Jims (not the round meat sticks, they actually made flat jerky strips), so I wasn’t exactly starting with a quality product,” said Miles, who recently tested brands of beef jerky as part of a food product development effort.

That’s why I was surprised to learn that beef jerky can be a healthy snack, and that an increasing number of brands are marketing it as part of a healthy diet. After all, it is an excellent source of protein, as well as minerals such as iron and zinc. Like other types of meat, it’s all about the ingredients and how the product is made.

If you are in the market for a healthy brand of beef jerky, here’s what to look for and what to avoid:

What to Look For

  • Organic beef: minimal processing, grass-fed, organic certification
  • Simple ingredients: beef, sugar, water, salt, etc.

What to Avoid

  • Processed beef
  • Unhealthy ingredients: nitrates, artificial preservatives
  • Excessive sugar (6 grams or more) or sodium (more than 350 milligrams)

Why Beef Jerky As a Healthy Snack Is Becoming More Popular

Beef jerky ads often imply that enjoying the good is like biting into a little piece of America. It’s true that beef jerky is one of those classic American staples, but not in the way you might think.

Many centuries ago Native Americans developed beef jerky by drying strips of meat and adding them to pieces of crushed dried fruit or animal fat. Today’s healthy version of beef jerky is more similar to its natural roots, not the processed junk in gas stations.

It is possible that healthy brands of beef jerky have experienced a recent boon because of how they align with popular dieting, exercise and lifestyle trends. The paleo and ketogenic diets suggest eating foods that are rich in protein, low in carbs and high in fat. Beef jerky is a lean meat that meets these requirements. It seems to be a favorite among bodybuilders and other frequent gym users who need to quickly ingest large amounts of protein.

Personal trainer Chris Clyde said, “I definitely think beef jerky can be considered and utilized as a healthy snack.” While traveling Clyde likes to bring a healthy brand of jerky as a convenient protein source.

If you want a healthy snack that will quickly fill you up when you’re short on time or need something on the go, try a brand of beef jerky that has a simple list of ingredients and minimal processing. It’s OK if you don’t have a truck or aren’t into outdoor adventures.

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Comments (8)

  • You guys had me until the beef jerky product. Animal products are massively destructive to our environment and our kids’ future. Making them “healthy” misses the point. Hopefully, your market will get you out of this cruel, unhealthy and environmentally damaging line of business.

    • Hi Patrick,

      I’m sorry the news was disappointing for you. We are trying our best to be both inclusive and sustainable. Many of our members wanted beef jerky, and we believe there is a way to produce it without damaging the environment. I shared your comment with my team, and they are taking it to heart.

      • I’m starting to regret my lifetime membership with your increasing introduction of animal-based products. There is mounting scientific evidence that they are not good for your health, not good for the environment and definitely not good for the animals. Especially beef has been proven to be detrimental to the first two (carcinogens, water use, methane etc etc). And for the latter, there’s no debating that these tender, sociable mammals suffer needlessly for products we can easily live without. There are countless alternatives! Please jump on the plant-based band-wagon instead of being reactive and on the wrong side of history. Many companies can be profitable without animal exploitation. I bet you guys can too.

        • “Wrong side of history” ?? So you’re saying the Native Americans were on the wrong side of history? Wow… Happy Columbus Day, A* hole…

          And, Public goods — you really removed the jerky product? I’m incredibly disappointed… I hope it is just “sold out”… I thought you were a company that actually cared and researched on your own, and not one that just jumps on a racist “band wagon”… I guess I was wrong — I think I will cancel my subscription… So disappointing…

          • Hi Bob,

            I”m sorry the whole jerky issue has been upsetting and disappointing. We are still discussing the product and how it relates to our brand. There were some production problems around the same time. Currently we are considering rebranding it. We haven’t pulled it.

    • What an entitled comment… first, vegans and vegetarians are not the only people who care about the environment. Second, there are a multitude of cultures who have respectfully and sustainably consumed and utilized meat and animal products. Third, meat is not unhealthy. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but humans are omnivores, not vegans. The problem is that in the western society, we do not raise and consume animals correctly (on a mass scale). True, we shouldn’t be eating meat at every meal, (in fact I keep vegan every Wednesday and Friday), but that fact remains that some people must eat meat occasionally because their bodies do not process plant based iron and protein efficiently. We are a genetically diverse species, and to assume that everyone requires the same nutrient base as you is massively ignorant. Here is a company trying to give a more sustainable option, and you chastise them — be careful, your privilege is showing… tengentially related — The few existing truly vegan cultures are deeply tied to specific religious paths, and many of their scriptures say that one should have “lived their life” before embarking on that particular path, which eventually would lead to enlightenment. This suggests that humans should not be living a purely vegan life until after they have fulfilled their purpose on earth… But, presumably, you must have known that, and are following those paths, or are you just culturally reappropriating?

      Please, Public Goods, I’m begging you to keep more environmentally friendly meat and animal product options. Thank you for realizing that more than more type of person can care about sustainability (one does not have to be rich, vegan, or vegetarian to care and make an effort).

  • Really disappointed by “not too much that sounds like something from a chemistry class”. Since getting lifetime membership, I’ve been watching closely to see how the brand has developed, as it’s pretty obvious there are certain profiles of consumers being targeted, and become increasingly concerned with whether the company is truly living up to the values and brand being sold. It’s quite telling that About Us now routes back to the main page of the website and profiles of those behind the business are nowhere to be found. I looked at this information when it was still available. I hope that I am missing something and that the company is still built around sustainability not exploitation of lifestyles and preferences…

    • Hi Christine,

      I just omitted that line. I’m sorry it bothered you.

      I also forwarded your comment to our team so they can consider the important issues you raised. We are definitely trying to build a company around sustainability. I think the biggest challenge is trying to be both sustainable and inclusive, trying to give everyone the products they ask us to develop, but without compromising values.

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