Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Snack?

Most of us grew up thinking of beef jerky as a junk food. But over the past few years, beef jerky has been rebranded as a healthy snack.

beef jerky, grill

Is it too good to be true? Does beef jerky actually have health benefits? Are even the “cleaned up” versions of beef jerky all that good for you?

Let’s take a look.

First of All, How Exactly Is Beef Jerky Made?

Beef jerky was first developed by South American natives about 500 years ago. Back then it was health jerky (not like the jerky you get now at the gas station). The first jerky was made with buffalo meat, which was dried and then added to clumps of dried fruit or animal fat.

These days, jerky is made with a variety of meats including beef, turkey, duck, and even the original buffalo. Strips of meat are marinated in a salt solution, hung out to dry and then cooked for as long as five hours. A lot of today’s jerky is packed with artificial flavoring and crazy amounts of sodium. Which begs the questions:

Is Beef Jerky Healthy?

Older, junkier versions of beef jerky were packed with nitrates, which are known to increase your risk of heart disease, harden your arteries, and increase your chances of developing diabetes.

Junk food versions of beef jerky also often contained MSG (monosodium glutamate), which has been linked to various health issues, including headaches, heart palpitations, and nausea.

Ditching these additives is helpful. But even “healthy” versions of beef jerky may be problematic. Let’s examine the nutritional value of beef jerky, according to the USDA.

A 1-ounce serving of beef jerky contains:

3 grams of saturated fat, which should be limited because of links to heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

2.5 grams of sugar, although this can vary widely from brand to brand. While 2.5 grams of sugar may not sound like a lot, it’s recommended that sugar consumption be limited to 25-37 grams per day.

More than 22% of your recommended daily sodium intake (about 506 milligrams). Studies show that 9 in 10 Americans consume too much sodium, and eating foods with high sodium content is correlated with high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Is Healthy Jerky a Thing?

When eaten in moderation, beef jerky can be a healthy and convenient way to get your low-carb, high-protein fix.

  • One serving contains 9 grams of protein.
  • Beef jerky is packed with healthy minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium.
  • Beef jerky products do contain higher than desirable amounts of saturated fats, but most newer versions of beef jerky are low-fat, compared to other beef products.
  • “Cleaner” beef jerky contains less sugar than the older, junkier brands.
  • Many brands offer beef jerky products containing organic, grass-fed beef.

Note: Even with organic standards in place, it’s nearly impossible to manufacture meat produced with environmentally-friendly standards, which is one of the reasons Public Goods discontinued its beef jerky sales.

What Type Of Beef Jerky Should I Eat?

If you are in the market for a healthy brand of beef jerky, here’s a “cheat sheet”:

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, MSG, artificial preservatives
  • Excessive sugar (6 grams or more) or sodium (more than 350 milligrams)
  • Low-fat content (3 grams or less)

Are There Alternatives To Beef Jerky?

Still unsure about beef jerky? If you’re looking for a low-carb, high-protein snack that will keep you chugging for a couple of hours, you’ve got options.

  • Protein bars (watch for high sugar content)
  • Trail mix
  • Hard boiled eggs (cholesterol is a concern, but everything in moderation)

Once you find a healthy brand of beef jerky you love, enjoy it … in moderation, of course.

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Comments (20)

  • 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).

    • Check the store now — I just got a member email mentioning that this will be discontinued by Public Goods for this very reason.

      • That is correct! We are going to keep the beef jerky article up because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing how the product can be a healthy snack. We have, however, agreed that it is not sustainable. It’s not consistent with our values. We are simply not going to develop beef products.

  • 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.

  • Hello Joseph Rauch and Public Goods team,

    I am very impressed to see that you value your clients interests and concerns, and have a set of values you believe to be true and desire to be consistent with. I am wondering which one of your values, or a set of values is being compromised or challenged by selling beef, and did this change over time to where now it is inconsistent, whereas before it wasn’t? Also, is it simply the sustainability that is the issue? I am just curious because you seem like a very thoughtful group and I value your decisions.

    Thanks,

    Danny

    • Hi Danny,

      Thank you so much for the feedback and compliments! You asked a great question, and I will do my best to provide a satisfying answer.

      My understanding is that we originally launched beef jerky simply because a portion of our members wanted it. Obviously that’s a good reason to develop a product, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving people what they ask for.

      The problem was we didn’t consider the possibility that many of our other members would feel like the foray into beef was a betrayal of the sustainable brand they had committed to. We received many comments, emails and articles that showed us how, with our current agricultural infrastructure, large-scale beef production has a negative impact on the environment. Even with the organic certification, there are so many issues with pollution, mistreatment of animals, etc.

      It’s always a tough compromise between giving people what they want vs. responding to sustainability concerns. We are hoping that those who were really into the beef jerky will understand our decision.

      With every product, we try to consider both sustainability and accessibility. Plastic is another example. Tampons without plastic applicators are more sustainable, but some consumers only buy tampons with plastic. Is it OK for sustainability to come at the cost of excluding certain people?

      The specifics of our values are constantly evolving, but we have always tried to balance sustainability and inclusivity.

      • Oh if anyone ever asks there is a company that just fairly recently created a reusable plastic applicator for tampons. Just Google Dame, sometimes just called D for short. It’s based in the UK I think but I saw them in Indiegogo not long ago (which is how I learned of it). I didn’t have the money to back it, but it is available publicly now and I think it’s a good option for those who want the comfort of a plastic applicator, but not the plastic waste.

        As for the topic on hand… I care about the environment and sustainability, but I also really love eating meat. I’m sad you will be discontinuing the beef jerky, but I hardly ever eat it anyway so to me it isn’t a huge deal one way or another. I just like the idea of being inclusive of the fact that there are still members on this site that enjoy eating meat. If someone doesn’t want to buy something they don’t have to; why force others to not even get an option to buy it just because they don’t want it? It goes against the values of America in general and freedom of choice.

        • I totally get what you’re saying, and we don’t want to limit people’s freedom. I will pass your comments to our leadership. Thank you for taking the time to weigh in!

          Oh and the plastic applicator issue was more just an example of issues we grapple with. Once our menstrual care products launch, you’ll see what we really have in store 🙂

      • I’d encourage the team to keep investigating ways of achieving balance. I appreciate the environmental concerns. Mass production of beef not sustainable? Does that mean we all have to abandon beef consumption in America? As Bob and Artemis said above, that’s jumping too far in the other direction (not to mention what that would do to the economy). What about supporting small-farm cattlers who are organic and humane? They sell to the public in bulk–why not to a small company?

        As for plastics — why not create an environmentally-savvy “plastic” applicator (for the example of tampons)? No need to shun those who prefer that method; lead the way in smarter, environmentally friendly innovations! It’s about time we started seeing decomposable plastics rise up in the market; Public Goods could be a leader in that path!

        • Hi Andrea,

          These are really good points! I will forward your feedback to our team. Maybe some day we can figure out a way to sustainably produce beef jerky. I also like the idea of working with small farms.

          Sorry for the confusion regarding the tampon issue. I was just using that as an example of a big decision our product team thinks about.

          We actually are going to provide options for everyone, including applicators. I think you will be pleasantly surprised when our menstrual care products launch. We achieved a great balance of sustainability and accessibility.

          As for compostable plastics, we do sell compostable plastic waste bags. We are also researching and implementing other compostable materials. I also hope we become a leader in that path!

      • Joseph,

        I really appreciate that answer, as someone who is publically backed and a grass roots movement, the client should be first.

        Thank you,

        Danny

  • I appreciate and agree with Andrea’s comment about supporting the small-farm cattlers. I wish there was an easier way for the typical consumer to do this (hint hint, nudge nudge, public goods ;-D ).

    Joseph, I’m very pleased to see how thoughtfully you’ve been responding to everyone’s thoughts and comments, you’re awesome!

    For what it’s worth (yes, I know the tampon example was just an example of inclusion and accessibility, but) The new public goods applicator-less tampons are awesome — I’m forever converted! (just please don’t raise the price, like you folks did with the canvas tote, haha)

  • I would encourage you to work with small farms that field raid their cattle. There is no proof that this technique is bad on the environment. There is actually some research showing it can be carbon negative.

    Supporting this type of farming is the only way to make them profitable. Them being profitable is one way of getting the industry to change.

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