Jerky is one of the most popular snacking options in the US, right up there on the same level as potato chips, soda, etc. But, a question that probably crosses your mind: is jerky a healthy snack?
It is often considered unhealthy and that’s because it is usually seen together with unhealthy snacks like chips.
But I am here to tell you that jerky can be healthy if you know how to pick the one with the right ingredients.
So let’s begin by learning what jerky is and how it is made.
What Is Jerky?
Jerky is thinly cut meat strips – usually red meat – that is seasoned and then dehydrated. It is a good and effective method of preserving meat and is the modern-day adaptation of meat preservation.
The most popular meat for making jerky is undoubtedly beef. Beef is one of those meats that almost everyone loves. Besides this, the texture and consistency of beef are perfect for jerky. Other options range from buffalo and elk to even chicken and turkey.
Regardless of what meat is used, there are a few prerequisites for making jerky:
- The meat has to be fat-free or may contain very small amounts of fat.
- The meat has to be thinly cut.
- Seasoning and preservatives have to be used both for taste and increasing shelf life.
- The meat must be dehydrated, and its moisture levels should be very low.
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So far so good, right? Let us take a look at the nutritional value of jerky.
Nutritional Components of Jerky
There are many kinds of jerky available. So let’s discuss the most common kind of jerky, which is beef jerky, and its nutritional value.
Any jerky is very low in carbs. The small amount that is present in jerky comes from the sugars and seasoning used to make the jerky and not the meat itself. On average, there are 10-11g of carbs in every 100g of beef jerky.
Beef jerky has a combination of saturated and monounsaturated fats. On average there is 23g of fat in every 100g serving of beef jerky.
Any other jerky is very protein-rich. They contain even more than the normal versions of those meats. For instance, every 100g of beef jerky has about 34g of protein, which is a third of its weight.
Beef jerky has a wide range of macronutrients from iron, magnesium, and zinc to vitamins and minerals.
Now you may be wondering what can make it unhealthy.
What Makes Jerky Unhealthy?
There are two main reasons why jerky can be unhealthy.
1. Using Processed Meats and Offcuts
Not all jerky is made in the same way. Commercially available jerky is often made from offcuts of meat and meat scraps.
These offcuts and scraps are blended with artificial binders and additives into a pink slime and then made into jerky. This is extremely unhealthy.
Processed meats are one of the main reasons behind cancer. Studies have shown that there is a connection between processed meat consumption and gastrointestinal cancer. Much like hotdogs and burger patties, jerky too can cause cancer.
On top of all this, preserved and cured meats are known to have toxic and potentially harmful substances added to them in the form of seasonings, flavorings, and preservatives.
Manufacturers tend to leave those elements out of the ingredient list or use terms regular people are unfamiliar with to hide these unwanted chemicals.
2. High Sodium Content
According to the USDA, the recommended daily value for sodium is 2300mg. Do you know how much sodium is present in a 100g serving of beef jerky? Get ready for the shocking answer…over 2000mg! That’s almost your entire day’s requirement of sodium!
You might be wondering, what’s the big deal? What’s the problem with a little extra sodium? Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but too much sodium is harmful to the human body. Excessive sodium intake results in:
- Heart disease
- Kidney problems
- Kidney stones
- High blood pressure
Besides this, excessive sodium intake immediately results in bloating, tiredness, and yes, weight gain.
How to Select Healthy Jerky
Choosing jerky as a healthy snack is very easy. All you need to do is check the packaging for these things.
1. Sodium Content
Always choose the brands with the lowest amount of sodium.
2. Sugar Content
Avoid jerky that contains added and processed sugars. Jerky can contain surprisingly high amounts of sugar disguised as seasonings.
3. Protein Content
Almost all jerky will have high amounts of protein, so it’s better to choose the ones with the highest amounts.
4. Source of the Meat
Keep an eye on where the meat is sourced from. Always choose free-range and grass-fed meat.
5. Nitrite Content
Choose the options with the lowest nitrate content.
6. Additives and Preservatives
Choose the ones with the least amount of additives and preservatives.
Jerky can either be healthy or unhealthy. It all depends on the ingredients and how often you choose jerky as a snack.
Jerky can be an excellent source of protein. It is a perfect post-workout snack, rich in iron, minerals, and essential vitamins.
But always remember to consume jerky in moderation. Like any other salty snack, you can easily overeat and not even realize it.
Remember to eat only small amounts as even 100g of jerky can almost fulfill your daily sodium requirement. So the final verdict is: Yes, jerky is a healthy snack but only in small quantities and with the right nutritional components included in the right proportions.
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