Is jerky healthy or not?
Type "Is jerky healthy" into Google and you might be overwhelmed with the amount of information on offer - some people say beef jerky is high in fat, additives and salt, classing it as junk food, whilst others claim it's a high-protein snack that can form a great part of a healthy diet. Whatever you've heard about jerky in the past, we're here to dispel some myths and tell you the truth, so listen up (and put down that pack of jerky whilst we're at it!)
What is jerky?
Most of us have come across beef jerky at some point or another - lean, air-dried strips of meat with a chewy texture. Usually salt is added to the meat to preserve and cure it. Most jerky can be found in the snack food aisle at your local supermarket, and some health food stores may stock healthier varieties with reduced sodium levels and fewer additives.
There are plenty of myths going around about jerky - it has only recently become a more popular snack food here in the UK, although it's been around in Australia and the USA for a lot longer. But what's the truth? We dispel some of these jerky myths.
"Jerky is junk food"
Whilst you'll find beef jerky in the snack aisle, usually alongside the nuts, that doesn't mean it's junk food. Sure, it's true that some brands are loaded with salt and even have added MSG, but not all jerky is created equal! In fact, beef jerky is high in protein - after all, it's just air-dried beef - making it a great post-workout snack and a healthier option than a bar of chocolate or bag of crisps.
"Jerky will make you fat"
Don't listen to anyone who tells you this. Enough of any food will make you fat, if eaten to excess. Including beef jerky as an occasional healthy snack won't cause you to pile on the pounds. Did you know that jerky doesn't raise your insulin levels, the hormone which signals your body to store fat. So even if you're on a low-calorie diet trying to lose weight, jerky still makes a great healthy snack between meals.
"Beef jerky is packed with salt"
Which brand of jerky is best?
With so many different brands out there to choose from, how do you find the healthiest option? We look at a few of the best choices if you're after a healthy, protein-packed snack to fuel your workout or keep you satisfied until your next meal.
Wild West Jerky
Available in a huge variety of flavours, we love Wild West Jerky, especially their natural beef variety, which contains 3% fat, up to 50% protein and just 64 calories per 25g serving. That's less fat than crisps, chocolate, peanuts or a Nutrigrain cereal bar! Pick some up here.
The UK's most popular jerky brand offers beef jerky in a wide range of flavours from fiery Peri Peri to Gorgeous Garlic - we love their oriental jerky. All their jerky is made using British beef, with 220g beef per 100g jerky. Naturally preserved using salt, coriander, chilli, garlic, vinegar, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and sodium nitrate, their finest range is also free of preservatives, gluten and sugar. 100g of their jerky contains 280.6 cals and just 3.43g fat (1.56g saturated fat). Pick up some of their jerky on their website here.
Men's Health Beef Jerky
Men's Health All-Natural Beef Jerky is available at Tesco and it's low in saturated fat, with less salt than most varieties of jerky. You can pick it up online here. With 279 calories per 100g, 50.6g of protein and 3.5g fat, this is a healthy option if you're looking for a high-protein snack.
So, is jerky healthy?
Jerky made from grass-fed beef contains the same omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, which can help to keep your brain healthy. Natural beef jerky is also packed with protein, low in saturated fat and doesn't contain as much sodium as some less-natural varieties. Of course, everything in moderation, so if you're regularly snacking on beef jerky, you might want to look at how much saturated fat you're consuming throughout the day - too much red meat can be bad news. Bear in mind that flavoured jerky might contain MSG and other additives, so always check the label.
Beef jerky is a great source of iron and zinc, which can help boost your immune system (1) - a typical serving of beef jerky contains 1.54mg of iron (the recommended daily intake for men is 8mg and for women it's 18mg) and 2.3mg of zinc (recommended daily intake is 11mg for men and 8mg for women). Iron-deficiency anaemia is common amongst women of child-bearing age, so if you're struggling to get enough iron into your diet, snacking on beef jerky could help.
As part of a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, jerky is a relatively healthy snack, and it's definitely a better option than crisps, chocolate or salted nuts. Provided you opt for all-natural varieties with reduced sodium and lower levels of saturated fat, jerky is a high-protein snack that's becoming increasingly popular across the UK.