Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Source of Protein?

Native American descendants of the Incas may have invented beef jerky. They used the preparation method to preserve meats for the winter and other times when hunting could not provide enough meat. Today, beef jerky producers cure it with salt and heat and often use spices to accentuate the flavor. The nutritional composition of beef jerky provides several dietary benefits.

Beef jerky is a good source of protein but it includes fat, cholesterol and sodium that can be unhealthy in large quantities. Credit: Juanmonino/iStock/GettyImages

Tips

Beef jerky is high in sodium and saturated fat and may not make the healthiest source of protein in your diet.

Filled With Protein

A 1-ounce piece of beef jerky provides 9.4 grams of protein. According to the Recommended Dietary Allowances, or RDA, women need 46 grams of protein a day and men 56 gram. Protein breaks down in the intestines into amino acids, which your body uses to build tissues and enzymes involved in the functioning of all body systems.

High in Fat

Your body requires fat for reducing inflammation and supporting the health of your brain. One ounce of beef jerky contains 116 calories. More than half of beef jerky's calories, 66, come from 7.3 grams of total fat. The total fat content includes 3.1 grams of saturated fat. To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories, which equals 15.5 grams or 140 fat calories, with the remainder coming from heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats — found in vegetable oils and seafood — and monounsaturated fats — contained in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives and avocados.

Source of Cholesterol

One serving of Krave beef jerky has 15 milligrams of cholesterol, according to the manufacturer's website. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends you limit your daily cholesterol intake from food to about 300 milligrams a day. However, while cholesterol in food was considered bad and thought to contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, as it turns out cholesterol in food may not affect your blood cholesterol levels or heart health. If you have concerns about heart health and cholesterol, talk to your doctor for recommendations.

Immune-Boosting Zinc

With 2.3 milligrams of zinc in 1 ounce of beef jerky, you get much of the daily intake recommended by the National Institutes of Health (which ranges from 2 to 13 milligrams daily, depending on age, gender and specific health needs). Zinc supports several of your body's functions, such as your immune system and the process of cell division. Zinc deficiency symptoms include slow wound healing and loss of the taste and smell senses.

Too Much Sodium

A 1-ounce serving of beef jerky contains 590 milligrams of sodium. Sodium increases fluid retention, which may cause an elevation in your blood pressure and stress your heart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend limiting sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams per day. If you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes or want to reduce your risk for heart disease, the CDC suggests limiting your sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.

Low in Carbohydrates

Some of the flavorings added to beef jerky contribute to its carbohydrate content of 3.12 grams, which includes 2.55 grams of sugars and 0.5 grams of fiber. Because beef jerky's carbohydrate count measures below 5 grams, it may be considered a low-carb snack.

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