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.
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A 1-ounce piece of beef jerky provides 9.4 grams of protein. The Institute of Medicine, also known as the IOM, recommends 46 daily grams of protein for adult females and 56 daily grams of protein for males. 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.
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.
Beef jerky also contains 13 milligrams of cholesterol, which equals 15 to 23 percent of the American Heart Associations recommended daily intake of 200 to 300 milligrams. Excess dietary cholesterol increases the risk of plaque buildup in your arteries. You can include beef jerky in a fat-healthy diet, by controlling the portion size.
With 2.3 milligrams of zinc in 1-ounce of beef jerky, you get 17 percent of the daily intake of 40 milligrams recommended by the IOM. 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.
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.
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, the University of Florida recommends 1 ounce of beef jerky as a low-carbohydrate snack food for diabetic students.
- Colorado State University: Understanding the Food Label
- USDA: Nutrient Data Laboratory: Snacks, Beef Jerky, Chopped and Formed
- Encyclopedia.com: Beef Jerky
- American Heart Association: Saturated Fats
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: World Salt Awareness Week
- American Heart Association: Sodium (Salt)
- University of Florida: Low-Carb Countin' Cafe
- University of Michigan Health System: Healthy Fats