Is Beef Jerky Bad for You? Exploring the Health Impacts

Beef jerky is a popular snack known for its convenience and long shelf life. As a high-protein, low-carb option, many people wonder if it’s a healthy choice for satisfying their cravings. While beef jerky can be a good source of protein, it’s essential to understand the various factors that may impact its nutritional value before making it a staple in your diet.

When evaluating the healthiness of beef jerky, it’s important to consider factors such as sodium content, additives, and processing methods. Some beef jerky products contain high levels of sodium, which can contribute to increased blood pressure and other health concerns, especially if consumed in excess. Additionally, some brands use artificial additives and preservatives, which may also have negative effects on your health.

To make more informed decisions about whether beef jerky is the right snack for you, pay careful attention to the label and select options with lower sodium content and fewer artificial ingredients. Moderation is key, so be mindful of your consumption and balance it out with other nutritious food choices.

What is Beef Jerky?

Is Beef Jerky Bad for You

Beef jerky is a popular snack made from marinated and dried meat, often seasoned with various spices to enhance its flavor. This section will provide you with an understanding of its origins, how it’s made, the various market forms, and ways of cooking it.

Beef jerky has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations, where people discovered that drying meat was an effective method of preservation. By removing moisture from the meat, it could last for longer periods without spoiling, making it a valuable source of sustenance for travelers, hunters, and soldiers.

How it is Made

To make beef jerky, the meat is first sliced into thin strips and marinated in a mixture of spices, salt, and sometimes sugar. This process not only adds flavor to the meat but also helps in the preservation process. Once marinated, the meat is then dried using either a dehydrator or an oven at low temperatures for an extended period. This slow drying method removes moisture from the meat, ultimately creating a shelf-stable, nutrient-dense snack.

Market Forms

Beef jerky is available in various forms, including:

  • Traditional: This type is typically more tough and chewy in texture, with a dry appearance.
  • Soft and tender: As the name suggests, this type has a softer texture, making it easier to chew and consume.
  • Bites and nuggets: These are smaller, bite-sized pieces of jerky that are often more tender than traditional forms.

Regardless of the texture, you can find beef jerky infused with a wide range of flavors, such as teriyaki, barbeque, spicy, and classic peppered.

Ways of Cooking

While beef jerky is often enjoyed as a ready-made snack, you can experiment with different ways of incorporating it into your meals:

  1. Rehydrate: Soak the jerky in water or broth to soften it before adding it to dishes such as soups and stews.
  2. Chop and mix: Dice the jerky and add it to salads, rice dishes, or sandwiches for extra protein and flavor.
  3. Crumbled topping: Crumble the jerky and sprinkle it over dishes like pasta or baked potatoes for a savory, crunchy topping.

Remember, beef jerky is a versatile ingredient that can add a unique flavor and texture to your dishes. Experiment with different recipes to find the best combination for your palate.


Beef jerky is a popular snack known for its protein content and long shelf life. Ingredients in beef jerky can vary depending on the manufacturer and recipe, but some common components include the following.

Salt is a primary ingredient in beef jerky. It serves to enhance flavor and acts as a preservative, reducing moisture to prolong shelf life. However, consuming excessive amounts of salt can lead to high blood pressure and other health issues. It’s essential to moderate your intake and check the sodium content on the packaging.

Sugar is often added to beef jerky for flavor and balance, especially in sweeter or teriyaki-style recipes. While small amounts are acceptable, it’s essential to be cautious of jerky varieties with excessive sugar, as it adds extra calories and can contribute to conditions like obesity or diabetes.

Additives and preservatives are sometimes used in beef jerky production to extend shelf life and maintain freshness. Some examples include sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. Though these ingredients help prevent spoilage, excessive consumption is linked to potential health risks, such as an increased chance of heart disease. Opting for all-natural or preservative-free jerky can be a healthier alternative.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer, might be found in some beef jerky products. While the FDA classifies MSG as generally safe, some people may experience adverse reactions like headaches or nausea. If you’re sensitive to MSG, choose brands that explicitly state “MSG-free.”

Herbs and spices are often added to beef jerky recipes to create diverse and exciting flavors. These ingredients can benefit your health by providing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Look for jerky recipes that use natural herbs and spices rather than artificial flavorings.

Remember, ingredients can vary greatly, and it’s important to read the label carefully when purchasing beef jerky. By being mindful of the components and selecting options with healthier ingredients, you can enjoy beef jerky as a nutritious snack.

Nutrition Information

Beef jerky is a popular snack known for its high protein content. While it can be a convenient and satisfying option, it’s important to consider its nutritional profile to determine if it’s an appropriate choice for your specific dietary needs.

One serving of beef jerky typically provides about 9 grams of protein, which is essential for maintaining and repairing body tissues. It’s also low in carbohydrates, making it an appealing option for those following a low-carb or ketogenic diet.

When it comes to fat content, beef jerky can vary significantly depending on the cut of meat and preparation method. Some brands might contain higher amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease when consumed in excess. If you’re concerned about fat and cholesterol intake, look for lean cuts or brands that specifically advertise lower fat content.

In addition to protein, beef jerky contains iron and zinc, which are essential minerals that support immune function and play a role in cellular growth and repair. Iron is vital for carrying oxygen in the bloodstream, while zinc is necessary for proper wound healing and a healthy immune response.

Beef jerky also contains some B-vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and folate. Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining healthy nerve cells and red blood cells, while folate supports cell growth and DNA synthesis.

However, it’s important to pay attention to the nutrition facts label on your chosen beef jerky product, as some may contain high levels of sodium or added sugars. Excessive sodium consumption can contribute to high blood pressure, while added sugars can lead to weight gain and other adverse health effects.

In summary, beef jerky can provide a variety of nutrients, such as protein, iron, zinc, and B-vitamins. However, it’s essential to choose wisely by looking for lean cuts and keeping an eye on sodium and sugar content. Remember to always consume beef jerky in moderation and incorporate it into a balanced diet to ensure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs.

Health Benefits of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is a high protein, low-carb snack that is popular among individuals following a healthy lifestyle. It can provide you with essential nutrients that support your immune system and overall health. By choosing lean cuts of beef, you can enjoy a nutritious snack that fits well within a low carb or keto diet.

Rich in Protein: Beef jerky is an excellent source of protein which is vital for maintaining muscle mass, promoting tissue repair, and supporting various functions in your body. A single serving of beef jerky can provide you with a significant portion of your daily protein requirements.

Low in Carbs: If you are following a low-carb or keto diet, beef jerky can be a suitable snack option. It is naturally low in carbohydrates, which can help you stay within your daily carb limits while still enjoying a delicious and satisfying snack.

Essential Nutrients: In addition to being high in protein, beef jerky also contains essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins. These nutrients support your immune system and contribute to your overall well-being.

To enjoy the health benefits of beef jerky, opt for high-quality products made from lean cuts of meat. This will help ensure that your jerky is lower in fat and calories while still providing you with the protein and nutrients your body needs.

Pros and Cons of Beef Jerky

When considering beef jerky as a snack option, it’s essential to weigh its pros and cons to determine if it’s the right choice for you.


  • High Protein: Beef jerky is high in protein, which is essential for muscle repair and growth. It can be an excellent option for a convenient post-workout snack or to satisfy your hunger throughout the day.
  • Low Sugar: Unlike many processed snacks, beef jerky typically has a low sugar content, making it a suitable choice if you’re watching your sugar intake.
  • Long Shelf Life: Due to its low moisture content and preservation methods, beef jerky has a long shelf life, making it a great option for on-the-go snacking or stocking up your pantry.
  • Versatility and Convenience: Beef jerky can be enjoyed on-the-go, making it a convenient choice for busy individuals. Plus, with a wide variety of flavors and types available, you can easily find an option that suits your taste preferences.


  • High Sodium: Beef jerky can be high in sodium, which might cause concern if you’re trying to monitor your sodium intake. Consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and potentially increase your risk of stroke.
  • Preservatives and Additives: Some beef jerky products contain nitrites and other preservatives, which have been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. If you’re concerned about these additives, opt for organic or preservative-free options.
  • Saturated Fat: Some beef jerky products can have a high saturated fat content, which can contribute to weight gain and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Always check the nutritional label and consider selecting leaner options if you’re concerned about saturated fat.

In conclusion, beef jerky can be a convenient and high-protein snack, but it’s essential to consider its sodium content and potential health risks associated with red meat consumption. As with any food, moderation is key, so it’s crucial to include a variety of foods in your diet for optimal health.

Related Studies

In a study investigating the effect of hot-air impingement roast drying on beef jerky, researchers found that the traditional processing method of beef jerky could lead to a hard-to-chew texture and color deterioration. This implies that the negative attributes of beef jerky may stem from the processing methods rather than the inherent nature of the product.

The study investigated the safety of homemade beef jerky by analyzing its microbiological characteristics. The drying process of the jerky resulted in a significant reduction in moisture content, making it shelf-stable. While some microorganisms initially grew, most of them decreased in numbers during drying.

However, the microorganisms still managed to survive the process. Storage conditions also played a role, as jerky stored at lower temperatures and humidity contained viable bacteria. Overall, the study emphasizes that quick and proper drying, as well as appropriate storage, are crucial to minimize the risk associated with homemade jerky.

Another research examined how the heating and drying processes in beef jerky production affect the survival of harmful bacteria. The goal was to identify the most effective temperature profiles for reducing Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7. By ensuring high temperatures early in the process and proper drying conditions, significant reductions in pathogens were achieved.

There were also alternative processes with slightly lower effectiveness. Furthermore, a surrogate culture was tested as a potential method for validating the safety of the jerky. These findings contribute to making beef jerky safer to consume and reduce the chances of foodborne illnesses.

What Do Health Experts Say About Beef Jerky?

As you delve into the world of beef jerky, it’s important to consider what health experts have to say about this popular snack. Beef jerky can be both a convenient and tasty source of protein, but there are certain factors to consider before indulging.

Nutritional Content: Beef jerky may contain high amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc. However, it can also be high in sodium, artificial preservatives, and unhealthy fats, depending on the brand and processing method. To make a healthier choice, look for brands with lower sodium content and limited artificial ingredients.

Cholesterol Levels: Some brands of beef jerky contain high levels of saturated fat, which can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Elevated LDL cholesterol levels can contribute to the development of heart disease. Choose jerky made from lean cuts of meat and monitor your overall saturated fat intake to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Kidney Disease: Due to its high sodium content, consuming large amounts of beef jerky might not be suitable for individuals with kidney disease. High sodium intake can exacerbate kidney function decline, so if you have kidney issues, it’s essential to monitor your sodium consumption and consult with a healthcare professional.

Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Disease: The high sodium content in beef jerky can potentially contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart and cardiovascular diseases. If you’re concerned about these conditions, it’s crucial to keep an eye on sodium intake and incorporate other heart-healthy foods into your diet.

Type 2 Diabetes: Although beef jerky may have a low glycemic index, it is still essential to be mindful of portion sizes. Overeating any food, including jerky, can lead to weight gain and the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes. Enjoy jerky in moderation and ensure that you’re maintaining a balanced diet to manage your blood sugar levels.

Exercise: As a high-protein snack, beef jerky can help with muscle recovery after exercise. However, due to its potential downsides, it should not be your primary source of protein. Make sure to include a variety of nutritious protein sources in your diet, such as lean meats, fish, eggs, and legumes.

In summary, while beef jerky offers some nutritional benefits, it’s important to consume it in moderation and make mindful choices regarding the type and brand of jerky you choose.

Who Should Avoid Beef Jerky?

Beef jerky can be a convenient and tasty snack, but it may not be suitable for everyone. If you belong to any of the following categories, it’s best to limit your consumption of beef jerky or avoid it altogether.

Individuals with high blood pressure: Due to the high salt content in most beef jerky products, those with high blood pressure should be cautious when consuming it. The excessive sodium can lead to fluid retention and further exacerbate blood pressure issues.

People with dietary restrictions: If you follow a specific diet plan, you might want to avoid beef jerky. Many brands contain additives, artificial flavors, and preservatives, which do not align with clean eating or other specialized diets.

Patients healing from surgery or injuries: Beef jerky can cause inflammation in your body, which may lead to slower wound healing. Therefore, if you are recovering from an injury or recent surgery, consider avoiding this snack until your healing process is complete.

Individuals prone to dental problems: Beef jerky can be tough and chewy, putting excessive strain on your teeth and jaw. Those with dental issues or a history of toothaches and cavities might want to avoid consuming too much beef jerky.

Cancer patients and survivors: Processed foods, including beef jerky, have been linked to cell division and the growth of cancer cells. Though research is still ongoing, it’s best for cancer patients and survivors to limit their consumption of processed snacks like beef jerky.

In conclusion, while beef jerky can be a good source of protein, it’s essential to be aware of its potential health risks. Always be mindful of your personal dietary needs and remember to consume in moderation.

Natural Alternatives

If you’re looking for healthier alternatives to beef jerky, there are numerous options available. These options can provide you with a satisfying snack without the potential downsides of traditional beef jerky.

  • Coconut jerky. One popular alternative to consider is coconut jerky. Made from dehydrated coconut meat, it is a plant-based snack that offers a chewy texture, similar to beef jerky. Coconut jerky is rich in nutrients, such as manganese and fiber. It’s a great option for those seeking a meat-free snack or if you’re looking to reduce your environmental impact.
  • Turkey jerky. Another option to consider is turkey jerky. With lower saturated fat content compared to beef jerky, it can be a healthier alternative for those who still want to enjoy the taste and texture of jerky. Additionally, turkey jerky tends to be high in protein, making it an excellent choice for fueling your body after a workout or during a busy day.
  • Dried fruit. A more creative option is dried fruit. Dried mangoes, apricots, or apples can be tasty alternatives that are satisfying and nutrient-dense. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, dried fruit can help meet your daily nutrient needs. However, be cautious with portion sizes, as dried fruits can be high in sugar.
  • Homemade jerky. Finally, don’t forget about homemade jerky. By making jerky at home, you can control the ingredients and create a healthier version for both you and your family. Try using lean cuts of meat, such as bison or venison, and experiment with different seasonings to find your perfect flavor combination.

There are several natural alternatives to beef jerky that can offer you a healthier snack without sacrificing taste or texture. Whether you choose coconut jerky, turkey jerky, dried fruit, or homemade versions, you can enjoy these snacks with confidence, knowing they are better for your health and the environment.


In evaluating whether beef jerky is bad for you, it is essential to consider a few key factors. The first aspect to be aware of is that beef jerky can be high in sodium and fat content. For individuals who need to limit their sodium intake or are watching their weight, consuming beef jerky regularly might not be the best choice.

However, beef jerky can also be a beneficial source of protein, making it a popular snack option for those looking to maintain muscle mass and stay satiated between meals.

When choosing beef jerky, focus on finding products made with lean cuts of meat, which will help reduce unhealthy fat intake. Additionally, opt for low-sodium varieties as they will help you maintain a healthier balance in your diet. 

Beef jerky can be a valuable protein-packed snack, but it is crucial to choose wisely, considering factors such as sodium and fat content, as well as production methods. Making informed decisions about the type and quality of jerky you consume will allow you to enjoy this tasty snack while maintaining a balanced and healthy diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much beef jerky can you eat a day?

While there is no specific limit on how much beef jerky you can eat per day, it is essential to consider the nutritional content and how it fits into your overall daily nutrient intake. Consuming beef jerky in moderation can be a part of a balanced diet. However, do not rely on it as your primary source of protein and nutrients.

Is teriyaki beef jerky healthy?

Teriyaki beef jerky can be a healthier option compared to other flavored beef jerky, depending on the ingredients used. Some teriyaki beef jerky products may be lower in sodium and sugar, which can be beneficial. Be sure to check the nutritional information on the package to determine if it aligns with your dietary needs.

Is beef jerky processed?

Yes, beef jerky is considered processed food. The process of making beef jerky typically involves marinating and dehydrating the meat to preserve it, along with the addition of various spices, flavorings, and preservatives. Keep in mind that the level of processing may differ across brands and types of beef jerky.

What are the side effects of consuming beef jerky?

Some potential side effects of consuming beef jerky include increased sodium intake, which could lead to higher blood pressure, and the presence of nitrates and nitrites, which may be linked to certain health risks. It’s also possible to experience digestive issues if you consume too much beef jerky at once. As with most foods, moderation is key.

Why is beef jerky unhealthy?

Beef jerky can be viewed as unhealthy due to the high sodium content, presence of nitrates, and processing methods used in its production. Additionally, some beef jerky products contain artificial preservatives, added sugars, and saturated fat, which can negatively affect your health if consumed in large quantities.

Why is beef jerky high in protein?

Beef jerky is high in protein because it is made from lean cuts of meat that have been dehydrated, which removes the water content and concentrates the protein. This makes beef jerky a convenient snack option for those seeking protein-rich foods, especially on-the-go or in situations where fresh protein sources are not readily available.


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  • Marixie Manarang, MT, undergrad MD

    Marixie Manarang is licensed Medical Laboratory Scientist and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). For one year, she completed her internship training in a government hospital, primarily catering to retired veterans and their dependents. Through her preceptorships in medical school, she gained exposure to patients from various medical departments. Marixie’s passion for writing stems from her excellent medical background, being a mother, and a strong desire to assist the elderly and others in need. Education: Our Lady of Fatima University Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2012-2015), Angeles University Foundation Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2009-2011), Angeles University Foundation Bachelors, Medical Technology (2004-2009)






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