Beef jerky can be a healthy and nutritious snack that is high in protein, low in carbs, and low in fat. It’s an ideal option for diets such as low carb, paleo, and Keto. Be careful, though, as not all brands are created equal, and some can be filled with artificial ingredients and hidden sugars. Choose a jerky that’s made with simple ingredients and minimally processed. The more natural the better.
On average, a 1 oz. (28g) serving of beef jerky contains the following nutrients.
- Calories: 80
- Carbohydrates (g): 6
- Protein (g): 11
- Fat (g): 1.5
- Saturated Fat (g): 0
- Sugar (g): 4
- Sodium (mg): 470
The Truth About Beef Jerky Nutrition
There’s a lot of information out there about beef jerky nutrition facts. It seems like everyone has an opinion and most of those opinions are contradictory, rendering them confusing at best, and seemingly useless side-by-side.
Our only goal is to present the facts, provide some analysis, and let you answer the question—is beef jerky a healthy snack—for yourself.
We looked at 20 beef jerky products that are sold online and ship nationwide. We selected your favorites from Amazon, all the way to your local 7-Eleven. Our study includes a range of companies: from the big boys to the regional players, the brand-new companies to those that have been around for decades. To compare apples-to-apples (or jerky-to-jerky), we selected the “Original” flavor from each of the jerky makers. Flavors such as Old Fashioned, Sea Salt & Pepper, Peppered, etc.
We tallied up calories, macronutrients, key micronutrients, and the presence of allergens (specifically: soy, wheat). All measurements are based on a 1 oz serving size. For context, it’s the amount that would comfortably fit into the palm of your hand.
Let’s dive into the results.
Beef Jerky Calories
A 1 oz. serving of beef jerky on average contains 80 calories (High 107, Low 60). In comparison, the same size serving of potato chips contains about 160 calories.
Where a lot of snack food falls into the “empty calorie” pit, jerky doesn’t.
It’s actually a nutrient-dense food (it has a high amount of nutrients in proportion to its weight), which means that you’re doing more for your body than just alleviating hunger when you choose jerky as your on-the-go snack. It’s the reason beef jerky has been a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts for generations.
Protein in Beef Jerky
People often want to know—is beef jerky a good source of protein? Absolutely.
Beef jerky is a great source of protein, and therefore a great way to stay full and fueled for a healthy lifestyle. No surprise there, it is a meat snack after all. The average amount of protein per serving is 11g of protein (High 16g, Low 9g).
Why the big difference in protein levels? The answer lies in how much the meat is dried during the dehydration process. There is a direct relationship between the dryness level and the protein content.
Drier = More Protein
Moister = Less Protein
What jerky has the most protein? The People’s Choice Beef Jerky Old Fashioned Beef Jerky has 16g of protein per serving. It is an old-fashioned jerky, meaning it is a lot drier and tougher than more modern jerky products. The result? It packs a major protein punch. Consume an entire 2.5 ounce bag and you’re looking at 40g of protein.
Is beef jerky good for building muscle? Protein is essential to building muscle. Because beef jerky is high in protein it makes for a great post-workout snack. Portable and nutrient-dense, it can be a great way to get protein on-the-go. Plus, the sodium serves as a great electrolyte to keep you fueled.
Sodium in Beef Jerky
Beef jerky contains moderate to high amounts of sodium. The average amount of sodium per serving registered at 469mg (High: 710mg, Low: 230mg).
Jerky is salty. No doubt about it. There is a reason, though. Salt is an essential component of jerky. It acts as a natural preservative and flavor enhancer. Before modern food processing and artificial ingredients, salt was the primary way to preserve food.
The appropriate serving of sodium is different for each individual. Sodium on its own is an essential micronutrient that contributes to essential bodily functions. The issue is not with sodium itself, but rather the amount consumed.
It can be beneficial for an endurance athlete or weekend warrior losing a lot of electrolytes through sweat. It might not be good for someone with high blood pressure or heart related issues.
This is where it really depends on you. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to monitor and moderate your sodium consumption.
If you have issues that can be worsened by the overconsumption of sodium, then you might need to moderate your jerky eating. For all other people, when consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, the added sodium content in jerky is no reason for concern.
Fats in Beef Jerky
Beef jerky is an inherently low-fat food. The average fat per serving registered at 1.4g (High: 3, Low: 0).
Is beef jerky lean meat? Yes, lean cuts of beef are commonly used for beef jerky. This allows for proper dehydration. Fat doesn’t fully dry out which can lead to the meat going rancid (ew!) after an extended period of time. To prevent this issue, jerky makers start with lean cuts of meat and remove all excess fat.
The result is a naturally low-fat snack.
Beef Jerky Carbs
The average amount of carbohydrates per serving came in at 5.5g (High: 10g, Low: 0g). An undeniably large range.
Beef on its own contains little to no carbs, which begs the question, where do the carbohydrates come from? A closer inspection of the ingredient list on some of the jerky brands reveals the presence of some questionable ingredients.
Soy flour, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed corn protein, cultured dextrose, lactic acid, caramel color…
The lesson here? Read your labels before consumption. Beef jerky can be a low carbohydrate food, but it depends on the jerky, and it depends on what the jerky company is adding.
Is beef jerky good for low carb diets? Beef jerky can be a great snack option for a low carb diet, but it’s important to choose the right beef jerky. Some companies will add sugar and other carbohydrate rich ingredients. Make sure to select an option that is a sugar-free, carb-free jerky.
Our research indicates that the biggest contributor to a high carbohydrate count in beef jerky is sugar and that’s where things get a little “sticky.”
Sugar in Beef Jerky
The average amount of sugar per serving came in at 4.6g (High: 9g, Low: 0g).
We’re all for a little balanced sweetness in our jerky, but jerky with 9g per serving feels like overkill. Why would a company put so much sugar in jerky?
We’re going to let you in on a dirty little secret of the beef jerky industry.
Most beef jerky makers add sugar to their jerky not for sweetness, but to increase the weight of their finished product. It’s a lot more profitable to sell sugar than beef.
Don’t be fooled, though. Sugar comes in all shapes and sizes.
A review of the jerky brands in our research show the following forms of sugar on the ingredient statement: cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, fructose.
Natural sweetener in jerky is not necessarily a bad thing. It can add balance and complexity to a flavor profile. Too much sugar, however, overpowers the natural meat flavor. Balance is key.
Is beef jerky ok for keto? A handful of jerky producers are making beef jerky without any added sweeteners or sugar. Beef jerky options that are free from sugar and carbohydrates are a great snack for the keto diet. Interested in trying sugar-free jerky? Click for a range of sugar free beef jerky flavors.
Micronutrients in Beef Jerky
Beef jerky can be a great source of substantial vitamins and minerals. We’ve already discussed sodium, but let’s explore some other popular micronutrients.
A serving of beef jerky is a good source of iron, magnesium, vitamin B12, and choline. These micronutrients play an essential part in overall health.
Is beef jerky healthy?
Beef jerky is a healthy snack that is high in protein, low in carbs, and low in fat. Avoid jerky that is filled with artificial ingredients and hidden sugars. Consume jerky in moderation. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, it can be a great source of important macronutrients.
What is the healthiest beef jerky? Choose a jerky that’s made with simple ingredients and minimally processed. The People’s Choice Beef Jerky Old Fashioned line of beef jerky is made with zero sugar. The dryness level increases the protein level, making it one of the healthiest jerky options on the market.
If you are ready for a simple, minimally processed jerky that is more food than processed snack, we invite you to learn more about our handcrafted beef jerky. Our family business has been handcrafting beef jerky for over 90 years and four generations. You could say it runs in our blood.
We will leave you with a simple framework to help guide your evaluation.
Beef Jerky Nutrition Evaluation Guide
What to Do
- Closely read the ingredient statement and nutritional label
- Research how the producer makes their jerky and sources their ingredients
- Make sure you align with the producer’s food philosophy
What to Look For
- Natural Beef: minimally processed, sourced in the USA
- Simple Ingredients: beef, water, salt, seasonings
- Processing: attention to detail and simple techniques
What to Avoid
- Unhealthy ingredients: MSG, artificial preservatives, corn syrups
- Excessive sugar
- Unnecessarily high sodium
- Overly processed texture