What You Need to Know about Beef Jerky Calories, Beef Jerky Nutrition Label, and General Nutrition Facts
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 equally, and some can be filled with artificial ingredients and hidden sugars. Choose a jerky that’s made with simple ingredients and minimally processed.
According to the USDA, a 1 oz. (28g) serving of beef jerky contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 75
- Carbohydrates (g): 6.5
- Protein (g): 11
- Fat (g): 1
- Sugar (g): 6
- Sodium (mg): 545
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.
New jerky brands arrive on the scene, touting nutritional benefits you didn’t even know existed (and can’t decide if you believe).
Meanwhile, diet gurus and nutritionists flip-flop almost every day. The result is a series of headlines that yank health-conscious jerky lovers all over the place:
“Beef jerky is the answer. Doesn’t matter what the question is. Avoid beef jerky if you’re trying to lose weight. Beef jerky is a great lean protein. Processed meats are actively trying to kill you. SOS! The sodium in jerky will LITERALLY turn you into jerky. Beef jerky will save your Keto diet, and by extension, your life.”
Enough is enough. Time to block out the noise and get to the heart of the issue. This article will arm you with the information you need to answer all your beef jerky nutrition questions without the theatrics.
Not an SOS in sight. We promise.
Why should you trust us?
Let’s start by addressing the cow in the room.
Yes, we are a beef jerky company. But we are also real people who want to eat well, live a healthy lifestyle, and offer a product that enables our customers to do the same.
Our family business has been handcrafting beef jerky for over 90 years and four generations. You could say it runs in our blood.
So you can trust us when we say that after nearly a century in business, we know the ins and outs of the industry. Which is why we want to pull back the curtain and give you an insider’s perspective into our world.
Our only goal is to present the facts, provide some analysis, and let you decide for yourself: is beef jerky a healthy snack?
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 Original, 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.
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 fix.
Protein in Beef Jerky
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
For example, our Old Fashioned line is a dry-style jerky, meaning it is a lot drier and tougher than more modern jerky products. The result? It packs a major protein punch with 16 grams of protein per 1 oz. serving, consume an entire bag and you’re looking at 40g of protein.
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.
From a health perspective, sodium is a tricky one.
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).
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.
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.
Looking to avoid sugar completely? A handful of producers are making beef jerky without any added sweeteners or sugar. Click here 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.
The Bottom Line on Beef Jerky Nutrition
So, that was a lot of information to absorb. The good news is, you don’t have to commit to memory, just bookmark this page for easy referencing as needed.
With so many options out there, it’s easy to feel like you need a PhD just to navigate the snack food aisle. Hopefully, that no longer applies to jerky, and you have all the tools you need to decide whether it meets your personal nutritional needs.
When all is said and done, the question remains: is beef jerky a healthy snack?
Only you can answer that question and now you can with the above information.
Is beef jerky healthy?
Beef jerky can be a healthy and nutritious snack that is high in protein, low in carbs, and low in fat. It’s all about choosing the right jerky. Avoid jerky that is filled with artificial ingredients and hidden sugars. Choose a jerky that’s made with simple ingredients and minimally processed.
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.
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