Health Benefits of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is an easy, portable source of protein but can also have a high sodium content.

Whether beef jerky is healthy largely depends on how it's made. Beef jerky is lean strips of dried beef. Often, manufacturers add salt during drying, which stops the meat from spoiling. 

With the popularity of paleo and keto diets and a big consumer focus on protein, beef jerky has become more popular. The category has grown from a few common longstanding brands to various options available at gas stations, convenience stores, health food stores, and farmer's markets. 

Beef jerky is an easy protein, zinc, and iron source for people looking for an on-the-go snack. In contrast, beef jerky is also processed red meat with a high-sodium content. Some evidence suggests that processed and red meats increase the risk of health complications. Excess sodium may lead to bloating and weight gain.

Getty Images

Benefits of Beef Jerky

Research has found that dried meat, like beef jerky, can be an easy, portable snack that packs high concentrations of protein and essential minerals like zinc and iron.

Is an Easy Source of Protein

Getting enough protein can be difficult if you are often on the go. Beef jerky is an easy, portable snack that packs a lot of protein.

Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps repair and create cells and supports healthy bones, muscles, and skin. Your body doesn't store protein like carbs and fats, so eating protein every day is important.

How much protein you need depends on your sex, age, weight, and activity level. Some experts suggest a protein goal of 10% to 35% of your total calories. For example, someone who eats 2,000 calories daily may have a protein goal of 100 grams, about 400 calories. A one-ounce serving of beef jerky supplies nearly 10% of that protein goal.

Might Support the Immune System

A one-ounce serving of beef jerky provides nearly one-quarter of the daily recommended zinc intake. Zinc is an essential mineral that helps support the immune system.

The body absorbs zinc from animal sources, such as beef jerky, more readily than plant-based foods. Still, getting zinc from various foods and eating a balanced diet is key to supporting your immune system.

Helps Boost Iron Intake

Research has found that beef jerky is a significant source of heme iron. Iron helps transport oxygen to different body parts, and the body absorbs heme iron more readily than non-heme iron. 

Iron deficiency is common, especially among women. Beef jerky can be an easy source of heme iron to help protect against iron deficiency.

Nutrition of Beef Jerky

The nutrition facts for beef jerky can vary by brand. Generally, a one-ounce serving of beef jerky provides the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 116
  • Fat: 7.26g
  • Sodium: 505mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.12g
  • Fiber: 0.51g
  • Added sugars: 2.55g
  • Protein: 9.41g

Risks of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky typically has a high-sodium content. A one-ounce serving has about 20% of the daily recommended sodium intake for adults. Nine out of 10 people in the United States consume too much sodium.  

Excess sodium intake increases water retention, potentially leading to bloating or weight gain. Over time, too much sodium may up the risk of health conditions such as:

  • An enlarged heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Kidney stones

Beef jerky is a form of processed red meat. Some evidence suggests a link between processed red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk.

Some evidence suggests replacing red meat with plant-based protein to reduce LDL ( "bad") cholesterol and other CVD risk factors. There are a variety of plant-based alternatives to beef jerky if you are trying to eat less red meat. For example, one option is mushroom jerky, which has a similar texture and umami taste. Other alternatives include jerky made from dried jackfruit or coconut.

Take note of the ingredient list when evaluating packaged food like beef jerky. Some beef jerky brands may use common allergens, such as soy or barley malt extract (a source of gluten). Beef jerky often contains preservatives like sodium nitrite, which may increase the risk of narrow, hardened arteries and CVD.

Instead, look for simple, recognizable ingredients. Consider options that are grass-fed and certified organic by the Department of Agriculture.

Tips for Consuming Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is an easy snack to incorporate into your diet. Since it has a long shelf life and is portable, you can take it on the go, like hiking or road trips. Store beef jerky in cool environments and in sealed packages.

A Quick Review

Beef jerky is an easy, on-the-go snack that packs high protein, zinc, and iron concentrations. Those nutrients are essential for overall health. 

Consuming beef jerky in moderation is key since processed and red meats can increase the risk of health complications. Beef jerky often has high sodium content to preserve the meat. Excess sodium may lead to bloating and weight gain. 

Was this page helpful?
12 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zdanowska-Sąsiadek Ż, Marchewka J, Horbańczuk JO, et al. Nutrients composition in fit snacks made from ostrich, beef and chicken dried meatMolecules. 2018;23(6):1267. doi:10.3390/molecules23061267

  2. Qian F, Riddle MC, Wylie-Rosett J, et al. Red and processed meats and health risks: How strong is the evidence?Diabetes Care. 2020;43(2):265-271. doi:10.2337/dci19-0063

  3. American Heart Association. Effects of excess sodium infographic.

  4. MedlinePlus. Dietary proteins.

  5. MedlinePlus. Protein in diet.

  6. MedlinePlus. Zinc in diet.

  7. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How to keep your immune system healthy.

  8. Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron - consumer.

  9. Mediani A, Hamezah HS, Jam FA, et al. A comprehensive review of drying meat products and the associated effects and changesFront Nutr. 2022;9:1057366. doi:10.3389/fnut.2022.1057366

  10. Department of Agriculture. Snacks, beef jerky, chopped and formed.

  11. Woodside JV, Sun Q, de Roos B, et al. Meeting report: Plant-rich dietary patterns and healthProc Nutr Soc. 2022;81(4):288-305. doi:10.1017/S002966512200266X

  12. Food and Drug Administration. Questions and answers on the gluten-free food labeling final rule.

Related Articles