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For some, it’s the ultimate post-workout snack. For others, it’s just another preservative-laden grub that they’d only munch on during a road trip when nothing else is available. But, no matter which side you’re on, meat jerky is one of those foods that you can’t ignore. Why’s that? For one, it’s super delicious. Whether it’s made of beef, pork, chicken or turkey, the snack knows what it takes to hit the spot. It’s also uber convenient, meaning it’s available in most stores and if you are a fan of the homemade version, it’s very easy to make. But, the real question is: Convenience and flavor aside, is jerky a healthy option?
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How is Store-Bought Jerky Made
Made of lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, jerky is all about removing water out of the equation and dehydrating the strips. To do that in a safe manner, manufacturers expose the meat to a low-temperature dry environment (usually under 160oF) while adding lots of salt to prevent bacterial growth(1). Many companies also add a bunch of spices and/or flavorings to make the strips tastier.
While this procedure sounds perfectly normal, many brands mix in several additives with the most worrisome being sodium nitrite. Even though it helps jerky strips retain their original color, this substance is actually quite harmful to the human body. You see, once it reaches the stomach lining, it is metabolized into nitrosamines which are known to be highly carcinogenic. In fact, N-nitroso compounds(2) are linked to colon, intestine and stomach cancers.
Jerky Contains Lots of Protein
Since it’s made of lean meat, jerky contains lots of muscle-building protein which makes it a no-brainer for weekend warriors and regular gym-goers. Specifically, one strip of beef jerky(3) contains about 6.5 grams of protein which covers 13% of your daily recommended value. Truth be told, that’s a lot for a bite-sized snack.
It’s also worth mentioning that given the source, the handheld grub is rich in animal protein which is considered a complete protein; that is compared to the one that derives from plant-based sources. As a result, your muscles get all the amino acids they need from one source without requiring you to eat other foods for additional nutrients.
Jerky is Packed With Sodium
As mentioned above, salt keeps bacteria from growing on your meat. But, despite the life-saving quality of preservation, salt is also a bonafide dangerfood, especially when consumed in large quantities. So, given its high sodium concentration, the seasoning is linked to several conditions, from high blood pressure and osteoporosis(4) to cardiovascular irregularities(5) and cancer(6).
The bad news is that compared to their smallish size, jerky strips contain a relatively high amount of the alkali. In fact, one serving of the snack packs 443 mg of sodium which is enough to cover 18% of your daily recommended intake. That means that just 4 strips contain about a full day’s worth of sodium. So, consider yourself warned!
Jerky is High in Minerals
It’s no secret that meat is an excellent source of minerals with iron, zinc and phosphorous being the highest in concentration. To be exact, just one strip of beef jerky packs 1.6 mg of zinc, 1.1 mg of iron and 81.4 mg of phosphorous, covering 11%, 6% and 8% of the respective daily intakes. Considering we often fail to get enough of these minerals through our day-to-day diet, it’s great to know that this easy-to-find snack has our back.
Processed Meat is not the Best Option
Whether we like it or not, store-bought jerky is heavily processed. From additives to preservatives, manufacturers stuff the delicious morsel with all sorts of stuff to make it look fresh and appealing and keep the flavor intact for as long as possible. Unfortunately, these artificial substances are the reason why processed meat is associated with cancer (or at least, that’s what studies show). That said, consuming too much of the snack could potentially lead to breast(7), lung(8), and colon(9) cancers.
Considering all of the above, meat jerky doesn’t exactly strike us as a health food. In fact, somewhere between the nitrates, the sodium, and the carcinogenic preservatives, it’s evident that the snack could harm your health in more ways than one.
However, the harmful substances mentioned above are only part of the problem when we’re referring to the store-bought variety, and homemade jerky is a bright exception to this rule. So, yes, there is such a thing as healthy jerky, and if you want to enjoy it, heading to the kitchen and making it yourself is where the money’s at.
Of course, DIY-ing the whole process means you have to control a lot of variables to make sure the jerky is safe to consume. And since that is not always possible (especially when it comes to the temps), you could invest in a reliable jerky dehydrator to do all the work for you. From adjusting the temperature and killing all harmful bacteria to drying the meat as long as needed to acquire the perfect texture, this gadget is a surefire way to make top-notch healthy jerky every time.
Also Read: How to Make Flawless Jerky At Home