Why Is Beef Jerky Bad For You? The Potential Downsides

Beef jerky can seem like the ultimate grab-and-go protein snack. The thin, chewy strips of seasoned dried meat are shelf-stable, portable, and packed with nutrition like protein, zinc and iron. But is this convenient snack actually good for you, or should it be avoided? Beef jerky has some potential downsides that are important to consider.

Beef Jerky is High in Sodium

The most notable drawback of commercially-made beef jerky is its extremely high sodium content. A 1-ounce serving of beef jerky contains around 600 mg of sodium, which is over 25% of the recommended daily sodium intake.

Consuming high amounts of sodium has been linked to negative health effects:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Higher risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Fluid retention and bloating
  • Kidney problems
  • Strain on heart and blood vessels

Health authorities recommend limiting sodium to 2300 mg per day at most. People with high blood pressure or heart issues may require even lower sodium diets. It’s easy to go over the limit with just one or two pieces of jerky.

Processed Meat May Increase Disease Risk

Beef jerky is considered a processed meat since it is preserved through curing, smoking, drying or other methods. Studies have found associations between eating large amounts of processed meats and increased risk of:

  • Colon, stomach and bowel cancers
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease

This may be due to compounds like nitrites, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), and heme iron forming during processing. Eating small amounts as part of an overall healthy diet is fine, but frequent jerky consumption could be a problem.

Questionable Ingredients in Some Brands

Mass-produced beef jerky often contains additives like sugars, artificial flavors and preservatives like sodium nitrite. Look for options without extra ingredients, or better yet, make your own jerky at home.

Some jerky may also contain MSG, soy and wheat, which can cause issues for people with allergies or sensitivities. Checking the label is important.

Can Contain Harmful Toxins

A recent study found that some commercially made jerkies may contain mycotoxins, toxic substances produced by molds on meat. While more research is needed, it points to another potential concern to be aware of.

Not as Nutritious as Whole Foods

While beef jerky contains beneficial nutrients like protein, iron and zinc, it lacks the additional vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in less processed whole foods.

Replacing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other fresh foods with jerky can lead to nutritional deficiencies over time.

Tips for Healthier Beef Jerky Consumption

Beef jerky can still be an occasional tasty treat if you follow some guidelines:

  • Read labels and choose low-sodium options. Look for jerky with 140mg or less per serving. This can help control your daily sodium intake.

  • Avoid nitrite-cured jerky. Opt for uncured or naturally cured jerky without sodium nitrite.

  • Make your own. DIY jerky lets you control ingredients and sodium. Use lean grass-fed beef and natural spices.

  • Eat in moderation. Limit jerky to a 1-ounce portion a few times per week at most, as part of a balanced diet.

  • Pair with fruits and veggies. Jerky by itself lacks nutrients. Enjoy it with carrot sticks, sliced apple or other wholesome snacks.

Healthier Protein Snack Alternatives

While jerky can be an easy protein source for hikers, road trips and busy days, there are other options that provide nutrition without the downsides:

  • Nuts and seeds – Unsalted almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and more are high in protein and healthy fats. Go for raw or dry roasted.

  • Nut butters – Look for natural peanut or almond butters. Have with apple slices or whole grain crackers.

  • Hard boiled eggs – Packed with protein, one egg has just 70 mg sodium. Prepare ahead for grab-and-go convenience.

  • Edamame – These soybeans pack 11 grams protein per half-cup. Buy pods or shelled edamame for an on-the-go snack.

  • Greek yogurt – High in calcium and twice the protein of regular yogurt. Opt for unsweetened plain varieties.

  • Cottage cheese – Offers a whopping 13 grams of casein protein per half cup. Lowfat versions available.

  • Protein bars – Seek options under 200 mg sodium with limited ingredients. Kind Protein bars are a good choice.

Who Should Avoid Eating Beef Jerky?

While occasional beef jerky in moderation is fine for most healthy adults, some populations are better off avoiding it:

  • Those with high blood pressure – The high sodium levels can exacerbate this condition.

  • Anyone following a sodium-restricted diet – Such as people with heart failure, kidney disease or diabetes. Always consult a doctor or dietitian first.

  • Pregnant women – Processed meats may increase listeriosis risk, which can harm the baby. Raw jerky may contain Salmonella.

  • People with sensitivities – Beef, MSG, soy, nitrites and other common jerky ingredients can cause issues for some.

The Bottom Line

Beef jerky can be enjoyed sparingly as part of an overall healthy diet, but it’s best limited. The high sodium content, increased disease risk from processed meats and questionable ingredients make frequent jerky consumption a poor idea.

For a more nutritious protein snack, try items like nuts, seeds, yogurt, hard boiled eggs and edamame instead. Homemade jerky is another option to control sodium and ingredients. In moderation alongside whole foods, beef jerky can still be part of a balanced eating plan.

Is Beef Jerky Bad For You? (IT DEPENDS ON THIS ONE THING) | LiveLeanTV


Is beef jerky really bad for you?

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. American Heart Association.

Is beef jerky considered processed meat?

Beef Jerky It’s the perfect traveling meat snack: dried, salted meat you can put in your pocket. Quality makes a difference here: Cheaper, mass-produced beef jerky can have added sugar along with the fat and salt. But high-quality beef jerky is still processed meat, so don’t overdo it.

Is jerky bad for your gut?

High sodium content: Beef jerky is typically high in sodium, which can cause bloating and water retention, leading to stomach discomfort. Lack of fiber: Beef jerky is low in fiber, which is essential for proper digestion. Insufficient fiber intake can result in constipation and abdominal pain.

Is jerky healthier than chips?

Beef Jerky vs Chips Both beef jerky and chips are both salty, savory, and delicious snacks. Beef jerky, however, is a much healthier option than chips with less calories, less fat, less carbs, and more protein. When trying to eat a healthy lifestyle, making small changes can have a big impact.

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