June 12 is National Jerky day—a day to celebrate this savory, salty high-protein snack that’ll have you gnawing and salivating in seconds.
While packaged varieties have certainly exploded, jerky isn’t new. Dried meats have been around for hundreds of years. Native American descendants preserved meat by adding salt and drying it out in the sun or over fire during the winter months.
The question is: Is jerky healthy? The short answer is it depends. Jerky can absolutely be healthy, as long as it fits within your dietary goals and the type of product you’re choosing. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, dried meat snacks can be an excellent source of protein.
The critics of jerky can be a little outdated. Many people warn they’re high in sodium with added MSG, nitrates, and artificial preservatives. The truth of the matter is jerky isn’t made that way anymore.
Sodium, however, is a legitimate concern. Although sodium is an essential nutrient, it’s way too easy to overindulge in the typical American diet. The recommended daily level for the average person is 2,400mg per day, according to the FDA, which is only a little over of a teaspoon of table salt. It’s true athletes require higher levels as sodium is the major electrolyte lost in sweat, but the average american consumes over 3,400mg per day.
How to Choose a Healthy Jerky
- Look for jerky with fewer than 500mg sodium content per serving
- Opt for brands that have no more than 5g of added sugar
We’ve searched grocery and convenience stores to find you the best, healthiest jerky available in 2018.
Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., is coordinator of nutrition and team sports dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.