FAQ: Is Beef Jerky a Healthy Snack Choice?

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Looking for a healthy, high protein, shelf-stable snack? If you’re considering beef jerky, you might want to look elsewhere. While many fitness afficionados and self-educated healthy “foodies” are quick to recommend beef jerky, chicken jerky, and other dried, smoked meats, jerky isn’t exactly the healthy snack it appears to be at first glance. Unlike many snack foods, jerky’s shortfalls aren’t related to calorie, fat, or sugar content, but rather its classification as a Group 1 Carcinogen. Group 1 Carcinogens, which are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO), are foods and substances that have shown to cause cancer in humans. Other substances classified as Group 1 Carcinogens include but are not limited to tobacco, arsenic, and formaldehyde. While many consumers would be surprised to find jerky on the list of obvious offenders, jerky isn’t the only food substance to land on the Group 1 List. Alcohol, jerky, and other processed meats -including but not limited to sausage, pepperoni, and bacon are all classified as Group 1 Carcinogens. So what about beef jerky makes it so carcinogenic, and are there healthier jerky options? During the production process, carcinogenic compounds (namely, N-nitroso compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heterocyclic aromatic amines) are formed that increase the risk for various forms of cancer, but especially those of the stomach, colon, and intestinal tract. While consumers have become accustomed to turning to turkey and chicken alternatives for healthier options, turkey and chicken jerkies undergo a similar production process, and the carcinogenic load is the same as that seen in more traditional jerky products, even if fat and calorie content differs. For every 1.7 oz serving of cured or processed meat consumed each week, risk of the aforementioned cancers increases by 18%, as per current WHO research. Naturally, most avid jerky enthusiasts won’t swear off cured meat for good. However, reducing consumption where possible by replacing jerky with another protein-rich snack can help improve overall health outcomes and dramatically reduce cancer risk.