Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Turkey Jerky Bad For You?



Short answer

Moderate consumption of turkey jerky can be a good source of protein with fewer calories compared to other snacks. However, it often contains high sodium, added sugars, and preservatives, which can negatively impact health. Opt for low-sodium, minimally processed options with no added sugars to enjoy it as a healthier snack. Always check nutritional labels and serve in recommended portions to avoid excess intake of potentially harmful ingredients.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Turkey Jerky: Protein vs. Calories

When considering the nutritional value of turkey jerky, one must take a close look at the balance between protein content and caloric value. This high-protein snack, when consumed in moderation, can be a convenient and satisfying option for those looking to increase their protein intake without significantly boosting their calorie consumption.

Here's a breakdown of what typical turkey jerky offers in terms of protein and calories:

  • Average Protein Content: A single ounce (about 28 grams) of turkey jerky can provide approximately 9 to 11 grams of protein, making it an excellent source of this macronutrient. Protein is essential for muscle repair, immune function, and the production of enzymes and hormones. It's particularly useful for those engaged in regular physical activity or attempting to manage their weight.
  • Calorie Comparison: The same single ounce serving size generally contains around 70 to 100 calories. When comparing the calorie content to the protein yield, turkey jerky emerges as a lower-calorie option, especially when juxtaposed with other protein-rich snacks like cheese or nuts.

Additionally, it's important to highlight the type of protein found in turkey jerky. As it's sourced from lean turkey meat, the protein is of high biological value, containing all nine essential amino acids required by the body. This complete protein aids in fulfilling the body's nutritional needs more effectively than protein from some other sources can.

Yet, while turkey jerky's protein-to-calorie ratio may be favorable, consumers should be aware of the potential for high sodium content. Excessive sodium can lead to increased blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues. Be sure to check labels for low-sodium options to mitigate this concern.

Moreover, many commercial turkey jerkies include added sugars, flavor enhancers, and preservatives that can increase the calorie count and decrease the snack's overall nutritional value. Opting for brands that use minimal added ingredients will ensure a healthier choice without unnecessary calorie increases. Below is an approximate nutritional profile for a single 1-ounce serving of turkey jerky:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 70-100
Protein 9-11g
Total Fat 0.5-2g
Saturated Fat 0-0.5g
Carbohydrates 3-6g
Sugars 0-4g
Sodium 400-600mg

Taking into account the nutritional aspects of turkey jerky, the high protein content can be a benefit for those seeking a lean source of this macronutrient. However, calorie-conscious consumers need to evaluate the full nutritional label to make an informed decision on its role in their diet. Keep an eye on serving sizes as well, since overconsumption can quickly add up in calories, thwarting weight management goals.

Even with a seemingly healthy snack like turkey jerky, it's essential to understand the complex interplay of its components. To maximize the benefits while minimizing potential drawbacks, choose turkey jerky that is low in sodium and without added sugars. This approach will help maintain a nutritional balance that favors wellness and dietary goals.

Sodium Levels in Turkey Jerky and Your Health

Turkey jerky has become a popular snack for those seeking a lean protein source. However, it is crucial to analyze its sodium content, as excessive sodium consumption can have adverse health implications. Manufacturers often add salt as a preservative to extend the shelf life and enhance flavor, leading to potentially high sodium levels in turkey jerky products.

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended daily limit for sodium intake is no more than 2,300 milligrams, moving toward an ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams for most adults. This amount can vary depending on individual health needs and advice from healthcare professionals. Nevertheless, it's not uncommon for a single serving of turkey jerky to contain upwards of 600 milligrams of sodium, which is a significant portion of the daily recommended intake.

Excessive sodium can contribute to several health concerns, including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage
  • Inflated risk of developing osteoporosis

Understanding the nutritional label on turkey jerky is vital for managing sodium intake. Here are some tips for choosing lower-sodium turkey jerky options:

  • Look for labels that say "low sodium" or "no added salt."
  • Compare brands and choose the one with the lowest sodium content per serving.
  • Consider portion size - opting for a small serving can reduce overall sodium intake.

Regarding scientific research, a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that monitoring sodium intake is crucial for maintaining cardiovascular health. The study underlines the importance of choosing lower-sodium options, especially in ready-to-eat snacks like turkey jerky. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has emphasized that most Americans consume more sodium than is recommended, with processed foods being significant contributors.

For those with specific health concerns related to sodium, such as hypertension or heart disease, it is especially important to consider the sodium content in all food choices, including turkey jerky. Consulting a registered dietitian or healthcare provider can help tailor dietary choices to individual health needs.

Preservatives and Nitrites: Hidden Dangers in Processed Meats

When considering the implications of consuming turkey jerky, a point of concern lies in the preservatives and nitrites that are often used in the processing of these meats. Traditionally, preservatives serve the functional purpose of elongating shelf life and ensuring food safety by inhibiting bacterial growth. However, these chemicals can have unintended consequences for our health.

Nitrites, in particular, are used for their preservative properties and for adding a pinkish color to the meat, making it more visually appealing. The main concern with nitrites is their potential to form nitrosamines when exposed to high heat and during the digestive process. These compounds are worrisome because they have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, according to studies like those reported by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). For example, one study in the Journal of Oncology showed a correlation between high consumption of processed meats with added nitrites and an increase in colorectal cancer cases.

Besides nitrites, turkey jerky may contain other preservatives such as sodium benzoate, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). These additives can potentially cause adverse effects like allergic reactions and have been examined for their possible role in hyperactivity in children and other health concerns. A publication in the American Journal of Public Health suggested that long-term exposure to BHA could lead to health issues, although the FDA currently considers it to be "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS).

Another point to consider is the sodium content associated with these preservatives. A high intake of sodium can lead to elevated blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Turkey jerky can be particularly high in sodium, which can be problematic for individuals with hypertension or a predisposition to cardiovascular issues.

Health-conscious consumers looking to avoid these added preservatives and nitrites may find solace in seeking out products labeled as "nitrite-free" or those using natural preservatives like celery powder, which contain naturally occurring nitrates. These may carry a lower risk, but it is still a topic of ongoing research as to whether the health implications are significantly different.

Therefore, when considering whether turkey jerky is bad for you, paying attention to the label and understanding the potential implications of chemical additives like preservatives and nitrites is crucial. Moderation is key, and opting for minimally processed alternatives when possible is a healthy choice.

Sugar Content and Hidden Sweeteners in Flavored Turkey Jerky

When examining the health impacts of turkey jerky, particularly the flavored varieties, it's important to assess the sugar content and the presence of hidden sweeteners. The savory taste of turkey jerky often comes with an unexpected sugar content that can contribute to various health issues when consumed in excess. This sugar is not just about sweetness; it can often be a part of the curing process or added to enhance flavor profiles in gourmet varieties.

As a consumer, it's vital to read nutritional labels thoroughly. In flavored turkey jerky, sugar can come in various forms:

  • Brown sugar: Adds a rich sweetness and can influence the jerky's color.
  • Honey: Often marketed as a "healthier" sweetener option, honey still contributes to the total sugar content.
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): A common sweetener that is cheaper and sweeter than sugar, but linked to obesity and metabolic disorders when consumed in large amounts.
  • Dextrose: A simple sugar that's often used in the curing process of many jerky products.
  • Maple syrup or agave nectar: Like honey, these are sometimes perceived as natural sweetener options, yet they similarly impact the sugar content.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, excess consumption of added sugars, particularly from processed foods, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Turkey jerky, especially those with added flavors, can contribute to the total daily intake of added sugars, often without the consumer's full awareness.

The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for women, and 36 grams (around 9 teaspoons) for men. A single serving of flavored turkey jerky can contain a substantial portion of this daily limit, sometimes exceeding it, emphasizing the need for moderation.

For health-conscious individuals, opting for unflavored or minimally processed turkey jerky can significantly reduce sugar intake. When choosing flavored turkey jerky, consider the following tips:

  • Look for products with no added sugars or sweeteners listed in the ingredients.
  • Check the nutrition facts label for the grams of sugar per serving, keeping the daily recommended limits in mind.
  • Be mindful of portions. Even if the sugar content per serving seems reasonable, consuming multiple servings can quickly add to your total sugar intake for the day.
  • Understand that terms like "all-natural" or "organic" do not necessarily mean the product is low in sugar.

Finding turkey jerky that aligns with your dietary goals can be more challenging when facing the myriad of flavor options, but informed choices can make all the difference in finding a snack that is both tasty and in line with health-conscious eating.

Balancing the Benefits and Risks of Turkey Jerky as a Snack

Snacking on turkey jerky can seem like a nutritious and convenient option, especially for those seeking a high-protein, low-fat alternative to traditional beef jerky. When analyzing this snack, it's imperative to weigh both its potential health benefits and the associated risks.

Benefits of Turkey Jerky:

  • Protein Content: Turkey jerky is a rich source of lean protein, which is essential for muscle repair, growth, and overall bodily functions. Protein also aids in satiety, potentially reducing overeating.
  • Low in Fat: Compared to red meat alternatives, turkey jerky typically contains less saturated fat, aligning better with heart-healthy dietary guidelines.
  • Portability: As a non-perishable snack, turkey jerky is convenient for on-the-go lifestyles and does not require refrigeration. This makes it a practical choice for hikers, athletes, and busy professionals.
  • Mineral Rich: It provides essential minerals like zinc and iron, which are pivotal for immune function and oxygen transportation in the blood, respectively.

Risks of Turkey Jerky:

  • Sodium Content: The preservation process of making jerky often involves high levels of sodium, which can contribute to hypertension and other cardiovascular problems if consumed in excess.
  • Additives and Preservatives: Many commercial turkey jerkies contain additives such as nitrites, which may be linked to an increased risk of certain cancers when consumed regularly over time, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Sugar Content: Some brands add sugar to enhance flavor, which can increase calorie content and potentially negate some of the benefits of a lean protein snack.
  • Quality of Meat: The health benefits of turkey jerky can be considerably undermined if the turkey used is of poor quality or has been raised with antibiotics and hormones.
  • Chewing Difficulty: Jerky is often tough to chew, which could pose a dental risk, particularly for those with pre-existing dental issues.

It's worth noting that individual brands vary greatly in their production methods and ingredients. When opting for turkey jerky, scrutinize the labels for a better understanding of what you're consuming. Opt for options with minimal added sugars, low sodium, and without unnecessary preservatives. Being an informed consumer can tilt the balance towards reaping the benefits of this protein-rich snack while minimizing potential risks.

Turkey Jerky vs. Other Jerky Varieties: Health Implications

When it comes to choosing a jerky, the options are vast, with beef, chicken, turkey, and even exotic meats such as bison and salmon. Understanding the health implications of turkey jerky as compared to its counterparts is essential for making an informed decision about which jerky to incorporate into your diet.

Nutritional Content Comparison

Turkey jerky is often lauded for its lower fat content when compared to traditional beef jerky. Typically, a serving of turkey jerky contains fewer calories and less total fat, including saturated fat, which is a point of consideration for those monitoring their calorie and fat intake for weight management or cardiovascular health.

However, it's important to note that beef jerky can offer higher levels of certain micronutrients such as iron and zinc due to the richer mineral profile of red meat. Those requiring higher intakes of these nutrients might prefer beef jerky over turkey jerky.

For individuals looking for a lighter protein snack with a reduced calorie count, turkey jerky can be a suitable option, provided that it meets their nutritional needs and fits within their overall dietary goals.

Sodium Content

One significant consideration when evaluating the healthiness of jerky is its sodium content. Jerky is commonly high in sodium as salt is a key ingredient in the curing process. Excessive sodium intake is associated with high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. Both beef and turkey jerky can contain significant amounts of sodium; however, some brands produce lower sodium versions of turkey jerky that could serve as a healthier option for those on sodium-restricted diets.

Influence on Digestion

For individuals with sensitive stomachs or digestive conditions like IBS, turkey jerky could potentially be easier to digest due to its lower fat content. Fatty foods can sometimes slow digestion and cause discomfort for those with digestive concerns. Turkey's leaner profile may result in a quicker transit time and less gastrointestinal distress.

Processing and Additives

Ideally, the health implications of consuming any jerky not only lie in its basic nutritional profile but also in the manufacturing process and the additives used. Turkey jerky and other jerkies might contain similar preservatives, flavor enhancers, and sugar. When assessing the health implications of turkey jerky, it's crucial to examine the label for any undesirable additives, and seek out brands committed to using minimal and natural ingredients.


Ultimately, the health comparison between turkey jerky and other jerky varieties depends on individual health goals, dietary restrictions, and nutritional needs. While turkey jerky may be the better option for those looking to consume less fat and calories, it is important to compare the labels of different jerky products for sodium content, added sugars, and preservatives to ensure the healthiest choice is made.

Recommended Portions and Healthier Ways to Consume Jerky

Turkey jerky can be a nutritious snack if consumed in moderation. Appropriate portion control is key to reaping the benefits of turkey jerky while avoiding overindulgence, which could lead to excessive sodium and preservative intake.

According to dietary guidelines, the recommended serving size for jerky is approximately one ounce (28 grams). This portion typically contains:

  • 9 to 14 grams of protein
  • Less than 1 gram of fat
  • 0 to 3 grams of carbohydrates
  • 220 to 400 milligrams of sodium

For individuals adhering to a stricter sodium intake, it is advisable to limit jerky consumption to a few times a week rather than daily, particularly for those with hypertension or heart disease due to high sodium content. A 2016 study published in the "Journal of the American Heart Association" highlighted the relationship between high sodium diets and cardiovascular disease, underscoring the importance of portion control with high-sodium foods.

Healthier ways to consume turkey jerky involve:

  • Opting for Low-Sodium Varieties: Look for brands that offer lower sodium options, which are generally better choices for maintaining heart health. A prospective study published in "Circulation" recommends individuals with a higher risk of heart disease adhere to a lower sodium diet.
  • Choosing Natural or Organic Options: Natural or organic turkey jerky typically contains fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients, which can be beneficial for overall health.
  • Incorporating Balanced Snacking: Pair jerky with high-fiber foods like raw vegetables or whole grains to promote satiety and digestive health, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
  • Making Homemade Jerky: Preparing jerky at home allows for control over ingredients, such as using organic turkey and creating your own marinades with less sodium and no added sugars.

An additional consideration is the rest of the day's dietary pattern. Balance jerky consumption with other foods low in sodium and rich in nutrients to ensure a well-rounded diet. Experts, including those from the American Heart Association, suggest an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains for optimal health and nutrition balance.

While turkey jerky can be a healthy, protein-rich snack option, staying within the recommended portions and choosing healthier variants is essential for maintaining a balanced diet and preventing negative health outcomes associated with high sodium and preservative consumption.

Frequently asked questions

Turkey jerky is typically low in fat, including saturated fat, making it a healthier choice compared to other jerky varieties. Still, it's important to read the label, as some brands may add higher fat ingredients to enhance flavor.

Yes, vegetarians and vegans can find jerky alternatives made from plant-based ingredients like soy, mushrooms, and legumes. These options mimic the texture of meat jerky and provide a protein-rich snack without any animal products.

To fit turkey jerky into a heart-healthy diet, choose a low-sodium variety, limit portions to the recommended one ounce serving size, and balance your diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other low-sodium protein sources to avoid excess sodium and saturated fat intake.

Turkey jerky can be a good snack option for weight loss due to its high protein content and low calorie count, which can promote satiety and help curb hunger. However, it's important to choose low-sodium, low-sugar varieties and consume it in moderation within the context of a balanced diet.

Ask a question about Turkey Jerky and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood pressure
  • feelings of satiety
  • dental issues

Possible long-term side effects

  • hypertension
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • kidney damage
  • increased risk of osteoporosis
  • cancer risks from nitrites
  • allergic reactions
  • hyperactivity in children
  • obesity and metabolic disorders from excessive sugars

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high in protein
  • low calorie
  • convenience
  • contains essential minerals like zinc and iron
  • lower in saturated fat compared to beef jerky

Healthier alternatives

  • low-sodium options
  • nitrite-free options
  • natural preservatives like celery powder
  • unflavored turkey jerky
  • organic or natural turkey jerky
  • homemade jerky with organic turkey and homemade marinades

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Think Jerky Variety Pack

  • Grass-fed beef
  • Free-range turkey
  • Healthy snack option
  • Bold flavors included
  • Convenient snack packs
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-08-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-08-2024

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