How Much Iron is in Beef Jerky? A Closer Look at This Protein-Packed Snack

Beef jerky has become an increasingly popular high-protein snack in recent years. With its portability, shelf stability, and nutrition profile it’s easy to see why busy folks have come to rely on jerky for an on-the-go boost. But exactly how nutritious is this dried and cured meat? Specifically how much iron does beef jerky contain? Let’s take a closer look.

A Primer on Beef Jerky

For those unfamiliar, beef jerky is essentially very lean cuts of beef that have been trimmed of fat, sliced, then dried or smoked. This drying/curing process helps preserve the meat and prevent spoilage The end result is a shelf-stable, portable source of protein that can be tossed in a bag or drawer for anytime snacking.

While traditional jerky was made by sun-drying strips of meat outdoors, most commercial beef jerky today is dried at low temperatures in special ovens or dehydrators. The meat is also often marinated in a salty, spicy liquid mixture before drying, which imparts flavor.

The curing process concentrates the natural proteins and nutrients in the beef while reducing water content. A 1-ounce serving of beef jerky contains about 116 calories, 9 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, and 505 milligrams of sodium, on average. The protein content is comparable to other high-protein snacks like Greek yogurt or hard-boiled eggs.

Now let’s look at why beef jerky has gained a reputation as an excellent source of iron

Beef Jerky is High in Heme Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that plays many important roles in the body. It helps carry oxygen in the blood, aids muscle function, supports immune health, and keeps cells energized. Iron also helps create hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that enables them to transport oxygen.

There are two main types of dietary iron:

  • Heme iron – found in animal foods like red meat, seafood, and poultry
  • Non-heme iron – found in plant-based foods like lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals

Heme iron is more bioavailable, meaning it’s more easily absorbed by the body compared to non-heme iron. Beef jerky is a concentrated source of heme iron.

Exactly how much iron is in beef jerky? Let’s crunch the numbers:

  • A 1-ounce serving of beef jerky contains approximately 1.4 milligrams of iron
  • This provides about 8% of the recommended daily intake for adult men (18 mg/day) and 7% for adult women (18 mg/day).

While less than 10% of your daily iron needs may not seem like much, it’s a significant amount from a single 1-ounce snack. Plus, given that it’s highly absorbable heme iron, that 1.4 mg translates into a meaningful boost to your iron status.

Who Needs More Iron?

According to the CDC, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. It’s estimated that 80% of people with an iron deficiency have iron deficiency anemia, a condition where iron levels are so low it affects the number or size of red blood cells.

Some of the major signs and symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Brittle nails
  • Swollen tongue
  • Cracks in mouth corners

Groups most at risk of iron deficiency include:

  • Women of childbearing age due to blood loss from menstruation
  • Pregnant women due to increased blood volume
  • Infants and toddlers due to rapid growth
  • Vegetarians and vegans who avoid heme iron sources
  • Athletes, especially female endurance athletes

For these high-risk groups, eating foods high in heme iron like beef jerky can help increase iron stores and prevent deficiency.

Tips for Getting Enough Iron from Beef Jerky

If you’re looking to boost your iron intake through beef jerky, here are some tips:

  • Check labels and choose jerky with the most iron. Iron content can vary widely by brand. Look for jerky with at least 1-2 mg of iron per serving.

  • Watch your portions. Stick to about 1 ounce of jerky per day to get roughly 1-1.5 mg of iron. Too much jerky can up your sodium intake.

  • Pair with vitamin C. Eat jerky with fruits or veggies high in vitamin C like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, or red bell peppers. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption.

  • Avoid excess calcium. Calcium can hinder iron absorption, so avoid taking calcium supplements or antacids with jerky.

  • Look for grass-fed. Grass-fed beef contains more antioxidants like vitamin E which may further aid iron absorption.

  • Store properly. Keep jerky in a sealed bag away from sunlight and humidity to prevent oxidation which can damage nutrients like iron.

Potential Drawbacks of Beef Jerky

While beef jerky can be a handy source of iron and protein, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind:

  • High sodium content – Most beef jerky is high in sodium, with 500 mg or more per serving. This can be an issue for anyone watching their salt intake.

  • Nitrates/nitrites – Many brands use preservatives like sodium nitrite to prevent botulism and extend shelf life. In excess, these compounds may be carcinogenic.

  • Tough on teeth – The hard, chewy texture can damage dental work or crack teeth.

  • Processed red meat – Some studies link processed red meat to increased heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risk (the level of risk is debatable).

  • Not vegetarian/vegan friendly – Beef jerky is off-limits for vegetarians and vegans, as well as those avoiding red meat for religious/cultural reasons.

If any of these are a concern, be mindful of how much jerky you eat and consider swapping in other iron-rich foods like lentils, fortified cereal, or pumpkin seeds.

The Takeaway on Beef Jerky and Iron

When consumed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet, beef jerky can be a handy way for certain groups to increase their iron intake, especially highly absorbable heme iron. Just 1 ounce provides close to 10% of the recommended daily iron, along with 9 grams of muscle-building protein.

This makes jerky an ideal pick-me-up for those at risk of iron deficiency, like menstruating women, growing kids, and athletes. Just be mindful of sodium content, portion sizes, and how jerky fits into your overall diet.

At the end of the day, beef jerky can be a smart choice for on-the-go iron and protein, as long as you keep intake reasonable. When shopping, check labels for iron content, select grass-fed options when possible, and pair with vitamin C for maximum absorption.

8 Surprising Health Benefits Of Beef Jerky


How much iron is in Jack Link’s beef jerky?

0.00 mg
0 %
1.44 mg
8 %
739.90 mg
32 %

How much iron is in beef jerky?

When eating 1 ounce of beef jerky, iron content clocks in at around 8% of your DV (about 1.54 milligrams). In general, 1 ounce of beef jerky has about 2.6 grams of sugar. Again, the marinade and seasonings that go into making your beef jerky play huge parts. First, what’s folate?

What are the Nutrition Facts for beef jerky?

The nutrition facts for beef jerky can vary by brand. Generally, a one-ounce serving of beef jerky provides the following nutrients: Beef jerky typically has a high-sodium content. A one-ounce serving has about 20% of the daily recommended sodium intake for adults. Nine out of 10 people in the United States consume too much sodium.

Is beef jerky a good source of heme iron?

Research has found that beef jerky is a significant source of heme iron. Iron helps transport oxygen to different body parts, and the body absorbs heme iron more readily than non-heme iron. Iron deficiency is common, especially among women. Beef jerky can be an easy source of heme iron to help protect against iron deficiency.

Is beef jerky healthy?

Beef jerky is an easy, on-the-go snack that packs high protein, zinc, and iron concentrations. Those nutrients are essential for overall health. 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.

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