As you may have gathered from other posts on this blog, I’m pretty concerned with healthy eating. I also have a degree in biology, which makes me consider my opinions in this regard at least semi-intelligent. One of these opinions is that beef jerky is one of the healthiest things you can eat, bar none (provided it is made with organic beef, untreated with hormones or antibiotics).
Firstly, despite the claims of many vegans and vegetarians, meat (ORGANIC meat) is very healthy to eat. Its nutritional value is high compared to its caloric value, which means that you can get the same nutrients, vitamins and minerals for less calories… great for losing weight. The nutrition is well balanced, by which I mean it is close to exactly what we require (after all, the meat of a cow, lamb, pig or chicken is pretty similar, chemically speaking, to the human body).
At the same time, it contains very few teratogens (chemicals that cause birth defects) and very few carcinogens (chemicals that cause birth defects) compared to, say, plants. Teratogens and carcinogens affect mammals similarly, and in a healthy individual, these substances will be at a minimum. On the other hand, plants are interested in fending off creatures that feed on them, and actually produce a wide array of chemicals whose entire purpose is to be harmful (chemicals that cause birth defects or cancer in the higher animals are often more directly toxic to the lower animals like insects, worms, mollusks, and other life, like bacteria or fungi). Root vegetables (e.g carrots, parsnip, radishes, onions, potatoes) are particularly guilty of this. For a plant that keeps a large amount of juicy sugars and other nutrients in the ground, teeming with all kinds of bugs, these defense mechanisms are a necessity.
Furthermore, our bodies were evolutionarily “designed” to eat meat. Our closest relatives, the great apes, live in forests and rainforests and range from being primarily vegetarian (Chimps) to exclusively vegetarian (Gorillas and Orangutans). However, we diverged from them when we began to live on the African Savannah. On the Savannah, plant food is not widely available. There are few edible fruits (fruit grows on trees, and there are few trees on the Savannah); grains cannot be consumed without cooking, and while we’ve had fire for tens of thousands of years, we haven’t had pottery (i.e. containers for cooking) for more than about 6-7 thousand years; and finally, the root vegetables are often poisonous (as explained above) and also need to be cooked. From studying modern hunter-gatherer societies, we know that our ancestors got only about 10-30% of their nutrition from plant food, and 70-90% from meat (see, for example, the book “Man the Hunter”).
Secondly, beef jerky is basically RAW meat, which provides two main advantages:
- Raw meat is easier to digest than cooked meat. This means nutrients are available more quickly after eating and you don’t feel as sluggish for as long after a meal. Also, the less-cooked the meat, the smaller the risk of upsetting a tender stomach.
- The meat has not collected harmful substances from the cooking processes. For example, the process of heating vegetable oil can produce harmful substances which leach into the food (see here, for example).
While many foods lose nutrition value during cooking, meat is actually pretty good in this respect, losing only about 5-10% of valuable nutrients when cooked. Contrast this with vegetables, which can lose 80% or more of their nutrients, depending on the cooking method (see here, for example).
You do have to be careful about bacteria, but drying the meat at 150-155 F (~65 C) for several hours is very effective at getting rid of pathogens. By comparison, the commercial method of pasteurizing milk involves heating to 160 degrees for 15-20 seconds. (This is not to mention the fact that the salt and seasonings you will be using to marinade the meat also act as antibacterial agents.)
Lastly, jerky will keep for a very long time without refrigeration as long as it remains dry. If stored in vacuum, it will keep for literally years. Because of its light weight and nutritional value, it makes a great food for camping or back-packing — not just as a snack, but as the foundation for a complete meal (though make sure you have plenty of water).
The long and the short of it is: beef jerky is pretty awesome. See my guide on how to make jerky at home.