Are Meat-Based Protein Bars Worth the Epic Price-Tag?
An RD gets to the meat of this popular food trend.
Meat-based snacks have been around since cowboys rode the range, but jerky didn’t cost three dollars for a small slice. High in protein and very low in calories, jerky and meat-based snack bars are hitting all the hot trends: natural, made from ‘whole’ foods, zero artificial sweeteners, and low in natural sweeteners. Most meat snacks also fit special diets like paleo, gluten-free, ketogenic, dairy- and soy-free.
We’ve got a round-up of the best options, to help you decide if meat bars and jerkies are worth the (often Texas-sized) price. You can find the following and other meat snacks at regular grocery stores and discount stores like Target.
Protein is of course one of the most important nutrients provided by meat snacks; meat is also a good source of iron and zinc. Women and children are sometimes deficient in these nutrients. In fact, Sabina Parker at Vermont Smoke reports that 45% of all jerky is consumed by females. “Jerky has traditionally been thought of as gas station junk food for young men. But with awareness of the nutritional benefits, new users, especially women, are trying meat snacks” says Parker. She adds, “Moms tell us their kids devour our products.”
The second ingredient in Duke’s Hickory Peach BBQ Peach Shorty Sausages really is peaches. Unlike sugary snack bars, which are sweetened with a variety of ingredients from brown rice syrup to cane sugar, many meat snacks we tried were sweetened with fruit, or not at all. Some of the savory bars and bites reminded us of pemmican; this was a Native American traditional nutrient-rich mix of dried meat and berries. The Sweet & Spicy Sriracha Tender Beef Steak Bites from EPIC are sweetened with cranberries and apple juice.
Whole Food Ingredients
While there is no legal definition of ‘whole’ or ‘clean’ foods, consumers are seeking out these and so-called natural foods. “Our bars are made from grass-fed, free range meat" says Taylor Collins, co-founder/chief of EPIC Provisions. This primarily pasture-raised philosophy appears to extend to most of the jerky and meat snacks we found. It even extends to fish; text on the EPIC’s Maple Glazed & Smoked Salmon Bites notes that their “wild caught salmon enjoy diets high in ocean plankton and open range swimming.” In general, we found that meat snacks (which often carry premium prices) contain premium ingredients. "We add whole or diced ingredients such as fresh garlic, serrano peppers, hatch green chiles, and peaches, which give our products a fresh, homemade flavor," says Greg O'Neal, Marketing VP at Dukes Meats.
Worth the Price?
Meats naturally contain complete proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids. (Most plant protein sources are not complete proteins, however, some plant-based protein bars are manufactured to contain essential amino acids.) Consumers looking for high-quality complete proteins are turning to meat bars and jerkies which tend to have short ingredient lists. In terms of cost comparison, a 4-ounce grass-fed steak can cost anywhere from three to six dollars per serving or more. Jerky and meat snacks sell from about two to four dollars per serving (prices can be lower when bought in bulk). Of course you don’t have to prep, cook, or clean-up when you choose a meat snack over a steak. Convenience has a price.
For kids – The author’s children liked Vermont Smoke & Cure Uncured Pepperoni Sticks. The company says that slow fermenting their sticks for up to 12 hours imparts a cleaner flavor.
For culinarians – With fire-roasted red peppers and a claim of “hand-hung and slow-dried” pork, we liked Duke’s Meats Cajun Style Andouille Smoked Shorty Sausages.
For more protein – With 12 grams of protein, yet only 2 grams of sugar and 70 calories, we liked Cracked Pepper Turkey Jerky from Field Trip. Some meat snacks can have up to 10 grams of sugars per serving. To get the most protein for fewer calories, look for 0 to 3 grams of sugar.
For more fish in your diet – The name implies this one includes maple sugar (4 grams sugar,) but the flavor was a favorite of kids and adults: Salmon Fillet Smoked Maple Strip from EPIC.
For fun – Make your own Jerky or Bacon Turkey Jerky.