The Surprisingly High-Protein Snack You Can Buy At A Gas Station

Stopping at a gas station and perusing the aisles in search of a healthier alternative to potato chips and chocolate treats can feel a bit overwhelming. You're tired from the long drive, you're hungry (and possibly hangry too), and all you want is something that tastes good and will keep you satiated until you get home, hop in the shower, and have a decent meal.

Enter beef jerky, a high-protein snack that is perhaps one of the healthiest gas station snacks to buy on a road trip. A 28-gram serving of the stuff contains just 3.1 grams of carbs and 7.3 grams of protein, per Healthline. Beef jerky is also high in other nutrients like zinc and iron, while some brands might contain vitamins A, C, and calcium as well.

Despite its high-protein and low-carb benefits, however, it's important to understand how beef jerky is made to get a better picture of what goes into the product. The name itself comes from the Quechuan word "ch'arki," which means "to burn meat." Lean cuts of meat are marinated in spices, sauces, and other ingredients before being heavily processed and packaged. Typically, what you consume as beef jerky from a store has gone through a process of curing, smoking, and drying. Also, as explained by registered dietitian Eliza Savage to Women's Health, "There are so many different kinds of beef jerky, including many unhealthy varieties." How do you pick the healthier kind?

Check the sodium and sugar content before buying beef jerky

The processing of beef jerky involves adding sodium and sugar to prolong shelf life. But there are other additives that go into the making of this high-protein food.

"Many jerky brands can contain potentially harmful preservatives like nitrates as well as added sugar and excess sodium," explains Lauren Bloch, a registered dietitian and co-founder of wellness company MELA Health (via Verywell Fit). Bloch advises seeking out nitrate-free brands that are low in sodium and sugar and have familiar ingredients. When it comes to sodium content, registered dietitian Courtney Dunn recommends aiming for 140 milligrams per serving (per Refinery29). And while they might be a challenge to find at a gas station, Savage told Women's Health that a lot of jerky brands are now offering healthier options with reduced sugar content.

Travel-related stops aside, jerky could make a beneficial snack for those who work out, too. If you know how much protein you should eat after a workout, check the packaging to know its protein content, as not all meat jerky varieties come with the same amount.

What are the healthiest brands of beef jerky?

Organic meat with no added hormones is the healthiest way to go when it comes to this high-protein snack, per experts. As for the type of meat to choose, beef could contain more fat than chicken or turkey, added Dunn (via Refinery29). There are also pork, salmon, and vegan varieties, should you prefer those.

It's important to note that regardless of the brand and the kind of meat, moderation is prudent. Overconsumption of processed foods like beef jerky is never a good idea. A good rule of thumb would be to stick to one serving or a credit card-sized portion (per Women's Health).

Some of the healthier options for beef jerky include CHOMPS Original Beef, which contains 290 milligrams of sodium, 9 grams of protein, and zero added sugar per stick. You can also try Country Archer's grass-fed beef jerky, which is free of MSG, nitrates/nitrites, and preservatives. Lastly, if you want your snack to have a bit of spice, grab some grass-fed Spicy Beef Meat Sticks from The New Primal, which has 6 grams of protein and zero sugar per stick.