Are Slim Jims A Keto Friendly Option?

According to The New York Times, Slim Jims have been with us since 1928 — long before "Macho Man" Randy Savage was even a twinkle in his daddy's eye.

A staple of campers, backpackers, and aficionados of fine convenience store cuisine for eons, Slim Jims hold a special place in the hearts of many. In fact, these treats are so dear that according to a CNBC report, the meat stick market is worth about $1.37 billion, of which $200 million is Slim Jims (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). In the same article, CNBC also reported that it's a shirking market. The leading cause seems to be that people are trying to eat healthier, and traditional snack foods sales, in general, are on the decline.

As evidenced by another article in The New York Times, one of the most common trends in the search for a healthy diet is eating a ketogenic diet. Commonly called "keto," this diet involves lowering carb intakes to between 20 and 50 grams a day, only eating a moderate amount of protein, and consuming foods high in fats.

Though considered "new age," this diet has been used by doctors at Johns Hopkins for nearly a century (via the Johns Hopkins website). Though their studies are not related to weight loss, they have found the diet safe and beneficial in many ways.

Here we will explore if Slim Jims can be considered a keto-friendly snack option and why. 

What is the ketogenic diet

The National Institute of Health defines a ketogenic diet as high in fats, low in carbs, and containing only moderate amounts of protein. The proportions the NIH recommends are "55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein, and 5% to 10% carbohydrates." If you eat 2,000 calories a day, this will limit your carb intake to between 20 and 50 grams a day.

On a more practical level, your goal when eating keto is to limit your body's insulin production and force it into a catabolic state. In this state, your body is forced to burn fat instead of sugars as a primary fuel source. In actuality, the liver converts fat into ketones, and the body uses the ketones as a fuel source — this is where the diet draws its name.

As reported by the NIH, keto has been found to offer many possible health benefits, including helping fight against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity. The NIH doctors also found that a ketogenic diet strengthens the immune system and improves digestion. Of course, some have noted hidden dangers of the keto diet as well, such as the keto flu, bad breath, and low energy.

What is a Slim Jim made of

With one plant producing over a billion Slim Jims a year (via The Atlantic Journal-Constitution), there is little doubt that Slim Jims are a popular snack. The question is, what are you eating when you "snap into a Slim Jim?" The answer may surprise you — and might even turn you off.

If you believe that Slim Jims are primarily made of beef, you would be wrong. A 2014 WIRED YouTube video explains what you are actually eating when you bite into a Slim Jim. As it says on the label, beef, pork, and chicken are in these little sausages. You should note, though, that it says mechanically separated chicken, which, according to the USDA, is what you get when you force bones through a sieve under high pressure.

As to the pork and beef used in Slim Jims, that is a closely held secret. It could be tenderloin or eyeballs. The company won't say, and you can't force them to. As the Wired video goes on to illustrate, beyond the actual meat in a Slim Jim, there is a host of other ingredients. Just a few that you might recognize are corn and wheat proteins, along with hydrolyzed soy, corn syrup, and dextrose. From there, it's all downhill. 

The video mentions that Conagra adds lactic bacteria, an entire day's worth of salt, along with an unhealthy dose of sodium nitrate to help prevent spoilage and keep the sausages nice and red. Yikes.

Are Slim Jims keto friendly

It may come as some surprise, but despite all the additives like corn, wheat, and soy, Slim Jims are allowed on a Keto diet. The company advertises them as a high-protein snack, and the labeling backs up this claim — to a point. Saying that they are high fat and packed with sodium would be more honest.

Via the package labeling, when you eat a Slim Jim, you are consuming 11 grams (14% DV) of fat, 6 grams (13% DV) of protein, and 6 grams (2% DV) of carbs. Remember that these numbers relate to the classic American diet, not keto. Percentages based on USDA recommended daily allowances based on a 2,000 calory a day diet.

As you can see, Slim Jims contain almost twice as much fat as carbohydrates or protein. This would appear to make them an ideal snack for people on a keto diet. While Slim Jims do fit in the NIH guidelines for a keto diet, they are far from healthy. They contain large amounts of sodium, sodium nitrite, and other additives. The amount of salt is reasoning enough for you to limit eating these sticks.