MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Healthy may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of dried meat snacks - like beef jerky.
However, a growing number of brands are setting out to change that, transforming a road trip indulgence into a cleaner, upscale treat.
Blogger Toni Sicola likes to snack on foods which are hunger busting and healthy.
"I tend to stay away from the foods that have lots and lots of ingredients that you can't pronounce," said Sicola.
Her go to snack is a convenience store classic that has undergone a modern day makeover - jerky.
"It's not super dry and leathery. It's a lot easier to chew," said Sicola.
Dried meat is now considered one of America's hottest gourmet snacks. Sales topped $2.5 billion, up nearly 12-percent, within the last year.
The latest brands to hit the market claim their products are minimally processed, nitrate free and crafted from all-natural ingredients. Supermarket guru Phil Lempert said it's no surprise dried meat is the fastest growing U.S. snack category.
"It's satisfying, number one. It's exciting, number two. And probably most important, it's all about protein," said Lempert.
Americans are hungry for grab and go, high-protein snacks. Not only is jerky protein rich, typically 7 to 14 grams per serving, gourmet brands are shaking things up with funky flavor combinations - think meat based bars mixed with fruit and there's even jerky trail mix.
"It's really introducing a lot of people, especially the millennial generation, both men and women, to all kinds of new tastes," said Lempert.
"One of my favorite flavors of gourmet jerky is a black cherry barbecue pork one," said Sicola.
Registered dietician Dawn Jackson-Blatner said even though today's dried meat is considered a leaner, cleaner, snack, it's still important to read labels. Make sure you recognize the ingredients and focus on the "Percent Daily Value" for sodium and saturated fat.
"You want those things to be low, and really that means it's about 5%, or for sure under 20%, when you're looking at the label," said Jackson-Blatner.
Most healthy Americans don't need to beef up their protein intake, so as with anything, Jackson-Blatner recommends eating meat treats in moderation.
"A great way to do that is like once a day paired with a fruit or a vegetable. That way you're sort of getting this balanced nutrition at your snack time," she said.
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