Mackerel is a delicious and nutritious fish that is a great source of lean protein, healthy fats and micronutrients. In this article, we discuss the various health benefits of mackerel as well as the nutrient breakdown of the fish.
What is mackerel?
Mackerel is a popular type of fish. It comes in a diversity of sizes, depending on the species. It is an oily fish, similar to salmon or tuna due to its high fat content. Its underbelly is a light silver color with a blueish-green and black striped back. It has big, bulging eyes and two fins on its back.
As a food, it is consumed all over the globe, from England to France to Japan. It is prepared in a variety of ways including smoked, pickled or cured. In Japan, it is used to make a dish called saba-zushi, which is a kind of sushi.
Different varieties of mackerel
Mackerel comes in a wide variety of species which vary in shape and size. These varieties are different due to their geographical location, which affects various aspects of evolution. Here are several species of mackerel:
- Atlantic mackerel (Boston mackerel)
- Spanish mackerel
- Pacific mackerel (Pacific jack mackerel, Chub mackerel)
- Horse mackerel
- Cero mackerel
- King mackerel fish (Sierra mackerel)
The most commonly consumed variety of mackerel is the Atlantic mackerel, which is known for the blueish green and black stripes on its back. They grow up to 16 ½ inches and 2.2 pounds and can live up to 20 years.
As you can probably guess by their name, they are found in the North Atlantic Ocean and parts of the Baltic Sea. In the western Atlantic Ocean, you can find them in between Labrador and North Carolina.
What does mackerel taste like?
Mackerel is an oily fish, so it has a moist and delicate texture and mild taste, with a hint of salty and sweet. It tastes more similar to tuna or salmon than a white fish due to its higher fat content. You can consume it with the skin on or remove the skin depending on your preference. The texture and taste of the skin is similar to salmon.
Where to buy mackerel
Fresh mackerel may be difficult to find depending on where you live. You may have to buy frozen mackerel online from an online retailer like Fulton Fish Market. If you don’t want to bother going through that whole process, you can always buy canned mackerel, which is delicious and rather easy to find at most grocery stores.
Mackerel Nutrition Facts
Mackerel is a delicious, nutrient dense fish that can help you reach your nutrition goals. Three ounces of cooked Atlantic mackerel contains 223 calories, 20 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat and 0 grams of carbohydrates.
The fats in this fish are healthy fats, consisting of mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids (about 4 grams) and monounsaturated fatty acids (about 6 grams). Specifically, three ounces of mackerel contains 0.4 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 0.6 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are kinds of omega-3 fatty acids with a variety of health benefits.
Mackerel is a good source of protein, containing all essential amino acids. Along with this, three ounces of cooked mackerel is a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, selenium and zinc.
Overall, mackerel has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, is a good source of protein and a powerhouse full of essential nutrients.
7 Health Benefits of Mackerel
Because mackerel is a good source of healthy fats, protein and various micronutrients, it has a variety of health benefits. Below are a few of the most notable health benefits of consuming mackerel.
Lower heart disease risk
The American Heart Association recommends consuming a three ounce serving of fish, particularly fatty fish like mackerel, twice per week to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke. This is due to the high omega-3 fatty acid content of these fish.
This statement is supported by the evidence. In a meta-analysis of 22 studies, they found that fish consumption was significantly associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease incidence and mortality. The risk is reduced by 4% for every 20 gram a day increase in fish consumption.
Overall, it’s clear that fish, especially fatty fish greatly reduces risk of heart disease and heart attack, leading to overall improved heart health.
Improve blood pressure
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that regular fish consumption, especially from fatty fish like mackerel, can lead to lower blood pressure levels compared to those who do not consume fish regularly.
Popular diets to lower high blood pressure like the Mediterranean and Nordic diet include lots of fish, as well as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains. There was also a meta-analysis of 71 studies suggesting that 2-3 grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids, found in mackerel, can reduce blood pressure.
Support immune system
There is evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources can improve immune function in certain conditions. In a meta-analysis of 23 studies, they found that omega-3 fatty acids improved joint swelling and pain, morning stiffness and pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Along with this, there is evidence to suggest fish can be beneficial for overall immune health and prevention of illness. Specifically, fish consumption has been shown to reduce overall mortality in humans. Specific nutrients in mackerel that can support the immune system include vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, selenium, zinc, protein, potassium and magnesium.
Improve blood cholesterol levels
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that polyunsaturated fat consumption can help improve blood cholesterol levels. But does fish consumption improve cholesterol more than omega-3 fatty acid supplements? In one randomized control trial including 106 participants, they found that fresh fish was more effective at improving blood lipids compared to the supplement.
This could be due to the fact that fish contains a variety of vitamins and minerals that further improve blood cholesterol levels compared to just the omega-3 fatty acids themselves. In most cases, the whole food will cause greater improvements compared to the supplement.
Improve cognitive function
There is ample evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect on cognitive function. In one review, they found that omega-3 treatments improved learning, memory, cognitive well-being and blood flow in the brain.
Along with this, there is evidence to suggest omega-3 fatty acids can reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. This is likely due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce neurodegeneration.
Since mackerel is a high-quality protein, meaning it contains adequate amounts of all essential amino acids, it can help you build muscle when paired with regular resistance training. There is even some research to support this claim.
In a small study of 22 adults, they found that consuming fish twice a week for ten weeks significantly improved skeletal muscle mass. Consuming fish like mackerel regularly along with other high-protein foods can help ensure you are building muscle.
Improve bone health
Mackerel contains a few nutrients that can help improve overall bone health and strength. These nutrients include vitamin D, which improves the absorption of calcium in the body, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
This association has been seen in a few studies. In one study of Chinese men, they found that fish consumption led to lower levels of osteoporosis. In another study, they found that fish consumption was associated with increased bone mass and decreased risk of osteoporosis in Korean participants. This association was not seen in the American participants, likely because they consume 4-5 times less fish than their Korean counterparts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is mackerel safe for pregnant women?
It depends. Certain kinds of mackerel are safe for pregnant women. It’s best to stick to the low mercury species like pacific mercury as opposed to king mackerel which are higher in mercury. As long as you stick to low mercury fish, it’s recommended to consume 12 ounces a week. Also, avoid consuming raw fish during pregnancy. Pregnant women are at a higher risk for foodbourne illness, so it’s best to avoid any foods that are high risk.
Is mackerel high in mercury?
It depends on the species of mackerel. Certain varieties of mackerel have high levels of mercury while others have rather low levels. Here is a list of mackerel varieties with their mean mercury concentrations listed from lowest to highest:
- North Atlantic Mackerel: 0.05 ppm
- Pacific Chub Mackerel: 0.09 ppm
- Spanish Mackerel (South Atlantic): 0.18 ppm
- Spanish Mackerel (Gulf of Mexico): 0.45 ppm
- King Mackerel: 0.73 ppm
How often can I eat mackerel?
If you stick to low mercury varieties of mackerel, it’s fine to consume up to 12 ounces per week, as long as it’s the only source of fish you are consuming. If you are consuming other sources like tuna or shrimp, include that in the total of 12 ounces per week.
Other health-promoting fish to try
There are plenty of other low mercury fish that are beneficial for your health. Canned light tuna is a great way to get in your seafood servings, just make sure you limit albacore tuna which is higher in mercury. Other good options include scallops, shrimp, oyster, sardines, tilapia, salmon, anchovies, catfish, squid, pollock, haddock, crab, trout, herring, hake, lobster and cod.