Mackerel Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Mackerel

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Mackerel is a fish often compared to tuna because they share many characteristics—both are big oily fish that have a firm texture and are often packed in oil and canned. The two fish are members of the same family Scombridae, but mackerel are smaller fish and have a shorter life. Mackerel is more oily than tuna and has a richer but milder taste.

Mackerel is high in protein and provides omega-3 fatty acids. The mild taste makes this a great addition to your diet if you want to include more fish in your diet but don't like the strong taste of other types of fish.

Mackerel Nutrition Facts

This nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one 3.5-ounce serving (100 grams) of raw mackerel.

  • Calories: 189
  • Fat: 11.9g
  • Sodium: 89mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Protein: 19g

Carbs

Plain raw mackerel does not contain any carbohydrates, fiber, or sugar. However, any fish that is breaded or processed may include some carbohydrates.

Fats

Mackerel provides almost 12 grams of fat per 100-gram serving. About 3 grams is saturated fat, 4.5 grams is monounsaturated fat, and 2.9 grams are polyunsaturated fat.

Mackerel is high in omega-3 fatty acids. According to USDA data, a serving provides 0.77 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 1.25 grams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) both important fatty acids that can only be made minimally by the body. Therefore consuming these fatty acids in foods is the only practical way to increase their levels.

Mackerel also provides a small amount of a lesser-known omega-3 fatty acid called DPA (docosapentaenoic acid). A 100-gram serving of the fish provides 0.18 grams. Mackerel caught in different areas and during different times of the year may provide slightly different amounts of fat.

Protein

Mackerel is a complete protein with a 100-gram serving providing 19 grams of the macronutrient including all nine essential amino acids.

Vitamins and Minerals

Mackerel is an excellent source of vitamin B-12. A serving provides 7.29 mcg, which means that you will get far more than the recommended daily allowance for adults which is 2.4 mcg per day. Mackerel also provides niacin, iron, vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and selenium.

Mackerel may also be a good source of vitamin D. In addition to milk, oily fish is often touted as a good source of the nutrient. According to USDA data, a serving of mackerel contains 13.8 mcg—which can be converted to about 552 international units (IU). The National Institutes of Health suggests that we get 600 IU of vitamin D which is usually obtained through sunlight exposure.

But researchers have expressed concern that the actual content of vitamin D is often overstated in fish. When researchers tested mackerel they found it contained levels much lower than anticipated. In fact, the one sample they tested only contained 24 IU of vitamin D3.

Health Benefits

Whether you have it fresh or canned, mackerel has several health benefits to offer. Here are a few ways that eating mackerel might boost your health.

May Improve Heart Health in Adults

Research studies have shown that heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA) can help reduce the rate of incidence and death from cardiovascular disease. Many studies also have shown that fish oil supplements can help lower triglycerides without raising other types of cholesterol.

For the prevention of heart disease, some health practitioners may suggest that those with coronary heart disease take a fish oil supplement to get enough of the important omega-3s.  But the American Heart Association suggests that healthy individuals consume fish at least twice per week and suggest that you choose fatty fish when possible. Mackerel is one type of fish that the organization lists as a suggestion.

May Reduce Risk of Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Researchers have proposed that the consumption of seafood may prevent age-related cognitive decline. Several studies have indicated that consumption of foods (like fish) that provide EPA and DHA has been linked to improved cognitive function in those with very mild Alzheimer's disease.

But in a large prospective cohort study of nearly 6000 women, researchers found that the type of fish consumed played a role in the benefit. In their analysis, they determined that the total consumption of seafood did not result in any improvement in verbal memory or global cognition. But women who consumed dark-meat finfish (including mackerel) at least one time each week had significantly better verbal memory.

May Improve Cardiometabolic Health in Children

Since evidence suggests that consumption of fatty fish may provide health benefits in adults, researchers are beginning to examine how fatty fish intake may improve development and health in children. One novel research study conducted on children in 2019 was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study included almost 200 8- or 9-year old children who received either oily fish or poultry for 12 weeks. Researchers found that those who consumed fish showed improved triglyceride levels and HDL cholesterol levels with no negative impact on blood pressure, heart rate variability, glucose homeostasis. Study authors concluded that recommendations for fish intake in children would be helpful to improve initiatives to increase children's intake of oily fish.

May Help Prevent Anemia

Mackerel can provide a good nutritional basis for the prevention of anemia that results from nutritional deficiencies. The fatty fish contains iron, vitamin B12, and some folate. A deficiency in any of these micronutrients can lead to certain types of anemia. Symptoms of anemia can include muscle weakness, disturbed vision, extreme tiredness, along with other serious complications, like infertility.

The National Institutes of Health suggests that we consume foods like fish, shellfish, and meat to help prevent anemia. They also suggest that you can consume plant-based foods that are rich in iron but the iron in fish and meat is more readily absorbed by the body.

May Reduce Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Prospective studies have shown that a high intake of foods containing saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, a high intake of polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk. Whether polyunsaturated fats from marine (fish) or vegetable (plant) sources affect glycemic regulation differently in type 2 diabetes remains unclear.

The American Diabetes Association lists fish high in omega-3s, including mackerel, on their list of top 10 superfoods. They recommend eating fish twice per week to improve overall health and prevent disease.

Allergies

Fish is a common allergen that may cause severe reactions, like anaphylaxis.

Sometimes fish allergies can be confused with scombroid poisoning which is histamine toxicity—a form of food poisoning. Fish including mackerel and tuna are naturally high in histamine. If fish has spoiled, the overgrowth of bacteria increases the histamine content and likelihood of histamine toxicity. Symptoms can occur anytime between 5 minutes and 2 hours after ingestion.

Symptoms of histamine toxicity mimic those of a typical food allergy. Symptoms may include wheezing, tongue swelling, diarrhea, faintness, and nausea. When a group of people who ate the same food exhibit symptoms, however, it is more likely to be histamine toxicity than food poisoning. If an individual experiences a reaction, especially more than once after eating mackerel, an allergist can confirm the allergy.

Adverse Effects

Many types of fish are high in mercury and should be consumed in limited quantities during pregnancy and breastfeeding to avoid harm to the baby. Current recommendations provided by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest that women follow the FDA recommendation to consume 2–3 servings of fish per week. They suggest, however, that you check for advisories to avoid fish with high levels of mercury. Certain types of mackerel, including king mackerel, should be avoided completely. Pacific chub mackerel is on their list of best choices. Raw or undercooked fish should be completely avoided during pregnancy to prevent food poisoning.

Varieties

Mackerel can be found both fresh or canned in most grocery stores. Canned mackerel is often packed in olive oil and some believe that the combination of the oil and the fish has a better flavor than canned tuna, which has a stronger taste.

There are 21 species of mackerel, but not all of them are commonly consumed. Atlantic mackerel is one of the more popular varieties. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch provides recommendations to help you choose a variety that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment. Their guide indicates that king mackerel, atka mackerel, and Atlantic Spanish mackerel are their top picks.

Storage and Food Safety

If you're buying fresh fish, avoid products that smell fishy, sour, or like ammonia. When choosing fresh mackerel, look for firm flesh with clear eyes and a shiny body. Fresh fish may be sold as "previously frozen" but should still smell fresh.

Place raw mackerel on ice or in the refrigerator right away after purchasing. Cook the fish within 2 days. If you don't plan to use right away, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to three months. Always wash your hands well with soapy water after handling raw seafood. Sanitize countertops, cutting boards, and utensils after preparing raw fish.

Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator or in a sealed plastic bag immersed in cold water. It's best to cook raw fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the USDA, canned fish can be consumed past the "best by" date as long as the can is not rusted, dented, or swollen. Once the can is opened, it should be eaten within 3–4 days.

How to Prepare

One of the most popular ways to prepare canned mackerel is to add it to a salad. It's mild flavor pairs well with leafy greens and nutritious salad ingredients such as crunchy radishes, peppers, tomatoes, or avocado.

Fresh mackerel can be grilled or roasted with olive oil and lemon. Add herbs like dill, tarragon, cilantro, or green onions. Some people also cure mackerel with salt and rice wine vinegar.

Recipes

Healthy Mackerel Recipes to Try

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