Mackerel is the name for several species of cold-water, oily fish. These fish are gaining attention because of their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week. People with heart disease should consume about 1 g per day of omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in oily fish.
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Fish provide protein, vitamins and minerals, and little saturated fat. They also are excellent sources of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines contain the highest levels of EPA and DHA. The body cannot produce these substances but needs them in order to function properly, as noted by the AHA. Omega-3 fatty acids might reduce the risk of irregular heartbeat, or arrythmia, and they slow the growth of plaque in the arteries.
Blood Pressure Effects
Studies published in the journal Atherosclerosis in 1985 and 1986 evaluated the effects of mackerel in the diet on various cardiovascular health indicators. Men with mild high blood pressure ate canned mackerel every day in addition to a diet providing specific portions of protein, carbohydrates and fat. These men experienced significant decreases in blood pressure. After eating mackerel for eight months and then discontinuing the regimen, blood pressure returned to previous levels after two months.
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Singer and colleagues also found benefits of eating mackerel for cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In the 1985 article, for instance, participants experienced an average reduction in total cholesterol of 9 percent and in triglycerides of 28 percent. Levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol, dropped by 14 percent. In contrast, high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol, the good cholesterol, increased by 12 percent.
Most species of cooked mackerel provide 1.1 g to 1.7 g of omega-3 fatty acids per 3 oz. serving, reports an article in the May/June 2003 issue of Natural Health by associate food editor Cheryl Redmond. Select the smaller species of this fish. Atlantic, also called Boston, Pacific, also called Jack and Spanish mackerel have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than king mackerel. In addition, mercury content can be a problem in large fish like the king mackerel.
Fresh mackerel is available all year, and Redmond recommends cooking it as soon as you buy it by grilling or broiling. If you choose canned mackerel, you may find the flavor of this fish in 4 oz. cans with olive oil to be milder than the mackerel sold in 15 oz. cans.