Mackerel During Pregnancy: Is It a Safe Fish? Smoked, Mercury and More

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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With concerns about mercury, pregnant women are very cautious about what kinds of fish are safe.

Mackerel is generally safe up to two times a week during pregnancy, and has many nutritional benefits. Since mackerel is an oily fish, different countries have differing limits on how much mackerel pregnant women should eat. 

I’ll walk you through the different kinds of mackerel and what kinds of mackerel dishes are safe for you to eat during your pregnancy.

Can I Eat Mackerel During Pregnancy?

Mackerel is generally safe to eat during pregnancy.

Mackerel is an oily fish. In the UK, a maximum of two servings of oily fish are recommended per week during pregnancy (source: NHS). This isn’t the case in other countries, so if you’re in the USA or Australia, then there’s no recommended maximum amount of oily fish you can eat when pregnant.

As always, make sure that mackerel is clean and fresh before eating.

Mackerel – and other kinds of fish – should not be eaten raw during pregnancy. Mackerel is found in several kinds of sushi such as edomae-style sushi, mackerel sashimi, saba and in maki rolls. Sometimes it’s marinated, but still raw – so always check with the restaurant if you’re not sure.

If you’re eating sushi, make sure the fish has been fully cooked first. Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145F / 63C before consumption (source: USDA). For more on this, check out our guide to pregnancy-safe sushi.

Is Mackerel Good During Pregnancy? The Benefits

Mackerel is loaded with nutritional benefits for both mother and baby. Mackerel is a good source of omega fatty acids. However, there are different kinds of mackerel – each with varying nutritional breakdowns. 

Spanish Mackerel, Jack Mackerel and Atlantic mackerel are great sources of omega-6 and omega-3 (source: Nutrition Data). King mackerel contains less omega-3 and omega-6 than other species (source: Nutrition Data).

One study found that Indian mackerel had higher omega-3 DHA than other Indian fish such as Yellowfin tuna, Commerson’s anchovy and Japanese threadfin bream. It’s good to know that this fatty acid is key in maintaining normal eye health and vision (source: Research Gate).

fresh mackerel on ice with lemon and dill

Omega-3 is key during pregnancy when it comes to the development of your baby’s nervous system and their growth and development (source: Obstetrics & Gynecology). 

Atlantic, King, and Jack and Indian Mackerel are all very high in vitamin B12 (source: AquaDocs). Spanish mackerel has a more moderate amount of B12 (source: Nutrition Data).

Vitamin B12 helps to maintain the health of your own nervous system while you’re expecting. When taking adequate amounts of B12 and folic acid, there is believed to be a lower risk of spinal and central nervous system defects such as spinda bifida (source: American Pregnancy).

Keep in mind that regularly consuming too much B12 can have adverse health effects (source: National Institutes of Health).

Jack mackerel and Atlantic mackerel are great sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium in the body. Some pregnant women lose bone mass during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, vitamin D is helpful for counteracting this. 

Mackerel is also a good source of selenium. This mineral is key in influencing thyroid function. As hypothyroidism, thyroid autoimmunity, and hyperthyroidism are not uncommon during pregnancy, it’s important to consume enough foods containing selenium (source: Hormones).

What’s the Mercury Level of Mackerel? Is It High?

Different kinds of mackerel have broadly different levels of mercury, so it’s hard to give a definite answer about mackerel in general. That said, mackerel – regardless of the type – are still considered oily fish. It’s still recommended to stick to the two servings of the oily fish rule if you’re in the UK, even if it seems to be low in mercury. 

The mercury concentration mean (PPM) of North Atlantic mackerel is 0.05. This is considered a low amount overall, so makes mackerel one of the better fish choices in pregnancy.

Pacific mackerel chub has a PPM of 0.088, Spanish mackerel found in the south Atlantic has a PPM of 0.182 while Spanish mackerel found in the Gulf of Mackerel has a PPM of 0.454. King Mackerel has PPM of 0.73 (source: FDA).

Atka mackerel has a fairly low amount of mercury (source: EDF). Indian mackerel was also found to have a low amount of mercury (source: Journal of Fisheries Sciences). 

smoked mackerel on a chopping board with lettuce and lemon

Part of the problem is that mackerel very often is called just that – without the species specified. For reference, the most common kind of mackerel in the UK is Atlantic mackerel while Spanish or King mackerels are common in the US (source: Tin Can Fish).

That doesn’t mean these are the only available kinds of mackerel in these regions. If in doubt about what you’re getting in a restaurant or in a grocery store, be sure to ask first.

Is Smoked Mackerel Safe During Pregnancy?

Smoked mackerel is safe as long as it has been properly cooked – this means you can have hot smoked mackerel, but should avoid cold-smoked mackerel when you’re pregnant.

Fish can either be hot smoked or cold smoked. Hot smoked means that the food is cooked at the same time as smoking it – like on a barbecue! You would still need to heat up hot smoked mackerel until it is piping hot.

Cold smoked foods are smoked a low temperature to ensure a smokey taste. Cold smoked mackerel would need to be fully cooked after cold smoking to ensure it’s pregnancy safe.  

Can I Have Mackerel Pate When Pregnant?

Generally, smoked mackerel pâté is unsafe during pregnancy. Read our full guide here on why pregnant women should avoid pate.

Even if the mackerel is cooked, pâté is still not recommended. However, pâté that is canned, tinned or in a shelf-stable jar may be safe during pregnancy as these have been sterilized. If in doubt about how a pâté was prepared, it’s best to skip it.

Is Canned Mackerel Safe for Pregnant Women?

Canned or tinned mackerel is safe during pregnancy.

This is because, during the canning process, food is heated to a high temperature so it is commercially sterile (source: Science Direct). As long as the tinned mackerel is within the best before or “use by” date and has been stored properly then it’s perfectly safe to eat when you’re pregnant.

grilled mackerel with lemon and arugula on a chopping board

Healthy Ways of Enjoying Mackerel During Pregnancy

Here are some delicious and pregnancy safe ways to enjoy mackerel:

Grilled mackerel – as long as it has been properly cooked – can be served with couscous seasoned with lemon, parsley and dill. Enjoy with pinenuts, raisins and diced onions

Mackerel is great in a salad with potato cubes and radish. Serve with a dressing made from olive oil, yogurt (as long as it’s pasteurized), lemon juice, garlic and chopped dill like this recipe

If you’re sick of tuna, you can make a tuna-style mackerel sandwich with salad and mustard.

Roasted mackerel with paprika and garlic can be enjoyed alongside potatoes and veggies.

I hope this answered any questions you may have had about eating mackerel during your pregnancy!