What is Swai Fish & How Healthy It’s For You?

Not everyone is acquainted with swai fish, but many have eaten it without even knowing it! Indeed, eating certain kinds of wild fish is very good for health. Seafood is a muscle-building protein source[1] and some offer an abundance of healthy fats such as omega-3s.

However, fish usually tend to be expensive, leading consumers to opt for cheaper alternatives like swai fish. Yes, you can buy this fish at around $2 per pound, but it’s a lot costlier when it comes to considering its effects on your health.

So, what is swai fish? It’s commonly eaten in the United States, it has a light, flaky texture and is popular for its sweet, mild taste. The fish is scientifically known as Pangasianodon (Pangasius) hypothalamus and has its origin in Southeast Asia.

Swai fish is also called Asian catfish and iridescent shark…even though it’s neither one of the two! The enigma surrounding this sea inhabitant is whether it’s safe to eat. Is it advisable to go around buying and eating swai or eat fish of a different variety? Read on to find out.

Popularity of Swai Fish

Fish, in general, has become a top popular product these days forming a part of a person’s daily diet. Swai fish has been highlighted as a healthy fish at a low cost, resulting in people showing a preference for it.

NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) states that swai fish ranks 6th position in the most liked fish among its citizens.[2]

Nonetheless, numerous questions are being raised as to whether or not swai fish is healthy nourishment and safe to consume. It is mostly imported from Vietnam, liked for its pleasant taste, and is more affordable than other fish products being sold in grocery stores.[3]

Despite swai fish being available on the market at a tempting rate of only $2 per pound, a small portion of the rate of other kinds of wild-caught fish, it’s worth noting that this fish is not wild and is, in fact, being bred in overcrowded fish farms.

Fish that are not wild-caught and are factory-farmed do have drawbacks. To begin with, factory-farmed fish are miserable. They don’t like being kept in tiny spaces and…neither does your goldfish.
Unhappy fish, just like humans, end up getting sick. So, how do factory-farmed fish get treated? With antibiotics? Yes. So, it’s important to choose wisely as…we are what we eat.

In addition, wild swai fish is looked upon as an endangered species because of its being subjected to over-fishing.

Nutrition Facts

Undoubtedly, fish is widely acknowledged as being a vital source of iodine, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. Swai fish has comparatively little of these. Here’s how much you can get out of a 4-ounce serving of this…slimy sea creature.

  • 70 calories
  • 15 grams of protein
  • 11 mg in Omega-3 fat
  • 0 grams in Carbs
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 45 grams of Cholesterol
  • 350 mg in Sodium
  • 26% of the RDI (Reference Daily Intake) of Selenium
  • 14% of the RDI of Niacin
  • 19% of the RDI of Vitamin B12

From this, it’s clear that swai has significant amounts of niacin and Vitamin B12, but this can change in accordance with what the fish is eating. Moreover, if the fish is treated with additives to retain moisture during transport, this will result in increased levels of sodium.

Swai fish lack healthy diets; the factory-farmed variety eats canola, bran, GMO soy, and fish by-products. Thus, the nutritional value of this kind of fish is comparatively lower than that of other wild or farmed fish.

There do exist healthier alternatives[4] to swai fish. A variety of wild-caught fish species like salmon, mackerel, US catfish, sardines, tilapia, etc, possess higher amounts of Omega-3 fat[5].
Its always best to validate the fish source before making a choice. Buying from a reputable brand ensures fish safety; brands that are eco-certified from an independent source, like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council are ideal.

Eco-certification[6] entails efforts to minimize pollutants causing climate change and harming water quality. Fish swimming in pure water devoid of pesticides or synthetic chemicals and eating a natural diet are best for health.

Is Swai Safe to Eat?

No, it is not. This answer is not based on its nutritional value, which isn’t bad, but because of how it’s raised and fed. The reasons are as follows:

Seafood fraud:

Even though the “Asian catfish” shares a kinship with the “American catfish”, the U.S. FDA[7] passed a law in 2003 that the term “catfish” could only be used for those fish of the Ictaluridae family. Swai fish does not belong to this family, so it was extradited and now has a plague of identities…causing turmoil over what swai truly is.

Nonetheless, the restaurant industry, which cares nothing about whether swai is good for you, persists in using swai in a fraudulent way, labeling the fish as true catfish or grouper. Indeed, don’t be surprised if you have been unknowingly ordering and eating swai fish tacos and swai fish sandwiches at restaurants.

Vietnamese catfish is called basa, but most of the fish being sold in the market today as basa fish is not the real basa. It is usually swai fish, believed to be inferior to basa. Swai, also called tra, has a beige hue and tends to be more coarse, grainy, and thinner than basa.

According to Oceana[8], swai is one of three types of fish often taking the place of more superior quality and costly fish. Indeed, swai is commonly mislabelled, at seafood processing plants, supermarkets, and restaurants, as grouper, perch, or sole.

Occasionally, this mislabelling is deliberate owing to swai’s cheapness but it can also be unintentional. In many cases, the origin of fish products cannot be traced due to the large distance between where the seafood is actually caught and where it’s eventually being sold.

Swai Fish Farming & Ecosystem

As far as swai fish health benefits go, farmed fish cannot be considered as being outright unhealthy. However, it’s common for factory-farmed fish in Vietnam to contain sludge and wastewater; consisting of bacteria and antibiotic residues.

It has been further verified that swai fish farms are adversely affecting the ecosystem[9]. The wastewater is a serious hazard due to the fish farms’ increased usage of chemicals, disinfectants, antibiotics, and anti-parasitic drugs.

Moreover, the conditions in which swai fish are raised have contributed to reports of the fish being contaminated with trace minerals and heavy metals.

Swai fish as a Source of Diseases

There is a sure chance of infectious diseases being present in swai or any other type of fish having the misfortune of growing on crowded fish farms. Diseases like parasitic, bacterial, and Sporozoa infections and infestations are the most widespread.

Furthermore, swai fish samples have been discovered to be contaminated with vibrio bacteria; a microbe largely responsible for shellfish food poisoning cases.

Swai fish are given regular doses of antibiotics and other drugs to counter bacterial infections. The results are not without repercussions as antibiotic residues remain within the fish; the drugs flow into adjoining waterways.

The trouble with imported seafood, like swai and other seafood from Southeast Asia, is that it is notorious for crossing the limits of drug residue. Vietnam tops the list of drug residue[10] violations in fish exporting countries.

Moreover, despite proper inspection of fish and maintenance of antibiotic and drug residue levels, overuse of antibiotics and other drugs leads to bacteria becoming more resistant to the drugs.
These same antibiotics are needed to cure human infections. Antibiotic overuse and bacteria becoming resistant can lead to people being deprived of effective treatment for certain illnesses.

Bottom Line

  1. Swai fish does not have much nutritional value and better be avoided. Despite its mild taste and people believing that swai calories are an adequate amount for their daily diet, environmental and health concerns linked with fish farming in Southeastern Asia emphasize that it should be consumed in small quantities or not at all.
  2. It is acquired from overcrowded fish farms that overuse chemicals and antibiotics, resulting in water pollution and health issues. Environmental care and concern for potential health problems should be enough to deter you from consuming swai fish altogether.
  3. Despite its comparatively low cost in relation to other similar fish being sold on the market, it still does not have the nutritional well-being of most of the other fish. Its risks far outweigh its benefits in being approved as a beneficial product worthy of your diet.
  4. The fact that it’s mislabelled and sold as a superior quality fish can be dealt with by opting to buy a brand that has an eco-certificate attached to it. Stay on the safe side and ensure that swai fish is thoroughly cooked before eating.
  5. Overall, it would still be best to eat fish of different varieties. Fish that are considered to be much healthier to consume than swai fish are haddock, salmon, sole, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and a hoard of others.

[1] “Fish, a Mediterranean Source of n-3 PUFA: Benefits Do Not Justify Limiting Consumption” by National Library of Medicine.

[2] Read more at NOAA.

[3] “New Trends in the Seafood Market. Sutchi Catfish (Pangasius Hypophthalmus) Fillets From Vietnam: Nutritional Quality and Safety Aspects” by National Library of Medicine.

[4] “Seafood Recommendations” by Monterey Bay Aquarium ORG.

[5] “Fatty Acid Profiles of Commercially Available Finfish Fillets in the United States” by Pubmed.gov.

[6] “Environmental Impact of Non-Certified Versus Certified (ASC) Intensive Pangasius Aquaculture in Vietnam, a Comparison Based on a Statistically Supported LCA“. by USA National Library of Medicine.

[7] “TITLE 21—FOOD AND DRUGS” by US Food and Drug Administration.

[8] Read more in “Deceptive Dishes: Seafood Swaps found worldwide” by US Oceana ORG.

[9] “Exploring the Climate Change Concerns of Striped Catfish Producers in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam” by USA National Library of Medicine.

[10] “Veterinary Drug Residues in Seafood Inspected by the European Union, United States, Canada, and Japan From 2000 to 2009” by USA National Library of Medicine.

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