Is Swai Fish Healthy? Here’s What You Need To Know

From protecting your eyes to boosting heart health, this aquatic delicacy has a lot to offer.

By Payal Karnik, MSc (Biotechnology), Diploma In Nutrition

Swai fish is a staple in Southeast Asia and has a mild, sweet flavor and juicy meat.  Its tender and flaky texture make it an extremely popular ingredient for many delicious dishes. Swai fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These beneficial fats can boost your heart and brain health. However, there have been safety concerns associated with the farming practices of swai fish. Is it healthy and safe to consume? This article discusses the benefits, nutrition profile, health concerns associated with the fish, and environmental impact of swai fish farming. Let’s get started!

What Is Swai Fish?

Swai fish

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Swai fish (Pangasius hypophthalmus) is a freshwater fish native to Southeast Asia. It is usually found in the Mekong basin of Southeast Asia and the Chao Phraya river in Thailand. Many Southeast Asian dishes feature its juicy, tender white meat. Swai fish is also known as sutchi catfish, striped catfish, and iridescent shark-catfish (due to its shimmery, iridescent appearance).

Swai fish is highly valued commercially. A major reason for its capture-based aquaculture is that it is an exceptional spawner and can produce a large number of larvae that are easily caught from rivers (1).

The fish was introduced into the US as ’Asian catfish.’ It sparked confusion as it was referred to as ’catfish.’ In some restaurants, American catfish was often swapped with the cheap and readily available swai fish and served without the customer’s knowledge (2). Both American catfish and the swai fish look similar, but they belong to separate families and are raised differently. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took steps to stop the misbranding and allowed only the American catfish family, Ictaluridae, to be marketed as catfish (3).

The fact that you might have eaten swai fish instead of the preferred fish fillet you ordered isn’t that bad. Swai fish is packed with nutrients that can help your body in a variety of ways. Continue reading to learn more about swai fish nutrition.

Nutritional Information Of Swai Fish

A 100g serving of frozen swai fillet contains (4):

Calories88 kcal
Proteins18.58 g
Total lipids (Fat)1.77 g
Saturated Fatty Acids (Total)0.44 g
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (Total)0.88 g
Sodium27 mg
Cholesterol22 mg

Swai fish fillets have a similar fatty acid profile as other freshwater fish species. They contain linoleic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)  (5), (6).

However, on closer inspection, the levels of beneficial fatty acids are still on the lower end of the spectrum compared to other fish (6). These beneficial fatty acids provide many health benefits. Take a look.

Health Benefits Of Swai Fish

1. May Promote Heart Health

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are great for the heart. Clinical trials have shown that EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of heart condition-related deaths. A daily intake of 0.5 to 1.8 g of EPA and DHA benefits the heart (7).

2. May Boost Brain Function

DHA is vital for brain function. Regular DHA intake can improve neurological function and cognition (8).

3. May Improve Vision

EPA and DHA reduce the risk of inflammatory eye disorders, such as dry eye disease (DED) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These omega-3 fats reduce inflammation and protect the eyes (9).

Research is limited regarding the health benefits of swai fish. Although its nutritional profile is not as impressive as other fish, you can expect at least a few benefits from it. It is an excellent addition to the diet since it can be prepared in many ways. Below are some tips on how to prepare swai fish.

How To Cook Swai Fish

Swai fish has a mildly sweet taste and a delicate texture. It is versatile – you can grill or bake it, coat it with bread crumbs, and fry it. You can use fresh or frozen fish fillets. It can be cooked easily and goes well with any sauce.

As swai fish is inexpensive and tasty, it has become a popular substitute for more expensive seafood. Yet, its farming practices raise health concerns. Here’s why.

Possible Concerns About Swai Fish Farming

1. Low Sustainability

Swai fish producers do not practice a regular breeding program. Instead, they use the same broods and their offspring as broodstock every year. Inbreeding results in abnormal growth, reduced fertility, low disease resistance, and loss of variability (10).

2. Environmental Risks

A majority (83%) of catfish farmers use chemicals or drugs due to poor water quality. The chemical-mixed water can pollute the local water bodies, causing health issues for wild animals, livestock, and people living in the surrounding area (10).

3. Use Of Antibiotics

Catfish farmers often use chemicals and antibiotics to prevent bacterial disease outbreaks in the fish. Excessive use of antibiotics and chemicals poses a great threat to the environment and human health (10).

In South Vietnam, most swai fish farmers rely on the Mekong River for their water supply. Unfortunately, some do not screen and improve the water quality before fish farming begins (11).

If the water is contaminated, the fish may also become contaminated. Thus, buying frozen swai fish fillets can be risky. The next sections explore the risk factors of consuming swai fish.

Risk Factors Of Consuming Swai Fish

1. Microbial Contamination

A study found traces of heavy metal and microbial contamination in frozen swai fish fillets exported to Poland, Ukraine, and Germany. It found Vibrio bacteria in 70-80% of the fillets. It also found Staphylococci in 30% of swai fish imported to Poland. This could pose health risks if the fish were consumed raw or undercooked (12).

Lack of hygiene in the processing and fish handling area is also a cause for concern. An evaluation of 144 samples collected from various processing steps found the presence of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Vibrio cholerae on the hands of the packaging area workers (13).

2. Heavy Metal Contamination

Due to poor farming practices, the risk of heavy metal contamination is high in swai fish. Studies found traces of cadmium, lead, nickel, copper, and mercury in a majority of the fish samples. These contaminants can cause serious health issues  (14), (15).

3. Chemical Contamination

Swai fish degrades quickly. The oxidative degeneration of the PUFA membranes in the fish produces malondialdehyde (MDA) in the fish. This toxin may cause insulin resistance and high blood pressure in humans.

During fish processing, polyphosphate is often added to fish filets to enhance the water binding ability of the flesh. However, the swai fish samples from Vietnam contained an excess of the chemical, a toxin for humans.

Improper storage, handling, and processing of swai fish can also speed up the oxidation process and lead to ammonia contamination. Ammonia is also produced in the fish when it starts to decompose or degrade (14).

Everything boils down to improper farming, storage, and handling practices, which exposes the fish to industrial pollutants. Therefore, there is a need to revise the swai fish farming strategies. However, after considering all these factors, swai fish may still not be suitable for everyone. Read on to find out why.

Side Effects And Allergies

Swai fish could cause allergies in some people. Fish allergy is a common food allergy, and most fish-allergic people react to parvalbumin, a protein present in many fish species. However, a study reported the presence of two unique allergens – 18-kDa and 45-kDa, which caused oral allergy symptoms like lips and tongue swelling and throat itch (16).

Swai fish is, therefore, not an ideal candidate for healthy and safe fish options due to its poor nutritional profile and risk of infection. There may not always be a cause for concern with it, but one may still wonder if it is worth taking the risk. Read on to discover better alternatives to swai fish.

Swai Fish Alternatives

You may consume the following fish and seafood varieties (17):

  • Salmon
  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Trout
  • Atlantic and Pacific mackerel

These fish and seafood are high in EPA, DHA, and have a lower risk of mercury poisoning.  You may also consume white-fleshed fish like tilapia, cod, haddock, and halibut (18). They have low mercury levels.

Swai fish is known for its mild and sweet flavor. If included as a part of the diet, this fish can promote cardiovascular health as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Swai fish can also reduce the risk of heart-related disease deaths. Swai fish is rich in DHA and can also help boost brain function. In addition, it may improve vision because of the presence of EPA and DHA. However, the risk of high microbial, heavy metal, and chemical contamination. Hence consume it in moderation and buy only good quality swai fish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is swai fish good for weight loss?

Yes, swai fish is a good choice for weight loss. Hundred grams of swai fish have 14 grams of protein and only 90 calories, making it ideal for a weight loss diet.

Is swai fish good for keto?

Yes, swai fish is good for keto as it has zero carbohydrates and is loaded with healthy fats.

Key Takeaways

  • Swai fish may help promote heart health, boost brain function, and improve vision.
  • There are some concerns over Swai fish farming, such as low sustainability, environmental risks, and antibiotic usage.
  • Risks of eating swai fish include microbial, heavy metal, and chemical contaminations. Also, Swai fish can cause allergies and reactions due to the protein parvalbumin and other allergens.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Pangasius hypophthalmus (Sauvage 1878)
    https://www.fao.org/fishery/culturedspecies/Pangasius_hypophthalmus/en
  2. Casting a Wider Net: More Action Needed to Stop Seafood Fraud in the United States
    https://usa.oceana.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/march_2019_oceana_seafood_fraud_report_final.pdf
  3. Import Alert 16-04
    https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_13.html
  4. FoodData Central
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/449548/nutrients
  5. New trends in the seafood market. Sutchi catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus) fillets from Vietnam: Nutritional quality and safety aspects
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26049230/
  6. Fatty Acid Profiles of Commercially Available Finfish Fillets in the United States
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25108414
  7. Usefulness of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002914905014542
  8. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772061/
  9. The Role of Fish Oil in Inflammatory Eye Diseases
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6945974/
  10. Culture of Pangasianodon hypophthalmus into India: impacts and present scenario
    https://upsbdb.org/pdf/2013/reserch_publications/3-2.pdf
  11. Current status of farming practices of striped catfish Pangasianodon hypophthalmus in the Mekong Delta Vietnam
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0044848609007066
  12. Microbiological and chemical safety concerns regarding frozen fillets obtained from Pangasius sutchi and Nile tilapia exported to European Countries
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25907121/
  13. Evaluation of the microbiological safety and quality of Vietnamese Pangasius hypophthalmus during processing by a microbial assessment scheme in combination with a self-assessment questionnaire
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12562-014-0786-y
  14. The chemical quality of frozen Vietnamese Pangasius hypophthalmus fillets
    https://www.academia.edu/27019775/The_chemical_quality_of_frozen_Vietnamese_Pangasius_hypophthalmus_fillets
  15. Assessment of Human Health Risks Associated with Heavy Metals Accumulation in the Freshwater Fish Pangasianodon hypophthalmus in Bangladesh
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349635372_Assessment_of_human_health_risks_associated_with_heavy_metals_accumulation_in_the_freshwater_fish_Pangasianodon_hypophthalmus_in_Bangladesh
  16. Monosensitivity to Pangasius and Tilapia Caused by Allergens Other Than Parvalbumin
    http://www.jiaci.org/issues/vol20issue1/13.pdf
  17. Dietary Guidelines for Americans
    https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf
  18. Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (1990-2012)
    https://www.fda.gov/food/metals-and-your-food/mercury-levels-commercial-fish-and-shellfish-1990-2012

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Payal Karnik is a biotechnology graduate from the University of Mumbai with a keen interest in writing and a natural... more

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