Are you looking for healthy fish to eat? One option you might be wondering about is swai fish. This is a white-flesh fish that was once known in the US as Asian Catfish. This type of fish is raised in Vietnam. You might have heard some news that this type of seafood isn’t healthy. In fact, the fish itself is quite healthy and is a good source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s important to include such “good” fat in our diets. So, in terms of nutritional value, this kind of fish is a good option. The fish also offers other benefits like its neutral taste.
So, what’s the problem if the fish itself is quite healthy? The big question is about the fish farms where the swai is raised. In particular, there’s some concern about factors like mercury levels in the water and chemicals used to raise the fish. These factors not only can affect the health of the seafood and thus the health of people who eat it. For example, it’s believed the antibiotics used to raise the fish could affect the effectiveness of medicines used by people who consume swai. Another big concern is the negative effect of fish farms on local water sources.
What Are Swai Fish?
This is a type of fish that’s raised in Vietnam. You might have known this fish previously as Asian catfish. However, in the early 2000s, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed a law that only a certain fish species including the American catfish could be sold as “catfish.”
The Swai is related to the catfish but it’s in a different family. So, it can’t technically be sold as catfish per se.
In the past few decades, the fish has become increasingly popular in the US. In fact, it’s become one of the most popular fishes consumed in the US.
The fish itself is quite healthy in terms of nutrients like omega-3. However, some people have become concerned about swai being raised on over-crowded fish farms. The fishes are native to Vietnam’s Mekong River. However, they’re now often raised on Vietnamese fish farms to meet the high demand.
In terms of nutritional value, the swai is quite healthy like other fish. It’s good for heart health due to the omega-3 “good” fat it contains. This fish actually has an average amount of protein vs. other fish and the omega-3 content is relatively low.
You can also get other important nutrients in swai fish. They include Vitamin B12, niacin, and others. One possible health issue is the sodium content might be somewhat high due to how the swai was processed. However, the sodium content won’t be sky-high.
Even though it’s not chock-full of protein or omega-3 the swai is still quite healthy. It’s important to prepare it using healthy methods like boiling, baking, broiling, steaming and grilling.
Another big benefit of this fish is it has a neutral flavor. This offers more options in terms of the versatility you have when preparing it. You’ll have more options when picking herbs/spices, sauces/marinades, and so on.
Swai Fish Farms
So, there’s no question the swai fish itself is healthy to eat. It’s not high in protein or omega-3 but it’s still a good option in terms of seafood.
Some US organizations argue that people should avoid eating swai. It’s not related to the fish itself but instead the fish farms they’re raised on. Here are some of the issues raised by various health organizations:
1. Illegal Dumping
One issue is that waste product made from the farms are sometimes dumped illegally into local rivers.
This is a major concern for swai farms in particular. That’s because many chemicals are used including antibiotics and anti-parasite drugs. These are strong chemicals that can pollute the waterways.
Some studies show that the mercury levels in the waters of swai farms are quite high. This can affect the health of people who eat fish from the farms. In fact, in the samples of half the tests run the levels were higher than the recommended level set by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).
Another issue that’s raised is about the antibiotics used in crowded fish farms. These chemicals are used to help prevent diseases among the fishes.
The antibiotics are used to help kill dangerous bacteria. In one study about three-quarters of all swai exported to Europe were contaminated with a certain kind of bacteria that are often found in shellfish.
Here’s the problem. The antibiotics used can actually cause new problems. For example, the antibiotics might stay in the fish after the water is treated. The drugs can also pollute local waterways like rivers. These are both cases that can affect people’s health.
There’s another issue to consider. Even if the legal limits are used the bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotics. This, in turn, makes them less effective.
Swai Fish Substitutions
It’s interesting that swai is often used by restaurants as a substitute for pricier fish. So, there’s a chance you might have eaten this type of fish without knowing it. This is a cost-cutting step taken by restaurants. In this case, you’re NOT getting what you pay for so it’s something to watch out for.
In fact, studies show that swai is sold as nearly 20 types of fish. This includes ones like perch and other less-known ones. It’s important to do your homework to make sure you’re getting the type of fish you buy at fish markets and restaurants.
In one interesting study, about two-thirds of all fish dishes were actually made from swai. The interesting thing is the menu only listed the ingredient as “fish.” In this case, it’s probably more about details than false advertising.
In all fairness sometimes this is an honest mistake. In other cases, restaurants and supermarkets are engaging in fraud. You should do your homework so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting when you buy fish.
When buying swai it’s important to look for certified by eco-friendly organizations. This helps to make sure you’re getting seafood that’s been raised in ways that minimize pollutants that can reduce water quality and worsen climate change.
When preparing/buying this fish you should also avoid eating fish that’s raw/undercooked. Make sure the internal temps are at least 145-degrees F. This will help to kill dangerous bacteria.
If you want swai-like fish then you have several options including:
- Pacific cod
- US catfish
In terms of omega-3, you can pick certain types of fish high in it. They include sardines, salmon, anchovies, oysters, and trout.
It’s good to eat a wide range of fish. You have many options when buying seafood to get different nutrients and that includes swai fish.