Swai Fish Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Swai fish, annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Typically imported from Southeast Asia, swai is a species of catfish in the family Pangasiidae. Depending on location and marketing, it goes by many names, including basa, bocourti, tra, pangasius, panga, striped catfish, or even Vietnamese river cobbler. It is inexpensive, mild in flavor, and easy to prepare because its fillets are boneless.

However, swai doesn't have the same nutrition and health benefits of other fish. And some consumers have major reservations about swai’s sustainability and its production in factory farms.

Swai Fish Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 4-ounce (113g) swai fillet.

  • Calories: 99
  • Fat: 2g
  • Sodium: 30mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 21g

Carbs

Like many animal sources of protein, swai contains no carbohydrates. Breading, sauces, or other flavorings used during preparation, however, can all add carbohydrates to the dish.

Fat

One 4-ounce swai fillet contains about 2 grams of fat. Most of it is unsaturated (healthier) fat, but swai contains few omega-3 fatty acids, the desirable fats fish are famous for.

Protein

A 4-ounce serving of swai provides a sizable chunk of your daily protein needs: about 21 grams of protein. Though not as high as the grams per serving in salmon or sardines, swai’s protein content is comparable to that of other white fish like cod, catfish, and halibut.

Vitamins and Minerals

The number of micronutrients in swai can vary by the diet the fish are fed, but in general, swai is not high in vitamins and minerals. It does, however, supply some important micronutrients, such as potassium (as little as just a few milligrams or up to about 523mg), iron (up to 1.1% of the daily recommendation), and a minimal amount of calcium.

Depending on whether it’s packaged with preservatives, swai may also include some sodium. Be sure to read labels for sodium content if you buy packaged swai.

Health Benefits

The American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020) both recommend eating fish or shellfish at least twice a week. And while fatty fish, with its higher omega-3 content, may offer the strongest protection for the cardiovascular system and the brain, any type of seafood fits under this “seafood twice a week” umbrella. However, other fish can be consumed in place of swai, and they could provide even more health benefits (as other fish are higher in nutrients than swai fish).

Numerous studies have confirmed that eating more fish helps reduce the risk of heart disease and contributes to better brain health. Swai could also make a good choice for people trying to cut back on calories. Its moderate protein content can help your body build muscle, produce necessary hormones and enzymes, and boost your energy levels for a lot fewer calories than meats like beef or pork. 

Allergies

If you’re able to eat other white fish without any difficulty, it’s unlikely that you would experience any adverse reaction to swai. An allergy to shellfish is not a predictor of an allergy to swai.

A significant number—up to 40%—of people with an allergy to fish do, however, develop it in adulthood, and some people have allergies to specific types of fish and not others. As with other food allergies, an allergy to swai would likely give you symptoms like itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, or headaches after eating.

Adverse Effects

Many people take issue with the environmental impact of swai farming. Most swai is farmed in the Mekong River delta in Vietnam. According to a report on swai by the experts at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch.org, this large-scale operation "has been described as the most intensive and productive food production system on earth," producing one million metric tons of swai annually.

The enormity of this aquatic industry generates large volumes of liquid waste that harm the river's ecosystem. Plus, many farms are thought to engage in illegal dumping, making the problem even worse. Experts are hopeful that these conditions will improve, however, as the industry is actively working on becoming more sustainable through regulation, farmer training, and safety certifications at the national and international levels.

Varieties

In the early 2000s, swai was sold in the United States under the name "catfish," which caused conflict with U.S. producers of catfish. It is now illegal to market swai as catfish.

Storage and Food Safety

SeafoodWatch.org places swai on its “avoid” list due to its often unsavory farming practices, and because data on chemical and antibiotic use in Vietnamese swai fish is not available, but presumed to be very high. 

Vietnamese shipments of swai are often rejected in European countries for elevated levels of antibiotic residue. If you're purchasing swai from a reputable source in the United States, however, the FDA does maintain oversight on the safety of seafood sold within the country. 

Swai is lower in mercury than some other fish and seafood. A 2018 study found that even when people ate 350 grams of swai per week (more than three servings), it contributed only around 30% of their "tolerable weekly intake" of mercury.

Safe handling and storage is important for any fish. The Food and Drug Administration recommends storing fish in the refrigerator for no more than two days prior to consuming. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

How to Prepare

The mildness of swai allows it to easily take on whatever flavor you may add to it via seasonings, sauces, or other ingredients. As a firm white fish, it can be prepared similarly to tilapia, catfish, or cod.

Like many types of fish, swai bakes well for short amounts of time at medium-to-high temperatures. For a light, healthy preparation, try seasoning swai with herbs and spices, such as paprika, pepper, parsley, and/or garlic, with a drizzle of olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Recipes

Healthy Swai Fish Recipes to Try

Consider substituting swai for other white fish in your favorite recipes.

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Article Sources
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