Swai Fish Nutrition Facts

Calories, Carbs, and Health Benefits of Swai Fish

Swai fish, annotated
Photo: 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, striped catfish, or even Vietnamese river cobbler.

Some consumers have major reservations about swai’s sustainability and the factory farm conditions of its production. In fact, a Google search for “swai fish” nets multiple front-page results warning you off eating this form of seafood forever.

So what’s the truth about this little swimmer? Should swai join your regular meal rotation, or should you stay away? 

Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one raw swai fillet (143g).

  • Calories: 206
  • Fat: 10g
  • Sodium: 170mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 26g

Carbs in Swai

Like many animal sources of protein, swai contains no carbohydrates, making it an excellent option for a low-carb diet. Of course, breading, sauces, or other flavorings used during preparation can all add carbohydrates, so pay attention to these extras if you’re trying to limit carbs.

Fats in Swai

One swai fillet contains about 10 grams of fat. However, swai contains only 11 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, the desirable fats fish are famous for. (For reference, many other types of fish contain omega-3s in the thousands of milligrams, such as almost 1,500 mg in a serving of sardines and over 3,000 in a serving of herring.) Still, any amount of omega-3s adds to your daily total, even swai’s small dose.

Protein in Swai

A single serving of swai provides a sizable chunk of your daily protein needs. In one fillet, you can expect about 26 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.

Micronutrients in Swai

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 523 mg), iron (up to 1.1 percent of the daily recommendation), and a minimal amount of calcium.

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

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 their 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.

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 dieters 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. 

However, it's helpful to note that 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). This is important to consider, especially when one takes into consideration the controversial nature of consuming swai fish.

Common Questions

What's the Deal With Swai’s Sustainability? 

As mentioned above, many people take issue with the environmental impact of swai farming. Most swai is farmed directly in the Mekong Delta river 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 level.

Do I Need to Worry About Antibiotics and Mercury?

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 too-high 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. 

As for mercury, how much is in swai? A 2018 study found that even when people ate 350 grams of swai per week (more than three servings), it contributed only around 30 percent of their "Tolerable Weekly Intake" of mercury.

How Healthy Is Swai?

It’s worth noting that while there are seafood options that are less healthy than swai, you could also do a lot better in terms of picking seafood that is healthier. With its lack of vitamin D and other micronutrients and low levels of healthy omega 3 fats, swai pales in comparison to other more nutritious fish like mackerel, salmon, or sardines.

What Does Swai Have to Do With the "Catfish Wars"?

If you live in a Southern state, you may have seen swai in the news as part of the so-called “Catfish Wars.” Though this may sound like the name of a reality TV show, it's actually the term given to a conflict that began in 2002 between American and Vietnamese fish producers when swai was routinely sold under the name "catfish." A tentative truce was reached when several Southern states passed legislation making it illegal to market swai as catfish. 

How Much Does Swai Cost?

Despite concerns over human health and the environment, swai has won over many consumers for its inexpensive price. For instance, a 24-ounce package of swai fillets sells for just $5.99 at Target ($3.99 per pound), while Wal-Mart offers a 4-pound package for $14.28, or just $3.57 per pound. These rock-bottom prices are hard to argue with for many consumers, especially compared to halibut or cod that costs two or three times this price.

Recipes and Preparation Tips

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 used in similar preparations as tilapia, catfish, or cod. If you’re new to swai, try introducing it gradually as a substitute for other white fish in familiar recipes.

It could easily take center stage on your dinner table in fish tacos or fish chowder, or baked in parchment to bump up its flavor.

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 for ten to 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Allergies and Interactions

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 percent—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.

There is limited research on swai’s interactions with medication. Talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect you’re allergic to swai or have concerns about how it could affect any medications you’re taking.

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