4 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Swai Fish

Swai fish is also known as Asian catfish and iridescent shark, though it is neither a catfish nor a shark. This has put swai safety in question. Find out why you might avoid swai.

4 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Swai Fish

If you have never heard of swai fish, ironically you may have eaten it before.

In fact, swai is one of the most common fish consumed in the United States. Swai is white fish are known for a sweet, mild taste and light, flaky texture.

Swai fish bears the scientific name Pangasianodon (Pangasius) hypothalamus and is native to Southeast Asia. The fish may also be called by a number of other names, including Asian catfish and iridescent shark. However, it is neither a catfish nor a shark.

The often mysterious swai puts into question its safety. Should you really be purchasing and eating swai or hooking onto different kinds of fish?

Swai Fish Nutrition, Sourcing & Safety Considerations

Fish is a dietary staple known to offer protein and healthy fat. It is also a mainstay in a Mediterranean diet, which continues to offer numerous health benefits such as weight loss and heart health.

According to a USDA Branded Food Products Database report, a 4-ounce swai fillet supplies 90 calories and 14 grams of protein. It supplies 1.5 grams of fat, of which about 0.5 grams come from saturated fat.

Swai mostly saturates Vietnam in the Mekong River and Maeklong Basin. The majority of swai sold comes from large-scale fish farms.

In fact, Vietnam has a recorded production of 683,000 tonnes in 2007 based on the current status of the fish in the Mekong Delta. This is valued at about $645 million in the United States and one of the largest single-species based farming system, restricted to a small geographical area, in the world.

Is It Safe to Eat Swai Fish?

The safety of eating Swai is an ongoing discussion, as it has a reputation of being below low in quality.

So if concerned about swai fish, here are four reasons why you may be reconsidering eating it:

1. Swai is a common and frequent victim of food fraud.

While the "Asian catfish" is a relative of the American catfish, it is in a different family. This disparity led the U.S. FDA to pass a law in which "catfish" could only refer to a member of the family Ictaluridae. This has led to a wide variety of names for swai, and some confusion as to what exactly swai is.

What's more, U.S. seafood importers started shipping fillets from a Vietnamese catfish called basa in 1994. But most of what is sold in the market today as basa fish is actually not true basa.

Instead, it is often swai fish, which is considered to be inferior to basa. Swai, which is also known as tra, tends to be course and grainier than basa. It is also more beige and thinner in appearance.

The restaurant industry has been known to use swai in a fraudulent manner, marking them as true catfish or grouper. Swai is also often sold generically as "fish" on menus featuring fish tacos and fish sandwiches. Restaurants are likely to do so based on the cheapness of swai compared to higher quality fish types.

2. Swai often comes from fish farms.

Farmed fish is not automatically designated as an unhealthy fish. However, factory-farmed fish in Vietnam are often filled with sludge and wastewater. This may include bacteria and antibiotic residues.

There are likewise many reports of swai fish being contaminated with trace minerals and heavy metals caused by the conditions in which they were raised.

3. Swai fish may contain a number of diseases.

The questionable quality and lack of inspection of the conditions of swai fish increase the risk of a number of diseases.

Some of the most common diseases include parasitic, bacterial, and Sporozoa infestations and infections.

4. There are healthier fish alternatives to swai fish recipes. 

Fish truly should and can be a part of a balanced diet. Besides, there are many benefits of eating fish, especially thanks to their well-known heart-healthy properties such as omega-3 fatty acids.

However, there are healthier alternatives to the swai fish that undergo tighter regulations and inspections. These include wild-caught salmon, sardines, and tilapia.

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Also, always try and validate a source when selecting a fish. Purchasing from reputable brands, such as bistroMD, can also ensure fish safety.

For instance, bistroMD's catfish come from the coastal plains of eastern North Carolina. The fish swim in pure water free of pesticides or synthetic chemicals, in which they eat a diet native to the species.

Striped Catfish. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Basa/Swai. Seafood Source.

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