Swai Fish – Antibiotics, Downsides, and Health Benefits

Swai fish is palatable fish that is native to the waters of Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Characterized by its moist, white, firm flesh and neutral flavor, it is ranked as the sixth most popular fish in the United States. Also known as basa fish, it was previously imported into the U.S. under the name “Asian catfish” until the FDA passed a law that only allows fish belonging to the Ictaluridae family to be sold as catfish. While swai is related to catfish, it belongs to the family langasiidae.

Health Benefits of Eating Swai Fish

Swai possesses two of the main characteristics that lead doctors to encourage fish consumption: it is a source of lean protein that is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Swai is also an excellent source of selenium, niacin, and B12.

Downsides to Consuming Swai Fish

While it does have vital nutrients and is low in bad fat, there are many popular fish that provide more protein and nutrients and are less controversial in the ways in which they are sourced. Although swai is common in its natural river habitat, most of these fish consumed in the U.S. are raised on fish farms in Vietnam. Swai farms typically use chemical agents such as disinfectants, antiparasitic drugs, and antibiotics. Some researchers have also found mercury levels that exceed the World Health Organization's recommendations in as high as 50% of the fish tested.

Antibiotics in Swai Fish

Because fish raised on fish farms often live in crowded conditions, the potential for disease transmission among the fish is much higher. Swai is often given antibiotics and other drugs to curb disease. Residue from the antibiotics often remains in the fish and may contaminate nearby waterways. In humans, frequent consumption of fish treated by antibiotics may increase antibiotic drug resistance in humans.

Better Alternatives

Swai Fish and Chips

People who enjoy swai should consider only purchasing fish that are eco-certified by an independent organization. For more nutritious, ethically-raised options, there are several fish from which consumers may choose. While the average serving of swai has 15 grams of protein and 11 mg of omega-3, a serving of salmon has 24 grams of protein and between 1,200 and 2,400 mg of omega-3. American catfish has 15 grams of protein and 100 to 250 mg of omega-3. Because swai are raised on farms, they typically do not have a healthy or natural diet compared to other fish. Farm-raised swai typically eat soy, canola, rice bran, and fish byproducts. Therefore, people who prefer white-fleshed fish should consider wild-caught catfish sourced from within the U.S., Pacific cod from the U.S. or Canada, haddock, sole, or flounder. Fish that have higher omega-3 levels and less mercury include wild-caught salmon, herring, anchovies, freshwater trout, and Pacific oysters.