The Truth About Swai Fish (Seafood Fraud Is Just the Beginning)

December 27, 2017
Swai fish - Dr. Axe

I’m a huge fan of certain types of wild-caught fish. Certain seafood picks land serve as muscle-building protein foods. Some even provide ample doses of healthy fats like omega-3s. But fish often comes with a hefty price tag, which is why consumers are always looking for more affordable options. Consumers are flocking to Swai fish due to its cheap price tag, but there are major problems with this fish that you need to know about.

Swai fish costs only about $2 per pound, but it’s much costlier when you consider what it could be doing to your health.

What is Swai Fish? 

Swai fish is a type of white fish with a mild flavor and flaky texture. It’s a freshwater fish that’s native to Vietnamese rivers and a type of catfish. It’s also called Vietnamese catfish, basa fish and iridescent shark, but it’s neither a basa nor a type of shark.

The abundance of names come from an identity crisis swai fish had in the early 2000s, when it still was sold in the U.S. under the name of “catfish.” In 2003, Congress passed a law stating that only American catfish could be labeled as such, prompting a variety of names to flood the market, though today, the Vietnamese fish industry seems to have settled on swai. You won’t find the fish in in Alabama, Louisiana or Mississippi, though. In these states, where catfish is a big industry, it’s illegal to sell swai. (1)

Is Swai Fish Safe to Eat?

Because swai fish isn’t technically considered catfish, it isn’t subject to the same stringent inspection that other imported catfish are. (2)

That’s a problem because antibiotics that are banned in the U.S. are often found in fish products from Vietnam, along with bacteria like E. coli. While swai fish still has to meet inspection requirements, doubts remain among the U.S. catfish industry that issues like polluted water are being addressed in Asia.

In fact, in the summer of 2016, nearly 26,000 pounds of swai fillets that were sold at Aldi’s stores in America were recalled. The fish hadn’t met federal inspection requirements. (3) It’s pretty impressive that the lax handling was caught, however; only about 2 percent of imported seafood is ever tested for antibiotic drug residue. (4)

And one study found that Vietnamese imported fish like swai had the greatest number of health violations of imported seafood in the U.S. (5) (For that reason alone, it’s one of the top health foods you should never eat.)

But the biggest issue with swai fish is the fact that it’s factory farmed. Just like factory farmed meats, when fish are mass produced out of the wild, there are repercussions.

For starters, factory-farmed fish are distressed. They don’t enjoy being in small, tight spaces — yes, even your goldfish hates it. When these fish become distressed, like humans, they’re more prone to disease. And how are factory-farmed fish treated for disease? If you guessed antibiotics, you’re right. As we know, you are what you eat eats.

Swai fish - Dr. Axe

Factory-farmed fish advocates maintain that’s raising fish on farms instead of capturing strained populations in the wild is better for everyone. But factory fish like swai have to eat — and their diets consist mainly of fishmeal made from small, wild fish, GMO corn and grains. Not so tasty. While massive amounts of small fish are being drawn out of the water to feed the farmed fish, wild populations have less to eat, perpetuating an ugly, fishy cycle. (6)

While there aren’t many studies on farm-fished swai per se, when it comes to tilapia and salmon, it’s clear that farmed fish is not the best option. I believe swai fish falls in the same category.

What Fish Do I Recommend?

Swai isn’t the only fish I don’t recommend — in fact, there are 17 fish you should never eat. So what options does that leave pescatarian lovers with? A ton.

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is a favorite of mine. It’s packed with vitamins B12 and D, which many Americans are deficient in. Salmon is also a serious brain food. With so much omega-3 fatty acids, it’ll keep away brain fog and improve memory.

Sardines caught in the Pacific are another healthy choice that’s easy to find and add to dishes — and they’re inexpensive, too. Because they’re quite low in the fish food chain, sardines don’t suffer from sustainability issues the way other fish do. They actually reduce inflammation and protect bone health; not bad for such a little fish.

Of course, you can get the omega-3 benefits of fish without eating them by choosing a high-quality phytoplankton supplement. The ample levels of omega-3s EPA and DHA found in some fish actually come from the fish eating phytoplankton.

Final Thoughts on Swai Fish

It’s because I love fish so much that I can’t recommend swai fish. Though studies on swai fish are limited, especially compared to more popular fish like tilapia and salmon, the information we do know is enough to keep me away from it. The possibility of swai fish being sold with antibiotic residues and lower standards is just one part of it. The fact that swai sold in the U.S. from almost exclusively from factory farms means that it’s inferior in too many ways.

When you are choosing a fish, I suggest sticking to fish low in contaminants and high in omega-3 fatty acids, like wild-caught salmon and Pacific sardines. And please, skip factory-farmed fish.

Read Next: 10 Fish Oil Benefits Proven Beyond Medicine

From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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  1. Nathan Becker on

    The wild caught salmon is diseased from radioactive contamination especially due to Japan’s latest nuclear meltdown? Food for thought!!!

  2. Ron on

    The swai fish is now sold in Louisiana. I seen it here in Lafayette and I even asked him what it was. Then I searched it and found your info. And yes $2 a pound. I didn’t get it because I don’t support the import of fish to this region.

  3. Andrea Wargo on

    What about TRADER JOE’s Swai Fillets with Tomatoes, Olives, Capers, etc? Trader Joes is a pretty responsible food purveyor.

  4. Skip Coleman on

    We have a Swai fish, it has been a pet for the last 25 years, we have it in a 75 gallon tank, it’s about 25 inches long. Son bought it in a pet store. Just wondering how long they live. Takes a lot of work to keep him alive. Had a piece of Swai at a local Chinese buffet, don’t care for it.

  5. дшс on

    Informative as good as a scientific paper! Too ugly a lot of things in this country is so super-political with no concern about destroying human nature! The worst is it’s deliberate! This is perhaps why this country is going down!

  6. Mary Miller on

    I bought Fish from a store called Market Street in Plano, TX. I have been eating more salmon because I am now a diabetic. I had also been buying Tipalea but read about the reasons I should not eat. Then, last week, I saw the Swai fish beside the salmon and since the Swai was marked .91, cheap and I bought. Well, when I went cook, the Swai, the fish stunk up my kitchen and I did not think I would ever get rid of the smell-salmon does not do that-after cooking the fish, I tasted and tasted horrible. I threw out and would never buy again. After reading your article, I will quit buying that fish also.

  7. Lucinda Vincent on

    Thank you Mike Elder for an article on the TRUTH about why these highly misleading articles…..marketed and backed by manipulative US food industry hiding behind junk science and some straight up lies are really generated en masse. Please dont let your cultural ignorance and bias literally cost you….do your OWN research and think for yourself and most times you will be surprised at the truth….not only will i continue to buy swai but now i will make a point of NOT buying US catfish companies who support this kind of manipulative marketing becuase its just straight up sick and nasty all to make more of a buck off of hard working americans….ugg


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