By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience
Updated 2/11/16 INTRODUCTION:
This article is primarily about prepared fish foods, however prepared fish foods generally should not be your sole source for aquatic nutrition for your aquarium, especially young fry (although powder Spirulina 20 is an excellent fry food). Near the end of this article I do discuss some live, frozen and freeze dried foods.
As well, the main "Mission" of this article is to educate readers as to the ingredients that make up a quality fish food and why. This way readers can apply this information to any fish food in an educated manner. As while I certainly recommend many excellent fish foods in this article, there are certainly many others that are not mentioned that might be excellent as well if only based on the ingredients and the order of the ingredients (it is noteworthy that all ingredients are listed in order of most to least).
There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes a quality flake food (or pellet).
The aquarist needs to understand that there are similarities and differences between fish and other animals.
For example; Fish get most of their energy needs from fat, however in humans carbohydrates are generally considered the better source.
Another point is amino acids (the building blocks of proteins); almost all animals have different amino acid needs.
For example; Cats need Taurine in there diet or they can suffer heart problems.
Back to fish; the wrong amino acids in any fish will lead to aquarium pollution (extra ammonia) from lack of digestibility and potential renal failure (kidney failure) in the fish.
Then there is the speed of digestion, some fish such as goldfish tend to have slower digestive tracts (I like to compare it to a horse, but there are major differences such as the stomach).
One similarity is that if too high a protein or the wrong protein diet is fed, the horse may colic, and in goldfish they will build up intestinal gas and infections including of the swim bladder or occasionally dropsy will ensue.
As for the stomach of goldfish (& other cyprinids), I would have to respectfully disagree with the TV show "Tanked", as although it is a rudimentary stomach, from what I see of the goldfish anatomy IS A stomach.
Reference: Do goldfish Have a Stomach; The Fish Vet?
But more importantly, regardless of which side you fall on the issue of whether or not a goldfish has a stomach; What is a fact is that this small or rudimentary goldfish stomach along with their long intestinal tract tends to loose moisture readily because of this small stomach and long intestinal tract.
So soaking dry goldfish foods is ESSENTIAL for prevention of bloating and gut Aeromonas infections. As well, too high a protein diet can cause issues, which is why a diet rich in slow to digest plant based material such as algae is essential (Spirulina is best), but low in certain proteins that require short intestinal tracts.
Back to other Fish:
Another note about fish food is what carnivores need. Carnivorous fish often consume whole animals including intestinal contents, which often include plant material. A quality fish food for carnivores must include vegetable matter such as spirulina.
An important point about aquatic nutrition to think about is what is best for the fish is NOT necessarily what the fish eat most readily.
Many foods add ingredients that “enhance” flavor and use terms such as the “Rich Mix” to describe their product and claim that fish eat their fish food well, which is often true.
HOWEVER this is NOT an indicator of quality nutrition.
Think about this; when is the last time you have placed spinach and candy in front of a child and seen what one they will pick?
Or it has been shown in studies that most dogs will prefer cat food over dog food due to cat foods more “rich” ingredients, yet in these same studies dogs fed a diet of cat food are destined to an early death due to renal failure.
Along this same line, if I offer TetraMin at the same time as a vastly superior food such as Spirulina 20 Fish Food Flake, in most instances the fish will prefer the TetraMin. However this does not prove superior nutrition in the least and in fact is the reason I generally only feed one type of fish food at a time so that fish cannot “pick and choose” what they eat and ignore a nutritional part of their diet.
This is an important point as well in the fact that many quality fish foods such as the before mentioned Spirulina Flake or Aqua Master ultra premium fish foods do NOT have added enhancers (why add these and lower nutritional value) and thus often take longer for fish to accept when first offered, but in the end I have found that well over 90% of fish will eventually accept these fish foods when that is all that is offered.
Another common practice is to artificially add colors that add no nutritional value (and may even be detrimental) just to look “pretty” or appealing to the aquarist. Some Premium brands of Fish Food Flakes such Aqueon Fish Foods have colors of their fish foods that are attributed to the actual ingredients in the formula (such as Marigold Powder, Chili Powder, Spinach, etc.).
This method is preferable as it helps to bring out the natural colors in your fish, while keeping them energetic and healthy.
The tests on Spirulina based fish foods are my oldest studies/tests, dating back to the late 70s where I used a Restaurant with over 80 aquariums that I had a full control maintenance contract to perform side by side comparisons of different fish foods including a Spirulina based food called “Green Flake Plus” by Aquatronics.
Because of this, I later earned the nickname, “Green Flake Man” due to the amount of this product I used and sold.
My point in mentioning this is that I have received some rather nasty comments in forums when I mention that I recommend this over TetraMin or others.
The comments usually will state that “I have reared many fish over the years exclusively on TetraMin and they have done fine”.
That is fine, so have I; HOWEVER scientifically controlled tests state that you can do MUCH BETTER with your fish food flake!!
Of the results I noted (in BOTH saltwater and Freshwater) were: improved color, slightly better longevity, but most notably, an easily noted lesser incidence of disease.
AMINO ACIDS: An amino acid is any molecule that contains both Amines and Carboxylic acids. *Amines are organic compounds that contain nitrogen as the key atom; structurally amines resemble ammonia.
*Carboxylic acids are organic acids characterized by the presence of a carboxyl group.
Amino acids are used as the basic components of proteins.
The net protein utilization is profoundly affected by the limiting amino acid content or protein quality (the essential amino acid found in the smallest quantity in the foodstuff), and somewhat affected by salvage of essential amino acids in the body.
It is therefore a good idea to mix foodstuffs that have different weaknesses in their essential amino acid distributions. This limits the loss of nitrogen through deamination and increases overall net protein utilization.
Eggs (whether fish or even chicken) have the highest protein quality of any source. Which makes hard boiled egg crumbles an excellent food source for fry.
DL-methionine is an essential amino acid for producing the “Lionhead” feature in goldfish. It is noteworthy that Methionine is one of eight essential amino acids.
High levels of DL-methionine can be found in eggs, whole fish meal, and in many cereal grains such as whole unbleached wheat flour, which is used in many commercial foods such as Sanyu Koi and Goldfish Food or the ultra-premium Aqua Master Fish Foods (which is high in whole fish meal, another source of methionine).
Other essential Amino acids include (essential, meaning amino acids that cannot be produced within the fish’ body from other nutrients and proteins): Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine + Cystine3, Phenylalanine + Tryosine4, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine.
Other quality sources of usable amino acids include: Whole fish meal (salmon is best), Cylcops, fish roe, squid meal, and even spirulina algae.
Bottom line; Not all protein sources are equal.
An analogy used at a pet food seminar I attended was this: You can achieve the protein analysis on many pet foods with a used pair of leather shoes, but leather shoes contain little usable proteins.
Another point as to grain or plant sources (Spirulina does NOT fall into this category), is that proteins in cereal grains and other plant concentrates do not contain complete amino acid profiles and usually are deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
Molecular compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water. Fats are important for insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. They also serve as energy stores for the body. Fats are broken down in the body to release glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol can be converted to glucose by the liver and thus used as a source of energy.
The fatty acids are the main source of energy in fish, especially for many tissues, such as heart and skeletal muscle. Another important function for fats are for vitamin absorption.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in conjunction with fats.
The lipids (fats) in fish can be separated into liquid fish oils and solid fats.
This is why fats/lipid for use in fish food are best obtained from aquatic sources such as Whole Fishmeal.
Fish lipids are highly digestible by all species of fish (& animals) and are excellent sources of the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in both the omega-3 and omega-6 families of fatty acids.
The predominant omega-3 fatty acids in fishmeal and fish oil are linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Both DHA and EPA fatty acids are produced and passed along the food chain by small-size algae and zooplankton, which are consumed by fish. Fishmeal and oil contain more omega-3, than omega-6 fatty acids.
In contrast, most plant lipids contain higher concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids. For example, oil extracted from soybeans, corn, or cottonseed is rich in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid.
Some oils, like those from canola and flax seeds contain linolenic acid (of the omega-3 family), however, its conversion into essential DHA and EPA by most animals may be limited.
More about Omega 3 & 6
As with most animals, it is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet, as these two substances work together to promote health. However in fish it is the Omega 3 that is most needed and many warm water freshwater do not readily produce this fatty acid like most coldwater marine fish can.
Omega-3 fatty acids are THE essential fatty acid and one of the benefits is that they help reduce inflammation, while most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.
One problem with many fish foods that are void of Whole Fish Meal (vs. plain fish meal which has often lost most oils), Fish oils, or similar are that they often will get their fats from plant sources that lack even short-chain Omega 3 and only contain Omega 6.
Very few plants produce Omega-3 fats, and plant-based Omega-3 fats such as Flax, walnuts and camelina are slightly different than fish omega-3s.
Plants produce a shorter chain molecule than fish, while fish produce long-chain omega-3 oil, but even warm water freshwater fish may be able to convert these short-chain omega-3 oils to the long-chain version.
An ongoing study has shown where farmed fish were fed partially with camelina suggested that they were converting the oil to the longer chain Omega 3 fatty acid.
Molecular substances which include the sugars, starches, gums and celluloses. The common attributes of carbohydrates are that they contain only the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and that their combustion will yield carbon dioxide plus one or more molecules of Water.
Most of the carbohydrates that enter the diet of fish are of plant origin.
Carnivorous fish such as groupers, therefore, deal with little carbohydrate. Indeed, experiments have shown that these species are ill-equipped to handle significant quantities of raw carbohydrate, in their diets.
The ability of fish to digest carbohydrates depends on their ability to elaborate amylase. All species of fish have been shown to secrete at least some amylase. It has also been demonstrated that activity of this enzyme was greatest in herbivores.
Carbohydrates are not a superior energy source for fish over protein or fat although digestible carbohydrates do spare protein for tissue building. Also, unlike in mammals, glycogen is not a significant storage depot of energy in fish.
The more efficient metabolism of amino acids over carbohydrates (glucose) by fish for energy could be due to the ability of fish to excrete nitrogenous waste as ammonia from their gills without the high cost of energy in converting the waste to urea.
Finally, what is also noteworthy is that fish use sugar and carbs/starch found in any fish food first since they can store very little if any.
In a study conducted by Paradigm Fish Foods found that fish stopped breeding after being fed a trial diets of less than 21% carbs and fats. This means that the females didn't have enough reserve energy to produce eggs. Paradigm raised the energy a little and the fish started breeding again.
They established that the optimum combined carbs and fat is about 23%, anymore and the fish can suffer from fatty liver and other issues and much less and the fish are not receiving the proper energy requirments.
FISH MEAL: Fish meal has been widely used as a protein source for many years for fish.
High quality whole fishmeal provides a balanced amount of all essential amino acids, phospholipids, and fatty acids for optimum development, growth, and reproduction, especially of larvae and brood stock.
The nutrients in fishmeal (such as Omega 3 fatty acids) also aid in disease resistance by boosting and helping to maintain a healthy functional immune system.
Two basic types of fish meal are produced;
(1) Fish Meal from left over parts:
Produced from fishery waste (salmon, tuna, etc.) that are associated with the processing of various edible human fishery products and this fishmeal is rendered from fish offal, trimmings or cuttings, and other wastes principally from filleting and canning operations from the edible fisheries (e.g., tuna, cod, haddock, hake, pollock).
In addition to being a by-product of human fish production it is also a by-product associated with Omega 3 fish oil production, which is where many commercial fish foods obtain fish meal from, thus loosing an important natural nutrient; Fish Oil (with Omaga 3).
Unfortunately many if not MOST of the major fish food brands use this poor source of nutrition rather than the vastly superior whole fish meal.
(2) Whole Fishmeal:
When specific fish (Herring, Menhaden, Anchovies, Hakes, Jacks, Pollack, etc.) are harvested just for the purpose to produce fish meal. The fish can be dried directly drying or cooking prior to drying and oil extracted.
Most of these fish are small, bony, with high content of oil (especially the important Omega 3 discussed in the “Fats” section), and considered of little edible use for humans (e.g., anchovies, herrings, capelin, menhaden).
Fish that are only used for the production of fish meal are the best source, listed on ingredients as “Whole Fish Meal”, “White Fish Meal”, or the best: “Whole Menhaden Fish Meal”.
Fishmeal of high quality provides a balanced amount of all essential amino acids, phospholipids, and fatty acids (Omega 3, DHA or docosahexaenoic acid and EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid) for optimum development, growth, and reproduction, especially of larvae and brood stock.
The nutrients in whole fishmeal also aid in disease resistance by boosting and helping to maintain a healthy functional immune system.
Most plant-based proteins (with the exception of Spirulina, which is not actually a plant or even a true algae), even when properly processed, are usually not as digestible as fishmeal; and their inclusion rate into the diet is often limited as it results in depressed growth rates and feed intake.
Over-all protein digestibility values for premium fishmeals are consistently above 92%.
In comparison protein digestibility for many plant-based proteins varies greatly, for example, from 77% to 96%, depending on the species of plant.
Whole Fish Meal is an excellent source of DL-methionine which along with some fats such as the VERY important Omega 3 fatty acid is important to large head growth in certain cichlids and Orandas/Lionhead goldfish.
As noted earlier, unfortunately many leading brands of fish food use only bi-products or low quality Fish Meal which is not complete.
Whole Fish Meal averages between 17% and 25% ash content.
More ash indicates a higher mineral content, especially calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Calcium and phosphorus constitute the majority of the ash found in fishmeal.
This makes Whole Fishmeal an important source of very essential minerals that fish need for osmoregulation.
Reference: Aquarium Answers, Osmotic Regulation in Fish
Fishmeal also contains certain compounds that make the fish food more acceptable and agreeable to the taste (palatable). This property allows for the feed to be ingested rapidly, and will reduce nutrient leaching. It is thought the non-essential amino acid glutamic acid is one of the compounds that imparts to fishmeal its palatability.
Use of high quality fish meal as a percentage of processed/prepared foods ranges from 5-7% for koi and goldfish, and up to 40% to 55% for high protein tropical fish, trout, salmon, and some marine fishes diets.
Unfortunately the cost of high-quality whole fishmeal (65% protein) is 2.0 to 3.5 times the price of soybean meal so its use is often low as compared to soybean meal or lower quality fishmeal in low end fish foods (which make up the more popular brands too).
SHRIMP MEAL (& Plankton/Krill): Shrimp meal can be made from either cull shrimp that are being processed before freezing or from whole shrimp that is not of suitable quality for human consumption.
The material to be made into shrimp meal is dried (sun or using a dryer) and then ground. Shrimp meal has been used in trout and salmon diets as a source of pigments to impart the desirable color in the tissues.
Shrimp/Plankton either whole or as a part of another prepared food is an excellent source for fats needed for the growth of heads in Flowerhorn Cichlids.
Krill Meal is similar (& often Krill Meal is labeled as Shrimp Meal).
Another positive aspect of Shrimp/Krill Meal is that it often has a high palatability for many fish, especially small “finicky” fish such as many small Tetras.
For this reason many quality fish foods specifically designed for small finicky fish includes this food source as a major ingredient.
Examples include the 'Ultra Premium Aqua Master Tropical Fish Food micro pellets' as well as 'Hikari Micro Wafers' (which also includes Garlic) or for delicate Marine Fish, 'Hikari Marine S'.
Shrimp/Krill meal has been found to be an acceptable supplemental protein source for fish, but inferior to whole fish meal for pepsin digestibility.
Squid Meal is made from squid viscera portions from cannery plants including egg and testis.
Squid Meal is high digestibility of protein source, which provides a full range of amino acids for fish. It provides various kinds of vitamins and minerals and also 1.0-1.5% of cholesterol that is suitable for fish fry and young fish.
BRINE SHRIMP: Just over a centimeter in size, the adult brine shrimp (Artemia) is a common food source for fish. They can be purchased at many Pet Stores as adults, Freeze dried or even eggs.
The eggs look like a powdery brown substance but in reality the substance is thousands of cysts—eggs surrounded by protective cases. When added to water, these cysts will hatch into shrimp nauplii within a few hours.
As a food source brine shrimp are relatively limited (mostly because of their high water content). They are a good source of carotene for color and act as a natural laxative in fish digestive systems. The proteins they do supply are of high quality. Depending on the source they also can supply vegetable matter due to their consumption of algae.
As I noted, Brine Shrimp have a natural laxative ability and along with shelled peas makes for an excellent laxative for constipated fish.
Even better would be to combine a high content Spirulina Flake such as Spirulina 20 and make a thick soup and soak some frozen or even FD Brine Shrimp (frozen or live is slightly better) for a natural immune boosting/laxative that is excellent for Bettas, goldfish, etc.
Hikari also makes a Spirulina enhanced FD Brine Shrimp product that is excellent as well.
SPIRULINA: Spirulina is a blue-green plant plankton rich in raw protein and seven major vitamins: A1, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E.
Spirulina naturally contains beta-carotene color enhancing pigments (1500 mg/kg. Carotenoids; Orange/ Red pigment enhancers), and whole range of minerals.
In addition, it contains all essential fatty acids and eight amino acids required for complete nutrition.
Spirulina is different from other algae and is similar to bacteria in many ways, occupying a niche between plants and bacteria.
Spirulina is similar to cyanobacteria in structure which can be toxic (spiral shape, unlike true plant plankton).
Spirulina and Blue-Green algae are recognized by the body (fish in particular) as a bacterium, causing an increase in antibodies, which in turn increase disease resistance. Spirulina is also high in usable or digestible amino acids.
Spirulina is probably one of the best fish food ingredients available, INCLUDING for carnivores (usually fed via gut loading, more information later in the article). Any staple fish food diet for community fish is improved by the addition of Spirulina Algae, which is why Spirulina 20 which has Spirulina as its number one ingredient is superior to most other basic fish food flakes for everyday feeding of general/community aquarium fish.
GARLIC: There is a lot of both subjective and objective evidence about the use and effectiveness of garlic for fish.
Much of this is positive, but there are also negative reviews of the use of Garlic.
I myself have used Garlic as an appetite stimulant with good results, but admittedly this was not a controlled study and is also subjective evidence.
Based on a study ("Using Garlic as an Appetite Stimulant in Sand Tiger Sharks." Drum & Croaker, January 2004, Volume 35, pages 59-63"), I would have to venture a guess that the results that I and others have observed were real, it simply depends upon the fish and what stimulates certain fish, as this study was quite flawed and only dealt with one type of fish. My positive results were with omnivores and herbivores, but not carnivores (in particular Yellow Tangs and some livebearers I only used Garlic to stimulate appetite).
I do not have good evidence of the benefit of Garlic for parasite prevention/treatment, however I do have good scientific evidence of the use of garlic for bacterial treatment (which may at least allow for a stronger immune system to aid in treatment of parasites).
Garlic contains the active (& proven) ingredient; Allicin, (a.k.a. Diallyl thiosulfinate)). Allicin is a broad-spectrum agent against both Gram Positive and Gram Negative bacteria, with more gram positive activity (which unfortunately most aquatic diseases are gram negative).
Fish Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium marinum) has been demonstrated to be effectively treated with Allicin. Some human studies show the effectiveness of Garlic (Allicin) in treatment Streptoccocus (which can affect fish).
Reference: TB in Fish; Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
Garlic can be added to fish food at about 1-2% (generally during manufacture or homemade fish food) or an aquarium keeper can add professionally prepared products such as SeaChem Garlic Guard to fish food prior to feeding (a half hour or more is best to allow food to absorb the garlic).
GarlicGuard can be mixed with Metronidazole or Neomycin and then fed used as a food soak for treatment of internal bacterial and some parasites.
For Fish Tuberculosis, Garlic Guard can be mixed with both Neomycin and Kanamycin for improving the potential effectiveness of tuberculosis treatment.
Although still fed to fish and often part of many homemade fish food recipes, Beef Heart is a food source that should be used very sparingly.
Although many carnivorous fish enjoy it and it may be a good way to kick start growth in juvenile fish, excessive long term use can add stress to the fish' digestive tract and kidneys, thus lowering resistance to disease and shortening lifespan (which I noted in some side by side fish food comparisons in the 1980s where Oscar Fish that were fed a diet primarily of Beef Heart had CLEARLY shorter life spans and were more prone to infections or other problems such as HITH).
Although lower in fats than most warm blooded animal meats, Beef Heart is still about 18% Saturated Fat. These fats are very difficult for fish to process these fats, especially older fish.
The well known aquatic author Martin A. Moe (my favorite is the
"The Marine Aquarium Handbook") states: "Fish are cold blooded and all digestion reactions take place at 70 to 80F, the temp of aquarium water. Thus they may not be able to efficiently digest or use the types of fats present in the flesh of warm blooded animals. They are much better off with the flesh of animals that are similar to their normal prey."
As well the amino acids (which make up proteins) are not ones that are easily utilized by fish.
Another issue with the use of Beef Heart is due to its make up, it often leads to considerable aquarium pollution when used regularly, which is another reason to use sparingly (if at all).
Use of soybean products in the aquaculture industry have become the focus of protein substitution in fish food around the world. The high protein level makes soybean meal a key ingredient for aquaculture feeds since soybean meal is considerably less expensive than traditionally used marine animal meals.
However, proteins in cereal grains and other plant concentrates do not contain complete amino acid profiles and usually are deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
The limiting amino acid content of soybean meal is high, and are not to amino acid profiles of Whole fish meal or eggs.
Fish foods that use soybean meal as the primary protein source should be avoided (some use of soybean meal is OK, however it should NOT be the number one ingredient in any fish food).
Carbohydrates as explained earlier are not the best source of energy in fish, but sources of Carbohydrates still can be useful, especially when whole wheat is used.
One reason is for roughage, especially in many South American cichlids, goldfish and koi, but also for other fish for the wheat-germ found in whole wheat is a natural source of vitamin E, an important vitamin to promote healthy growth and fish color.
Wheat Germ is very helpful in preparing your Koi fish for winter (during the fall) in cooler climates, or even feeding during winter where water temperatures remain above 45-50F
Whole Wheat should be high in your goldfish diet so as to prevent intestinal distress which in turn can allow for opportunistic internal Aeromonas infections.
Premium Goldfish food such as AquaMaster Goldfish Diet are a must for any goldfish keeper looking for the long term health benefits from the foods they feed their prize goldfish
Gluten is a protein composite that appears in foods processed from wheat and related species.
Glutens are also the basic source of glutamate, what the Japanese call "umami" what Americans and others call savory - the flavor produced by proteins and amino acids found primarily in meat. When cooked in broth, gluten absorbs some of the surrounding liquid (including the taste) and becoming firm, making for popular meatless, inexpensive filler used by many fish foods (& human foods).
Among vegetarian & vegan diets, as well as several Asian cultures (especially where Buddhism was prevalent), there was a desire to experience umami without eating meat so foods using soy and gluten proteins became very popular; this use has also crossed over to many fish foods as well.
Green peas or green pea flour is a good source of fiber (when not over processed) and is also used to lower protein.
This ingredient when dried contains 26.6% protein without a complete amino acid profile so it is NOT and should not be used as a complete diet
Dried green pea flour also contains these nutrition parameters: 2.4% fat/lipids and 28.2% starch, 27.7% fiber, 6.9% sugar, 3% minerals and 5% moisture.
Fresh or frozen green peas are often used as a digestive aid for constipation in fish (along with Brine Shrimp), in particular Goldfish.
Make sure to boil or microwave the peas first (then cool) so as to soften. Then remove the skin and cut in 1/2 using the what would be the stem of the seed curved along the center of the pea as a cutting guide.
First here are a couple of immune enhancers used in prepared (or homemade) fish foods. Spirulina could be included too, but since it was already covered separately, please refer to that section of the article.
*Paprika has anti-inflammatory properties and gives a boost to the immune system.
Paprika is 15% protein without a complete amino acid profile and contains 11% Omega 3 as well as 89% Omega 6. It also has 13% fat/lipids and 8.4% starch, 37.5% fiber, 10% sugar, 7% minerals and 9.1% moisture.
Paprika is a very good source of Iron and has these Vitamins: A, C, E, K,and B6.
Paprika contains these minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Manganese and Selenium.
It is noteworthy that drying of prepared fish foods reduces Vitamin C to almost nothing however drying Paprika actually increases the Vitamin C.
*Cayenne Pepper has anti-bacterial properties and aids in digestion.
Cayenne Pepper is 12% protein without a complete amino acid profile and contains 11% Omega 3 and 89% Omega 6. It also has 17% fat/lipids and 19.4% starch, 27.4% fiber, 10.2% sugar, 6% minerals and 8% moisture.
Cayenne Pepper has these vitamins: A, C, E, K, B1, B6, B2, B3, M and Choline.
Cayenne Pepper contains these minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Manganese and Selenium.
Next here are some proven color enhancers.
While I already note color enhancing properties of certain fish food ingredients, I will use this section to address specific proven natural fish color enhancers, especially as it applies to Koi, Goldfish, and some Cichlids.
*Carotenoids are a broad group of terpenoid (with 8 isoprene units) color enhancers are organic pigments that are naturally occurring in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants and some other photosynthetic organisms such as algae, a few bacteria, and a few types of fungus.
The following are essentially sub groups of Carotenoids:
*Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid alcohol that is considered by Koi experts in Japan to provide vivid color-enhancement of the yellow, orange, & red areas ('Hiban' as per Japanese Koi breeders), all the while not impacting the white areas ("Shiroji" as per Japanese Koi breeders).
Zeaxanthin is found in Paprika, Safron, marigold, and most notably Spirulina.
*Astaxanthin is a carotenoid belonging to a class of phytochemicals known as terpenes that is helpful for enhancing red pigments.
Astaxanthin is found in Chlorella algae, lobster, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, crustaceans, & other shellfish.
Most of the astaxanthin for aquaculture is produced synthetically even though astaxanthin is fairly abundant and obtainable from natural sources (albeit for triple the price).
I have not found any real proof of any advantages in using natural over artificial astaxanthin based on scientific evidence.
Regardless of this unproven controversy, some fish foods claim to use only natural sources such as "Aqua Master Koi Foods"
Here are a few other color enhancers and their color enhancing abilities (although not all scientifically confirmed)
Lutein (found in high amounts in dandelion leaves): Greenish-yellow
*Lettuce; this is mostly cellulose and empty nutrition and worse lettuce is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria that can in turn cloud your aquarium and compete with fish for oxygen (many labs use lettuce for this).
It is MUCH better to use commercially sold seaweed over lettuce, or even spinach or any other garden vegetable not only for reasons of less issues with bacteria growth, but also for vastly better nutrition.
*Bread; again mostly empty nutrition to fish (maybe not for humans, but as noted earlier fish get their energy primarily from fats). Also bread again will attract un wanted bacteria.
HOMEMADE FISH FOOD:
You can make your own supplement for general fish feeding that is high in DL-methionine; Start with whole salmon which is an excellent source of carotene for color (frozen or even canned works), frozen peas, hard boiled egg, frozen or FD brine shrimp, duck weed or spiulina powder, and fish oil (cod liver oil works fine). Blend this mixture then add corn starch to the paste to dehydrate. Spread this paste on small strips of foil (or even wax paper if your dehydrator does not get too hot). Make sure you leave room for air circulation.
*For a frozen food, substitute the corn starch with unflavored gelatin powder.
*For cichlids, goldfish and koi, add wheat germ powder.
*For more carnivorous fish increase the whole fish and decrease the spirulina powder or duckweed. Calamari (squid) can be added too for carnivorous fish, but make sure that all the ink is removed from whole squid.
* For better attraction (smell) as well as a parasite repellent (Ich), you can add garlic powder to each batch of frozen or dried fish food at a rate of less than 1% of the prepared batch, this comes to about ½ teaspoon (or less) per one cup batch of wet fish food (before drying/freezing)
For spirulina powder, Spirulina 20 Flake can be substituted, but since this already a complete diet for many fish, I double the amount of this and decrease other ingredients by comparable amounts. Back To Top
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Here are basic percentages, please note that you can change these percentages to suit your fish food requirements:
Corn Starch or Gelatin
Some suggest the use of Agar as a binder in place of Geletin, however I do not recommend this based on evidence, while not fully proven, that Agar allows Saprolegnia to gain a foothold in an aquarium and that Agar can allow Heterotrophic bacteria to crowd out the needed Autotrophic bacteria for a healthy aquarium nitrogen cycle.
LIVE, FROZEN OR FD FOODS:
As stated earlier, this article has been primarily about prepared foods; however this is not to say that this is all you should feed, far from it. Many fish benefit from live, frozen or freeze dried supplements such as Brine Shrimp, Blood worms, Daphnia, Microworms, Whiteworms, Walter Worms and more. Make sure that you make sure that live foods come from an uncontaminated source and some foods such as Tubiflex Worms are raised in polluted waters which make them a poor choice.
As I will discuss shortly, gut loading is very helpful in feeding live food such as feeders, crickets, or blackworms.
Generally live foods are preferable to Freeze Dried foods however both can be soaked in a multi vitamin, mineral and spirulina flake “slurry” for about 30-60 minutes prior to feeding. This will improve the nutritional value these foods (often making them more palatable as well).
Ocean Nutrition and other brands of frozen foods often have excellent formulas that provide additional nutritional additives to their frozen foods (such as Omega 3 and Spirulina enhanced Brine Shrimp).
If feeder goldfish are used (& they never should be the primary source of nutrition even if gut loaded), I strongly recommend not bringing them home from your LFS and dumping them in your aquarium.
Rather I recommend a 30 minute Methylene Blue bath followed by a day in a quarantine tank (so as to prevent disease which feeder goldfish are notorious for) where they are then “gut loaded” with a Spirulina Algae or vegetable based food such Spirulina 20 Flake.
In the wild most carnivorous fish get these types of nutrients form the “guts” of their prey, but unfortunately most feeder fish have empty digestive systems to keep pollution low in holding tanks and transport.
This is an IMPORTANT aspect of feeding live foods such as feeders that many aquarists miss and should not be ignored for long term health of your carnivorous freshwater or saltwater fish.
This also can be applied to ANY live food fed to any fish, whether it be worms for community tanks, silversides, fat head minnows, or crickets (an excellent food for Arowanas).
In fact just about any other live food is preferable to feeder goldfish, as besides the before mentioned disease issues goldfish feeders contain the enzyme thaimase which breaks down thiamine. Thiamine is an important vitamin and if you use feeders as a large portion of your fish’s diet it will develop a thiamine deficiency which can lead to HITH in certain fish such as Oscars, Red Devils, and similar fish.
Reference: Hole in the Head (HITH) Disease Back To Top Worms & Brine Shrimp
For young fry such as Bettas; Walter Worms, newly hatched brine shrimp, vinegar eels or Micro Worms are an excellent choice (Micro Worms tend to drop to the bottom and Vinegar Eels may be a good alternative).
Reference: Worms used as Fish Food; Aquarium Answers
Micro Worms are nematodes (Panagrellus).
Microworms are one of the easiest live foods to culture.
Micro Worms are small .5 -1.5 mm and difficult to see individually. They are white, un-segmented worms that move continuously. The tail end is pointed while the mouth end is generally more rounded. They are approximately 15 times as long as they are wide.
Due to their size and shape, they can be fed to fish that are too small to take a brine shrimp nauplii.
Microworms can remain alive in fresh water for twelve hours or more.
Microworms reproduce sexually. The males have a curved tail, are smaller, more slender, and lower in number than the females.
Micro Worms are live bearing, producing 10 to 40 young every 1 to 1.5 days for an average 20 to 25 day life span. This results in each female producing approximately 300 offspring. The young reach sexual maturity in approximately three days.
Their size increases by three times during the first day and five to six times during the next three days. The Micro worm nematodes are 76% water and 24% dry matter; 40% of the dry matter is protein and 20% is fat.
A simple mix is one cup of quick oats, baby cereal, Cream of Wheat or similar (with maybe a tiny pinch of dry yeast) to one and a quarter cups of warm water.
Mix thoroughly and pour into a suitable container. Yogurt containers or similar types of containers work well for culturing Micro Worms.
Allow cooling, and then seed the mix with worms, putting the lid on (with small holes for ventilation) and leaving in a cool place. The temperature should be between 65 to 75 degrees.
Within a few days you will have Microworms to harvest.
No one fish food should be relied on as your fish’ sole nutritional source. For a community freshwater or saltwater aquarium start with a good basic flake or crumble such as Paradigm Omnivore (crumbles), Spirulina 20 Flake, Omega, Aqueon Fish Foods, or many other quality fish foods available (it is also a good idea to switch different flake foods day to day, especially foods such as Spirulina One which will also improve your fish immune system).
Be wary of the many low quality fish foods available as well.
Do not feed two different fish foods at the same time as fish will pick and choose and this will defeat the purpose of varying the diet of your fish.
It is helpful to soak dry foods for about 5 minutes to prevent ingestion of air that can cause digestive problems, especially with goldfish and Bettas (more so with pellet foods).
Balance these flake foods with Freeze dried foods such as FD Bloodworms or Brine Shrimp or Frozen fish foods.
I especially recommend the many prepared frozen fish foods now available by companies such as Ocean Nutrition for marine fish, many of these foods address the specific needs of certain fish species.
Live foods such as blackworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp also make a good additions to your fish’ diet.
Make sure and soak live brine shrimp for 5 minutes in freshwater prior to feeding these to marine fish to prevent disease transfer.
For larger fish such as Cichlids, the same regime works, however you want to consider a pelleted fish food as well such as Hikari or AquaMaster Premium Color Luster Cichlid Food pellets.
Be careful with the feeding of worms in many African Cichlids as I have observed constipation when these are fed regularly to these particular Cichlids.
And with goldfish pelleted fish foods such as AquaMasters Goldfish Diet and a spirulina based flake food such as Spirulina 20 Flake are a good start supplemented with frozen or FD Brine Shrimp (for constipation).
Hulled peas can also make a good addition for goldfish too. It is very important with goldfish to soak dry foods for 5 minutes in water to prevent air ingestion.
Most fish generally do well being fed twice per day (sometimes three times) in aquariums (or ponds) over 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
In ponds when temperatures fall this feeding schedule will need to be cut back.
Please see this article for more:
*Pond Information; Feeding
Many predators only need to be fed every other day or even less (such as saltwater lion fish or Arowanas in freshwater which due best with live or FD crickets IMO). Back To Top
For problems with intestinal distress in fish (very common with goldfish, however Bettas and many other fish can suffer too), you fist want to avoid this by feeding foods with the best ingredients (as noted earlier in this article) and keeping your fish in water with the Proper Electrolyte levels.
It is also important to soak dry fish foods (especially pelleted foods) for 5 minutes to prevent ingestion of air that is trapped within dry fish foods, this air can lead to indigestion or even severe problems such as Aeromonas Bacteria infections.
However these problems may still may occur.
I have found that about a ¼ teaspoon of Epsom salts per gallon of ‘bath’ water for 30 minutes along with increased salt (sodium chloride) in the aquarium, about 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons or even double this for fish that can handle this (do not double for catfish, loaches or similar).
Shelled frozen thawed Peas are recommended for strengthening digestion, reducing water retention and helping to promote elimination.
And finally Spirulina Algae as well as Brine Shrimp are also effective for easing digestion and preventing these problems from the start.
Often new fish will not eat (more common with carnivores in my experience, especially those that are being adapted to a prepared diet such as Bettas).
Sometimes after or during treatment fish will not eat, as well sometimes fish will be suffering in malnutrition from a poor diet (often prior to the well meaning aquarist who takes care of their fish obtaining their new aquatic pet), or this malnutrition can be the result of intestinal parasites or other internal parasites.
With some carnivores, the answer may be as simple as “gut loading” their food as discussed earlier (even live worms can be fed Spirulina or similar prior to feeding), however often the answer to the problem is not as simple.
In these cases preparing a fish food soaking slurry (or thick soup) is the answer.
I will generally soak brine shrimp, worms, occasionally pellets or similar foods in this slurry prior to feeding or even force feed a very weak fish this slurry by itself using an eye dropper. Let me state that this force feeding is effective less than 50% of the time for me, but still, when the other option is death, these odds are not too bad.
This slurry is NOT an exact science, but it has been effective for me, and as well for internal diseases or parasites (such as the often common intestinal flagellates found in many wild caught fish such as Clown Loaches, wild Discus, etc.).
Medications can also be added to this mix.
The medications I primarily used to add to this slurry are Neomycin (generally for bacterial problems) or Metronidazole (for intestinal parasites as well as some bacteria).
Usnea has possibilities here as well, although I have not tested it much, so it is more of an idea rather than something I have actually used effectively.
Further Reference: Aquarium Answers, Usnea as a fish remedy
When I use medications in the slurry, I generally add medications at a 10 gallon tank strength per batch (please note that I do not use medications in all food slurries).
For this Slurry, I prefer to use (1) tablespoon Spirulina Flakes, a human multi-vitamin (capsules that contain a liquid work best, however any can be ground up, as well make sure there are NO added sugars, colors, flavors, etc., only pure multi-vitamins), minerals (scrapings from Wonder Shells are what I have used since they are balanced), and Omega 3 fatty acids from a human capsule that is poured into this slurry.
The Omega 3, which was discussed earlier in this article as to its importance, is a key ingredient to this mix and this must be from fish sources, which most sold over the counter are (you can tell by the “fishy smell when the capsule is opened). This is important for two reasons; it is an important nutrient for fish, especially weak, sick and malnourished fish and as well often is an appetite stimulant do to its strong order!
Generally for one tablespoon of Slurry I will use half of the average Omega 3 capsule (about the same for the multi vitamin along with just a few scrapes of a Wonder Shells or similar). I mix this to the consistency of a VERY thick soup and then soak the Brine Shrimp, pellets, etc. for about ½ hour in this.
For force feedings I make this almost a paste consistency then no soaking of food is performed, just a direct feeding of this mix.
First I will explain what a probiotic is: "A dietary supplement containing live bacteria or yeast that supplements normal gastrointestinal flora, given especially after depletion of flora caused by infection or ingestion of an antibiotic drug."
Reference: Medical Dictionary; Probiotics
The use of probiotics whether homemade or commercial should be performed immediately after use of antibiotics on your fish either or both "in tank" or in baths.
This not to say the use of probiotics after treatments is a must, rather it is an aid to further recovery, especially for older/weaker fish.
There are many commercially available probiotics for fish, however the shelf life of some is often questionable.
Some complete fish food diets also now add probiotics in an encapsulated dried form such as Aqua Master Premium Fish Foods
However making you own probiotic is not difficult at all; simply using a plain yogurt with no sugar or other additives can work.
With this yogurt simply take 2-4 feedings worth of dry fish food and add just enough yogurt to moisten. Let this sit for about 15 minutes then use part of this fish food and refrigerate the rest.
Continue this for about 3-5 days (watch for any additional pollution during this time too by monitoring parameters, ammonia/nitrites in particular)
This can also be used to feed feeder fish, worms, or any live food fed to carnivores immediately prior to the feeding of these live foods to their intended carnivore fish.
BEST USED BY DATES:
This is sometimes controversial, but only due to miss-informed persons who do not realize that Fish Foods are NOT required to place such dates on their fish foods and/or do not understand what this means or what even the laws are about this mythical date.
Since one of my specialties has been fish food testing going back to 1978, I have used and tested fish foods that are more than 2 years past a "best used by date", and in these controlled tests, found no discernible difference.
This said, the reason some manufactures add this is only to tell customers that the food in cannot be guaranteed of 100% freshness, NOT that the food is now going to go bad suddenly after this date.
What is also noteworthy that because of newer methods of packaging, many fish food companies are no longer even placing this date of guaranteed freshness on their foods.
This information is intended primarily for prepared foods however it can also be applied to live, FD, or frozen foods as well. You can improve live foods by “gut loading” them such as feeding Spirulina 20 Flake to your feeder fish or to black worms 30 minutes prior to feeding your fish (I have seen good color improvement in black worms fed to Bettas this way). This is actually quite natural for carnivores in particular as in the wild a worm or food fish rarely has an empty belly.
For head growth in Flower Horn Cichlids, Orandas, Red Devils, make sure your fish’ diet includes whole fish meal, wheat germ, and squid or shrimp in their ingredient list (for goldfish such as Orandas, there needs to be more vegetable higher in the list of ingredients and less raw proteins).
There are many good to excellent pelleted foods such as AquaMaster Ultra Premium Flower Horn Cichlid Food that achieve this.
Finally, what ingredient lists often do not show is the quality of the source.
AquaMaster for instance uses regular committed sources, while low end brands (Tetra, etc.) go for the lowest bidder at the time.
A good example is fish meal (as explained earlier in this article); as this is an ingredient that there are extreme differences in quality and one cannot compare the fish meal used in brands such as Tetra to the whole fish meal used in Paradigm, AquaMaster, Spirulina 20, NorthFin, or other more premium fish foods.
Also, many fish food companies (such as Hikari, Paradigm, Spirulina 20, & Aqua Master) also do a better job than many foods at 'upping' their food quality with "minor" ingredients as well as research & testing.
Finally, be careful of fish foods that are often sold by discounters that make a generic formula and markets them to all types of fish with slight variations (if at all in some cases). This is unfortunately a common practice.
While this does not mean these foods are poor quality (read the ingredients list will say more here), this does speak to the fact you are likely dealing with a company that places costs over quality, which of course if sold at discounters such as Amazon, Dr. F & S, this is important.
Here is just one example using "New Life Spectrum Fish Foods" which although a good food, follows this generic base formula to meet prices points and then sell to mass marketers such as Amazon New Life Spectrum All Purpose MAIN INGREDIENTS: Krill Meal, Fish Meal, Wheat Flour, Amino Acids, Algae Meal, Soybean Meal, Fish Oil, Beta Carotene, Spirulina, Vitamin A Acetate, D-Activated Animal- Sterol (D3), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Niacin, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine, Biotin.
New Life Spectrum Discus MAIN INGREDIENTS: Krill Meal, Fish Meal, Wheat Flour, Amino Acids, Algae Meal, Soybean Meal, Fish Oil, Beta Carotene, Spirulina, Vitamin A Acetate, D-Activated Animal- Sterol (D3), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Niacin, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine, Biotin.
New Life Spectrum Grow MAIN INGREDIENTS: Krill Meal, Fish Meal, Wheat Flour, Amino Acids, Algae Meal, Soybean Meal, Fish Oil, Beta Carotene, Spirulina, Vitamin A Acetate, D-Activated Animal- Sterol (D3), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Niacin, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine, Biotin.
As you can see, these are not poor quality fish foods, although not the best either since they use generic fish meal as their #2 ingredient and just as importantly you are pretty much getting the same thing with a different label.
In the end, the information given in this article should also help you to make a better choice when purchasing prepared fish food (especially when feeding young fish!), such as the examples below:
Here is an example of ingredients for three Betta Foods:
Tetra BettaMin; Fish Meal, Ground Brown Rice, Dried Yeast, Shrimp Meal, Wheat Gluten, Brine Shrimps (FD), Potato Protein, Dehulled Soybean Meal, Fish Oil, Soybean Oil, Sorbitol, Algae Meal, Lecithin, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Stabilized Vitamin C). Coloring Agents: Red No. 3 Dye (E127). Ethoxyquin as a Preservative.
Wardleys Premium Betta: Fish meal, whole grain wheat, shrimp meal, soybean flour, brewers dried yeast, wheat germ meal, wheat gluten, fish protein concentrate, fish oil, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, crayfish extract in soybean oil, iron oxide, vitamin premix containing (wheat middlings, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, B12 supplement, riboflavin supplement, niacin supplement, calcium pantothenate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, folic acid, pyridoxine HCI, thiamine mononitrate, d-biotin), choline chloride, marigold petal extract, canthaxanthin, ethoxyquin (as a preservative).
Sanyu Betta Pellets: White fish meal, shrimp meal, soybean meal, wheat flour, rice bran, wheat germ, yeast, vitamins A, B C, E and other minerals.
Compare the above ingredients, the differences are striking!
Tetra starts with low quality fish meal (vs. high quality Whole/White fish meal), then has cereals as the next two highest ingredients. Cereals are needed as a filler, however the cereals should not be this high in the ingredients for a carnivore such as Bettas.
Compare TetraMin to some of the facts I have explained, then compare foods such as HBH Tropical and Marine Flake, Spirulina One Flake, Hikari, Aqua Master Ultra Premium, Sanyu Foods, and SeaChem Nutri-Diet.
The differences are quite clear for long term growth and health.
When it comes to feeding young fish (fry), a quality prepared food is even more important. A comparison I would use is this; would you feed your infant cows milk instead of formula?
My point is fish fry are even more sensitive to poor nutrition. I prefer to powder my fish Flake foods and my favorites are Spirulina 20 (for ease of digestibility and usable protein) and Hikari First Bites.
This list is intended as a list of fish foods intended for daily basic feeding, not as the only food to feed.
Not in any particular order of recommendation, type of fish, etc.
All these recommended foods must meet with the outline from this entire article for quality of ingredients:
Spirulina 20 Flake (or Paradigm Veggie/Omnivore).
This is the leading spirulina based food and should be a part of most fish' diet, from tropical, goldfish, marine, and even for gut loading true carnivore fish.
Paradigm Ultra Premium Custom Fish Foods, by AAP
This is the new Ultra Premium USA Food, with unique ingredients and preparation methods found in no other commercial food. Much of the origins of this fish food comes from information, research, and methods outlined in this article as well as discussions between the food developer and the author of this article:
As well as these other Aqua Master Ultra Premium Fish & Turtle foods which include inositol vitamin formula to enhance growth of fins with vibrant color naturally and are top notch fish foods that are second to NONE.
Recognized by many breeders and experts as the best in their niche. As well, the popular choice of my consulted aquarium maintenance companies over similar brands such as "New Life Spectrum Fish Food".
A company that supports the fish keeping hobby along with Paradigm, unlike many brands that have used fish keeping pros to market their foods only to then "throw them under the bus" by underselling to Amazon and others.
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