The best Fish food
Fish Food is an important and common topic amongst aquarists with many discussions being held over how much to feed and how often. There are many suggestions on the ‘best fish food’, but how do you know what advice to follow?
For me, the best fish food is one that is made from high-quality ingredients that meet the needs of my fish. It helps too if these top quality foods are available at a reasonable price and, of course, if the fish love it.
It is impossible to create great fish food from poor ingredients, so quality ingredients are essential for producing quality fish foods.
However, many fish keepers are happy to grab a tub, or bag, of fish food from the shelf of their local aquarium shop and not give it a second thought.
Have you ever checked the ingredients that go into your fishes food??
Most people don’t.
Some of the biggest brands of fish food contain relatively poor ingredients, yet they are still stocked in many major and minor retailers. They still charge top dollar too, so not only are they skimping on the ingredients, they’re taking more of your money in exchange.
Our fish’ diet is very important, it directly affects their colour, growth and overall health, so really we should be a little more choosy about what we feed them.
The truth is that many fish foods are overpriced and are not made from quality ingredients. Most contain large amounts of ‘filler’ – Fillers are used to bulk food out cheaply and provide little to no nutritional benefit to your fish.
Your fish will most likely survive on whatever food you choose to feed them, but some foods are definitely better than others.
In this article were going to have a detailed talk through what to look for and what to avoid when choosing your fish’ next bag of food.
We will also give you our top recommendations for what to feed to your fishy friends.
Finding the best Fish food?
It is always advised to research these kinds of things before making a decision, but figuring out which food might be the best for your fish could be a little more difficult than the average google search.
A quick internet search for ‘the best fish food’ will give you a whole host of ‘answers’. This can’t really be relied upon as this will just show you who has advertised their food most effectively.
Most of the foods that pop up aren’t even close to being the best thing to feed your fish.
How can I tell which Fish food is best?
When you search for the best fish food, the biggest brands will come up first. You may think that the big brands can be trusted, but that isn’t always the case.
Fish foods will often list a whole host of benefits within an ad or sales page, but it’s important to understand some of what is going on yourself so that you can make a more informed decision.
It is always handy to find a list of ingredients for the food that you are looking at. Quite often, a poor quality food won’t have the ingredients listed separately, they will only be visible in a photo of the container’s label.
This is often a good giveaway – a fish food company that is proud of its ingredients will display them clearly to you.
Before we discuss exactly what to look for in a list of ingredients, it’s useful to have a little understanding of what a fish needs.
A fish’ digestive system works in the same way that ours does. Food goes in, is digested, nutrients are used and waste is excreted.
This means that food containing more valuable nutritional content can mean that your fish produce less waste.
More nutritious food can also mean that you don’t need to feed as much. This again means even less mess in your tank. Win!
Like us, fish require protein to grow, fat for energy and a list of amino acids to keep them healthy. Amino acids: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine are all required for normal growth.
Unlike us, our fish require no carbohydrates in their food as they use protein and fats (lipids) from their food to provide their energy.
In fact, fish don’t digest carbohydrates very well in general.
However, a small quantity of carbohydrates won’t do any harm. Carbohydrates come in many forms and some carb-heavy ingredients are fairly common in fish foods.
You may notice that many fish foods contain some form of wheat. Wheat is a carbohydrate (approx 76%).
Wheat in fish food
Wheat products are common in fish foods, they can help the food to bind together and remain in its pellet form.
Whilst fish don’t really require carbs, wheat will not do them any real harm, it can provide some energy for the fish and most fish are able to digest wheat products.
Wheat isn’t all that nutritious for all fish though. Herbivorous and Omnivorous species have been shown to be fairly capable of digesting wheat but Carnivorous species or those that prefer a meaty diet can struggle with wheat digestion.
Watch out for too much wheat in fish food!
Something to look out for is that Wheat products do not make up at least 2, or more, of the first three ingredients in the list on the packaging.
Ingredients are listed based on the amount of the recipe that they make up, so the first three ingredients usually make up the bulk of the food.
I would consider Wheat as a ‘filler’, so I would not want it to make up the majority of my fish’ food.
You may have noticed there are foods available that are wheat-based. They are often made using wheatgerm which is just another form of processed wheat, this does have its uses but it isn’t ideal for your tropical aquarium.
Wheatgerm fish food
Wheat germ food is often used to feed Koi ponds in winter. In cooler temperatures, Koi enter a state of dormancy almost like hibernation. During this time their activity slows down, even their digestion is slowed.
Wheatgerm feeds are often used at this time as they contain low levels of protein which is said to make it more easily digestible by Koi through a slowed digestive system.
This provides winter fat stores for the Koi whilst providing a small amount of energy to keep them going until Spring.
The rest of the food passes through as waste.
This is a good use for wheat-based fish food, but for those of us feeding warm tropical aquariums with active fish, we want food that provides lots of energy, rather than lots of waste.
Why I would avoid wheat as a main ingredient in fish food
You may have noticed that I am a little tentative about how useful wheat is as an all-around fish food ingredient.
Wheat has been used in fish food for a long time and has been shown to be digestible by some species, but I’m not 100% convinced that it is for all species of ornamental fish.
Whilst grain has its uses in the fish food industry, I do not believe that it should be the staple of most Tropical fish’ diets.
We have been using wheat and grains in dog food for years too but it is only more recently that we’re realising it isn’t all that good for many dogs.
Why isn’t wheat good for them?
Because dogs don’t naturally eat wheat and grains. They never have and they are therefore not all that well equipped to digest it.
Fish, in general, don’t eat wheat either, so why would they be able to digest it?
I’m sure that the odd grain occasionally ends up in a river and is eaten, but it certainly isn’t the staple of most fish’ diets. Herbivorous fish are far better at digesting wheat than carnivorous species are for this reason, they’re far better at digesting plant matter in general.
Wheat does not contain the Amino acids required by fish. As well as low lysine content, grains generally lack three essential amino acids: threonine, leucine and histidine. Fish meal contains all of these in much higher quantities.
Studies have shown that fish, in general, are not great at digesting carbs, wheat is roughly 76% carbohydrate, this adds to my belief that wheat should not make up the majority of my fish’ food.
So watch out for wheat-based tropical fish food and don’t waste your money on it.
One wheat-based ingredient further down the list is fine, this helps your fish’ pellets to stay pellet-shaped, but if the first two or three are wheat or grain-based, I wouldn’t buy it.
Fish food ingredients – What to look out for
Fish meal is a common ingredient to see in fish food. It is often the main source of protein.
Fish meal can be a great ingredient as it contains large amounts of protein, lipids and omega-3.
Fish meal can be described in many different ways and what is written to describe it in the list of ingredients does make some difference.
‘Fish meal’ alone often refers to fish meal made from discarded parts of fish. This often contains bone and organs, essentially waste parts.
‘Fish derivatives’ is similar to ‘fish meal’, it usually consists of offcuts and waste products.
‘Whole fish meal’ is different. This is made from the whole fish. Sometimes this is also listed as the type of fish it is made from such as ‘Whole Sardine meal’.
Whole fish meal is much higher quality. It contains a more balanced combination of vitamins and nutrients and usually contains a higher proportion of protein.
Whole Fish meal is much better quality and is far more nutritious.
Fish food Fillers
Many Fish foods, even those produced by major brands, often contain fillers. Fillers are definitely something to look out for. They can be a complete waste of your hard-earned cash and have little benefit to your fish.
I mentioned above to watch out for the over-use of wheat but there are many others to watch out for. This is where a quick check of the ingredients list can tell you a lot more about the quality of the food.
If the first three ingredients listed contain one or more ‘fillers’ then it probably isn’t the best way to spend your money or keep your fish healthy.
Below is an example from Northfin that contains zero ‘filler’:
It isn’t just wheat…lookout for Soy too!
Soy is used in many fish foods too.
It has been tested as an alternative source of protein to fishmeal.
The idea is great, using soy would be more sustainable, cheaper and more consistent than fish meal, which can vary in quality.
Unfortunately though, fish don’t eat soy either and they are not really equipped to digest it.
Studies showed that recipe concentrations of as low as 30% soybean meal can cause intestinal damage to the fish that consume it.
Soy protein concentrate fared much better and was found to be a fairly suitable replacement, but I haven’t found any fish food containing Soy protein concentrate yet.
I’ve seen many using Soy meal or Soybean meal.
Bad example fish food – Fillers
Before starting this article, I google-searched ‘the best fish food’, just to see what came up.
The top result was food from a very popular brand, Tetra. The food was Tetramin flakes and was recommended by another site as their number 1 choice……..
Straight away I had a look at the ingredients, they read Fish meal, Dried yeast, Ground brown rice…..
This isn’t a great start, 2 of the three main ingredients are fillers. Dried yeast is a cheaper substitute for fishmeal but it should only be used in small quantities, as in higher doses it can reduce fish growth rates.
Rice is also a filler, it contains next to no nutritional value to a fish, I have no idea why that is in there.
Despite this, this fish food no doubt fly’s off the shelves, this is because no one ever reads the little list of ingredients on the back. Maybe you will after reading this.
Fillers are by no means the ‘end of the world’, they are used in most fish foods to some level and they will not harm your fish, but if the first 1 or 2 ingredients are fillers then I would brand that food a waste of money.
Fish food Analysis
Most fish foods will display a detailed analysis of the contents of the food.
This can be very useful too as it gives a breakdown of the nutrients contained within the food.
Before this has any use though, it’s useful to have a little understanding of what our fish require…
Protein is a really important part of a fish’ diet, particularly for fry, juveniles and predatory species. Depending on the species, fish require between 30% and 50% protein in their diet.
Omnivorous species, like Goldfish, require around 30% whilst predatory species require protein levels at the higher end.
Fish fry require protein at higher levels too. Protein aids growth, so high protein levels mean faster-growing speeds. A good example of this is the Vieja Synspilum.
The Synspilum, or Redhead Cichlid, is an omnivorous fish that generally prefers to feed on vegetable matter. Studies have shown that Synspilum fry grow best on a diet with 40.81% protein.
This is common for most fish fry and a diet containing 40%+ protein will show the highest growth rates.
Fat itself is a source of energy for your fish. However, fat can also be useful as it contains vitamins within it and it can provide some energy stores.
Whilst fat can contain vitamins, in high quantities, it will cause nothing but trouble. Too much fat is difficult to digest.
Fat content should be relatively low, no more than 15%.
Studies have shown though that a fat content of over 10% can increase reproduction rates in many species of ornamental fish.
Fibre is what helps our fish to pass their waste. Whilst this is very useful, they don’t need vast amounts of it. Fibre contains no nutritional value so extra fibre is just a waste.
The Fibre content of good quality fish food should not exceed 7%.
Moisture is often listed in the analysis. This is the oil content of the food.
All ingredients contain some level of moisture and some are often added. Oils contain many vitamins and minerals that are essential to our fish.
Oils also ensure the end look and feel of the product. Without some moisture content, the pellet would be brittle and may crumble rather than retain its shape.
Most dry fish foods have moisture below 10%. This is because higher levels would reduce the shelf life of the food.
The Ash content refers to minerals within the food. It is important to note that whilst many foods specify the ash content, they do not all specify what minerals are contained within it.
Ash content is usually around 10%. Higher figures are said to debilitate the fish’ digestion.
Where are the carbs?
Carbohydrates don’t tend to be listed on a fish food analysis. If you add up the percentages of the above items on your fish food, you will notice that they do not add up to 100%.
The rest of the composition of the food is mostly carbohydrates.
If the remaining figure is over 50% in your fish food then it is not ideal. Fish food should ideally be less than 50% carbs.
The ideal composition of fish food
Ideally, fish food should contain:
- Protein 30-40% (animal or plant protein dependant on species – this is less important for adult fish). 50% + for predatory species.
- Fat 10 – 15%.
- Fibre <7%
- Moisture <10%
- Carbohydrates <50%
If your fish food falls within these ranges then your fish will do just fine eating it. Even if it contains fillers!
Why feed better quality?
Feeding high-quality foods has a number of benefits for both you and your fish. Your fish will be more active, more colourful and generally in better health.
Just like us, a low-quality diet will not do your fish any good in the long run. A lack of the correct nutrients can lead to dull and docile fish, nobody wants to look at a tank full of those.
Don’t get ripped off!
You may be thinking that better quality foods is going to mean forking out more money on your fish feeds, but this isn’t the case.
Low-quality fish foods are often branded as being higher quality than they truly are (based on ingredients). They are also sold at high-quality prices.
The poor quality tetra food I mentioned earlier is listed on Amazon at around £6.64 for 52 grams of food (cheapest I could find).
A pack of very high-quality Fluval Bugbites (Pleco formula) 130 grams is currently £7.86.
That’s only a £1.22 increase for more than twice as much food that is made from higher quality ingredients.
Seems like a no brainer.
Is it all about ingredients??
Ingredients are a huge part of what makes a quality fish food, but the food with all the best ingredients isn’t necessarily the best food overall. Let me explain….
Based on ingredients alone, Fluval bug bites and Northfin are two of the top contenders. However, these foods tend to break up in the water (particularly when fed to messy Cichlids) which causes a few issues.
Firstly, and most obviously, the tank looks messy, particularly at feeding time. Secondly, this has a huge effect on nitrates. All of that broken up food ends up straight in the filter where it breaks down completely without being first digested by the fish.
I didn’t give this too much thought until I tried Absolute fish foods. They break up very little in the water and after switching to these foods I kept a close eye on my nitrate levels. The difference was huge! I was previously reaching 20ppm nitrate (NT labs kit) in 1 week, after switching from Bug bites and Northfin this dropped to 5ppm per week.
This means that water clouding is a big factor in choosing the best food so this needs to be combined with a list of healthy nutritious ingredients.
The real best Fish foods! – Our choices
As promised, I have some of my own recommendations for the best fish foods on the market.
You will find all of my top recommendations available in our ‘Shop‘, where they are available for purchase through Amazon.
1. Absolute by Cloverleaf
The new range of Absolute fish foods is great. The ingredients lists make for good reading and the lack of break up in the water is a huge benefit to our fish’ health.
The Absolute range has been carefully researched and combines the best of the two factors mentioned above.
After switching to Absolute, we saw a huge reduction in nitrate build up and we’ll be sticking with this as the staple of our fish’ diet.
Check out our in-depth review of the new Absolute range HERE. (Link will be added once published).
2. Fluval Bugbites
You may have already guessed from my previous example that one of my favourite fish foods are Fluval Bugbites, we did a write up on these not long ago which you can find HERE.
Fluval Bugbites really are great and based on ingredients alone they are at the top of the list. The list of high-quality ingredients is extensive and they have the added bonus of being produced sustainably.
The reason for their second place in our list is that they break up a lot in the water. This makes a real mess and increases nitrates drastically. This makes them ideal for a treat but not as a staple.
Fluval produce a range of Bugbites recipes that are tailored to many species of fish. Although any fish will thrive on any Bugbites recipe.
You will find Fluval Bugbites listed in our ‘Shop’ as a recommended fish food.
You can also view and purchase the full range of Fluval Bugbites on Amazon by clicking the link below:
(As an amazon associate we earn on qualifying purchases).
My third top contender is Northfin.
Northfin prides themselves on their finest quality ingredients and produce 100% filler-free fish foods. They have a wide range of foods available to suit many species of tropical fish.
Again, the list of high-quality ingredients is impressive and these foods have always gone down well with my finned friends.
Northfin even does a ‘Bug based food’ too which is called bug pro. This food is very similar to Fluval’s Bugbites but is mixed with Northfin’s signature list of ingredients combined with Black Soldier fly larvae.
Northfin foods are made from very high-quality ingredients and provide a very balanced diet in a single food!
You will also find Northfin foods in our ‘Shop’, but to view the full range on Amazon use the link below:
(As an amazon associate we earn on qualifying purchases).
Whichever food you choose to feed your fish on will no doubt keep them alive and swimming.
However, I feel that it is important to feed a healthy diet ensuring that they receive all the nutrients they require.
This seems especially sensible when comparing the prices of some of the foods available on the market at the moment.
Spending less (overall) on high quality, nutritious and sustainable food seems like a much better idea to me than spending more money on food made from ‘filler’.
What’s your favourite fish food and why?
Let us know in the comments!
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own opinion drawn from experience in fish keeping combined with my own research and testing.
Frequently asked questions:
What is the best fish food?
It would be unfair to say that there is one, or two best fish foods. Fish will survive on most prepared foods, but some are much better quality, and value for money, than others........
Can fish eat foods made from chicken?
Yes. Fish are very capable of digesting food made from chicken or chicken meal. It is a myth that fish cannot digest land animal proteins. There is no difference in the protein from a chicken or from fish.
What ingredients should i look for in fish food?
There are many quality ingredients in fish foods, Whole fish meal, Fish meal, black soldier fly larvae and spirulina are excellent ingredients. These types of ingredients should make up the bulk of high-quality fish foods.