Definitive Guide: The Best Fish Food For Your Aquarium
Why Should You Learn About Fish Food?
You leave a steak on the BBQ for 6 hours. The result is a black, chard piece of meat. Would you still eat it? Unfortunately, this is what a lot of fish food is...
Wait, now do the same thing with a Crunchwrap Supereme, now you have what most Processed fish food is...
Just like humans, a fish's diet will drastically impact their health and well-being. Most fishkeepers (including myself) will just pick out whatever flashy packaging catches their eye. Sometimes it goes a bit deeper than that, you might select a food based on the size of your fish only to make sure it will fit in their mouths.
I've spent the last 2 years learning a great deal about fish foods and how they're made. I'm here to share with you my big takeaways- NOT ALL FISH FOOD IS CREATED EQUAL!
How To Pick The Right Food For Your Fish
As previously mentioned, you first need to make sure the food you select will fit in the mouths of your fish. Luckily, most foods will have names of specific branding to help you determine what's best. Example: Hikari Fancy Guppy. This small pellet food is a good size for Guppies and other fish of a similar stature such as Neon Tetras, Cherry Barbs, etc. Many foods will include the names of fish, such as this example. It does not mean that this should only be eaten by Guppies, in fact most of the time the formulation might not be different than another food labeled as being for a different fish. Even the Fancy Guppy food bag includes images of fish such as Cherry Barbs, Mollies and Tiger Barbs.
Now lets talk about the main types of fish food you can choose from. Most fish foods are processed using various ingredients and techniques to produce their final form. These include: Flake, pellet, freeze dried and frozen foods. Gel foods are a thing, but I won't be covering them today. The only food that is not processed is any type of live food such as cultures of white worms, daphnia, brine shrimp, etc.
Main Types Of fish food:
- Flake Food
- Pellet Foods
- Freeze Dried Foods
- Frozen Foods
- Live Food
Flake and pellet foods are probably the most common on store shelves. In my opinion, they can be lumped together in terms of overall quality. You might think that freeze dried and frozen foods are far superior, but certain factors like base material and additives can make this far from the truth. Live foods are definitely one of the best choice overall, but most hobbyists don't have the time, money or dedication to maintain live cultures all the time.
How did I come to these conclusions? You're about to learn all about it :)
Important Ingredients/Factors In Fish Food
Regarding the two most common forms of processed fish food (flakes and pellets) some of the most important things to look for are moisture, ash, base ingredients and additives. The main ingredient in most fish foods is ironically fish meal, we'll talk about that soon. Moisture = water and ash is just un-burnt minerals that's mostly unusable to the fish or animal eating it. Think of ash as the left over char on a steak that you leave on the BBQ for too long or the end result of a campfire.
The example above shows that nearly 30% of this pellet fish food by weight is water and excess minerals resulting from the high temperature processing of cheap ingredients (Ash).
I have also highlighted fish meal from the ingredients section because it ties into this. It's often the primary ingredient in processed fish foods as it's listed first. Fish meal is essentially ground up fish caucuses (head, eye balls, teeth, bones, etc.) that are otherwise unusable to humans as food. Fish meal is a primary ingredient in many animal feeds, not just fish food.
Fish meal is actually a great base ingredient in fish foods. It sounds strange but the truth is, a good quality fish meal will contain almost every macro and micro nutrient a fish needs to thrive. Unfortunately, most fish meals are NOT high quality.
Much of the Ash content of a processed fish food comes from the high temperature processing of the bone present in cheap fish meals.
Ash is a big deal for a for a few reasons.
1.) Freshwater fish are capable of getting most if not all of their mineral requirements from the water surrounding them.
2.) Lots of Ash (10% or more) in a food is an indicator of a lower quality protein source, this has been established for years within the pet food industry.
3.) Excess Ash in your fish's diet can result in poor absorption of other more important elements that compete for receptors in the gut.
De-boned fish/animal meals are more expensive to purchase, thus why they're not often seen in animal and fish foods. Using high quality, de-boned meal helps to dramatically reduce Ash content, but some will still result from the high temperature used in processing other materials.
How Is Fish Food Made?
This is SUPER important. The typical manufacturing process of making a pellet or flake food involves several steps of heating to extremely high temperatures. When the mixture of ingredients is heated to high temperatures, all the important components like proteins, fats, etc. can be denatured. When ingredients become denatured, they don't fulfill their desired function inside the fish and are less bioavailable. So while a package might say 45% protein, a portion of that protein has been damaged enough to be less usable and harder to digest.
THIS IS ESSENCIALLY FISH FAST FOOD!
Is Freeze Dried Fish Food Better?
Freeze dried fish foods are typically whole organisms such as bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, etc. They are first frozen and then dried to a point of extremely low moisture. This makes the food stable at room temperatures for an extended period of time. In theory, they should be a better source of nutrition compared to pellets or flake food, right? The issue here is that these freeze dried organisms often don't contain all the nutritional requirements of your fish. I use freeze dried foods as a snack, something that I feed a couple times a week.
Some fish will seem to prefer a freeze dried food because it's in a more natural form. Unfortunately, most freeze dried foods like bloodworms still have a very high ash content ~20% despite not being heated to extreme temperatures. Freeze dried foods also may lack important aspects of overall nutrition depending on what organism is being fed.
It's important to feed a mixed/varied diet to your fish for this reason. I like to feed freeze dried food a couple times a week just to mix in variety and keep my fish happy long term.
What About Frozen Foods?
Frozen foods are similar to that of freeze dried in that they typically don't contain all the extra junk and filler that flake and pelleted foods do, but still often don't contain all the required nutrition. I consider frozen and freeze dried to be nearly the same as far as overall quality of nutrition goes, just keep in mind frozen foods contain about 80% water, so you will have to feed more than normal. Another drawback to frozen food is that you have to keep it frozen... Not all hobbyists have the ability to keep big sheets of frozen bloodworms in their freezer. This is why freeze dried foods are much more popular and by far my favorite of the two.
Are Live Foods The Best For Fish?
Live foods such as brine shrimp are extremely beneficial for your aquarium fish. Not only are they better from a nutritional stand point, most fish will be come much more engaged and excited to feed! Feeding a live food can help train picky fish and to be honest, it's just a lot of fun to do.
Most people assume live foods must be the best option for their fish. Many breeders and experts swear by them. I'm in no way disagreeing with them, I just want to highlight the simple fact that if you exclusively feed one type of live food, you can run into the same issues as feeding any type of food exclusively.
Moral of the food story is, always feed a varied diet to achieve the best, comprehensive nutrition. No one food is the answer and you should keep your fish happy with a little variety :)
Why Does Any Of This Matter?
When you continuously feed a sub-par ingredient food with a high percentage of ash and other denatured components, your fish has to constantly use energy to manage and expel it. Think of it like when you eat Taco Bell for a week straight, how do you feel?
Even if you do feed a wide variety of foods, If most of them are sub-par quality wise, your fish are going to feel it and you're going to observe it.
Do this for long enough and the result will be fish that are more susceptible to disease and other complications you don't want to impose on them.
Highly Recommended Fish Foods-
Lets start off with my favorite freeze dried options since we've identified that type of food being the most convenient and nutritional by weight. These are in no particular order, just depends on the size of your fish :)
- Freeze Dried Brine Shrimp
Omega One Freeze Dried Brine Shrimp is one of my favorite foods! This large container only costs about $10 and contains a ton of medium sized cubes of brine shrimp. All you have to do is grab a cube, hold it under water and slowly rub your fingers together and brine shrimp will sluff off. These cubes don't really smell, so if that's a concern you have you can rest easy. Really like feeding these to medium sized fish like Rainbows and larger Tetras.
- Freeze Dried Tubifex Worms (2 pack)
I love feeding these tubifex worms! They come in small cubes that are easy to feed. Either throw them in and let them float as your fish pick always at them, or hold them under water and rub the worms off slowly. I like to put a few near a powerhead and let them shoot off little worms around the aquarium.
These Tubifex worms are much smaller than bloodworms, making them a great food from smaller fish, even nano species! They are made by Hikari and come in a two pack on Amazon.
Recommended Frozen Fish Foods-
- PE mysis Shrimp
Frozen PE Mysis is highly regarded in the saltwater fishkeeping community as a gold standard. It's high quality, fresh Mysis shrimp are naturally packed with Omega-3 that boost your fishs overall health and coloration. This is the food of choice for several public aquariums across the globe. It's marketed toward saltwater fish, but its benefits are not exclusive to this side of the hobby. The Mysis shrimp is a freshwater shrimp species, making this food also great for freshwater aquarium fish.
- Hikari Frozen Daphnia
These frozen daphnia cubes are super convenient! They fit well in a mini fridge freezer and feature easy to use punch cubes, a lot easier than a full sheet. I feed these from time to time, and I think my fish really enjoy them. The super small daphnia are perfect for a wide range of fish, even larger fish like rainbows will be attracted to them.
Best Pellet and Flake Fish Food-
- Fluval Bug Bites
Fluval Bug Bites is a good alternative for fishkeepers wanting to feed a higher quality food. It still utilizes high temperature processing, but does not contain any fish or animal meals that would contribute to a higher ash content. It's primary ingredient is the black soldier fly larvae and serves as a good source of nutrition and has a sustainability component I respect.
My big issue with Bug Bites is the sizing, even the smallest granules are too large for small fish, requiring me to grind up the food in my fingers when feeding.
- xtreme Flake Food
Extreme flake food is a good option if your looking for flakes. It's cheap from a volume standpoint allowing you to get a pound of this stuff for under 30 dollars!
It still sufferers from the same issues that most processed foods do, but it has a variety of base ingredients that help make up for it. It's ash content is also on the lower end of the spectrum ~12% of weight.
- LEGIT. Community Fish Food
LEGIT. Fish Food is a special freshwater formula made in CA by Piscine Energetics. It's made using their patented, proprietary low temperature extrusion process that does not reach temperatures high enough to denature it's vital ingredients. This makes it the LEAST PROSCESSED fish pellet on the market.
It has a superior protein and lipid profile that's derived from one of the main ingredients: The Mysis shrimp. You won't find another pelleted fish food with an Ash and moisture content lower than LEGIT. 7% and 5% respectively. This means that every pinch you feed, the energy and nutrition your fish receive is more so than any other brand. Because of the unmatched bioavailability and low moisture content of LEGIT, your bag of food will last significantly longer than other foods.
The sizing of LEGIT's pellets are also designed specially for the most common freshwater fish. Nano is for small tetras all the way to tiny fish and fry. Community is a mix of sizes, perfect for community tanks with a variety of different sized fish all the way up to Angels. Bottom Feeder is perfect for all your creatures that live near the substrate. Even a treat for shrimp!
All of these reasons are why I decided to create this brand and offer it to fishkeepers around the world!
If this wasn't enough, I also wanted to give back to our hobby by donating a percentage of profits to Project Piaba. They are a non-profit that supports the individuals of the Rio-Negro river basin who sustainably collect wild fish in our hobby.
Moral of the story, feed your fish a varied diet but stick with high quality processed foods. You'll see a huge difference in your fish's activity and coloration if their happy and healthy. This guide should give you a good base to expand your learning on this subject if you're still interested. Thank's for taking the time, cheers!