Choosing the right foods for your cichlid can help it grow, pop with color, and live a healthy and active life.
In this guide, you’ll learn what you need to look for in order to pick the best cichlid food. And then I’ll take you through the top 8 products.
Let’s get started.
What Are the Diet Requirements of Your Cichlid?
Depending on the type of cichlid you own, the diet will vary. So the first step for finding the best food for your cichlid so it thrives, is understanding their natural requirements.
What Would Your Cichlid Eat in the Wild?
You have three types: Carnivores, Herbivores, and Omnivores:
Carnivores eat mostly animal sources of food. This could mean other fish, insects, crustaceans or a combination of these three. Jack Dempseys, Oscars and jaguar cichlids are all carnivores.
These fish usually have a short digestive tract meant to break down high fat and protein-rich food sources.
Herbivores eat mostly plant sources of food. Many African cichlids, like Tropheus and Mbuna, primarily eat algae, biofilm and aquatic plants.
These fish are meant to graze all day and have a really long intestinal tract so they can absorb as many nutrients as possible from food that has a lower fat and protein content.
Omnivores will eat both animal and plant sources of food. A lot of cichlids are at least partly omnivorous, although they may lean more one way or the other.
Angelfish, firemouths and peacocks are all omnivores. They’ll eat just about anything edible that doesn’t eat them first.
They have a digestive tract that is in between that of a carnivore and herbivore, meant to break down a variety of foods.
Providing a Balanced Diet
There’s something really important to remember about all of this: in nature, what a fish eats isn’t always cut and dry.
Fish are pretty darn opportunistic. A lot of times, if they come across something edible, they’re not picky and will gulp it down.
Even for fish that are pretty strict carnivores or herbivores, there’s some crossover.
For example, when a predator eats another fish, it also eats what’s in that fish’s gut. So all the algae and other plant material the little fish had in its stomach, the big fish ends up digesting, too.
Fish that primarily eat algae end up eating tiny crustaceans and other little critters that are also feeding on the algae.
This means that all fish end up eating a varied diet that balances out all of their nutritional needs.
Ingredients: How to Spot the Best Food for Maximizing Your Cichlids Heath, Color, & Growth
One of the biggest things to look for when selecting a good cichlid food is that the major ingredients are derived from aquatic sources of food or from insects.
Fish have evolved over millions of years to eat certain kinds of foods. Their guts just aren’t equipped to break down most terrestrial foods, like beef heart or gluten.
These ingredients are not easily digested by fish. This can mean that the food just passes through as waste. Worse yet, some of these proteins can put extra strain on a fish’s kidneys.
This extra strain can end up causing health problems for fish, like dropsy.
Let’s now go through what else you should look out for.
Contains Nutrients from the Species’ Preferred Food Source
It’s best to research the species of fish that you keep so that you know what they eat in the wild.
Many species of fish eat insects as a major part of their diets. For these fish, look for ingredients like black soldier fly larvae meal. Black soldier fly larvae provide complete, rich proteins. The larvae don’t have an exoskeleton, so they’re easy to digest without a lot of waste.
Cricket flour, dried ground crickets, is also good for insectivorous fish. It’s high in protein and calcium.
For herbivorous species, look for foods whose main ingredients are things like spirulina algae. This blue-green algae (technically a cyanobacteria) is loaded with vitamins, minerals and easy to digest protein. It’s especially good for Mbuna and Tropheus species who would normally graze all day on algae.
Carnivore species naturally need a higher percentage of protein and fat. It’s best to give them foods where whole fish meal or shrimp meal is a main ingredient.
For omnivores, you want to see a balance of high quality animal and plant food sources. Offering a bigger variety better mimics their natural diet.
Pay attention to the difference between fish or shrimp meal and whole fish/shrimp meal. Whole fish/shrimp meal is just what it sounds like. The entire fish or shrimp is ground up whole before being dried.
But if the label just says fish/shrimp meal, this can be very different. It could just be the bones, skin and scales left over after the fish was processed for human consumption. Or it could be just the tails and shells of shrimp.
Fish or shrimp meal can be completely empty calories that will just pass through the fish as waste.
Here are some additional nutrients you’ll want to look out for:
Omega 3 and 6
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are a kind of polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated refers to the chemical structure of the fat molecules. It means the molecules have multiple parts where carbon atoms are bonded to other carbon atoms.
Omega-3 and 6 are important nutrients that help reduce inflammation, aid growth and brain development and provide energy (for people, too!).
Freshwater fish can’t produce these nutrients on their own, it has to come from their diet.
In the wild, fish would get fatty acids from eating things like algae or eating other fish and invertebrates that eat algae.
Foods that have a high percentage of aquatic food sources, like whole fish or spirulina algae, will provide the omega fatty acids your fish need.
For some fish, especially herbivores, getting enough fiber is absolutely essential.
Fish can’t actually digest fiber. It passes through their digestive systems almost completely unchanged. So fish don’t get vitamins or other nutrients from fiber.
One nice thing though, the fiber that gets passed through as waste doesn’t break down and foul your water like other compounds do.
Fiber is a really important digestive aid. It actually slows down digestion. This gives the fish’s gut more time to absorb nutrients as food passes through the intestines.
Also, it adds bulk to stool as it passes through the gut. Larger stools are easier to pass so fiber helps prevent constipation. This can be really important since fish can die from constipation.
It might surprise you, but higher salt levels in fish food have been shown to increase the growth rate. Researchers studied farm raised tilapia and found that higher salt content foods (1-1.5%) significantly increased growth over a 10 week period.
The theory is that increased salt lessens a fish’s need to push out excess water as urine. If the fish puts out less energy towards excreting urine, it has more energy to put towards growth.
Ever wonder what gives plants their color? Plants produce compounds known as carotenoids. They are pigments that make fruits and vegetables orange, red or yellow. For example, beta carotene is what makes carrots and sweet potatoes orange.
Most animals, fish included, can’t produce these compounds themselves. They have to get them from their food. Feeding fish a diet rich in carotenoids can greatly increase their color.
Red – red pigment comes from the carotenoid astaxanthin. Whole krill, whole shrimp, red algae and red bell peppers are all potential sources.
Yellow – yellow pigment comes from the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein. These two compounds are also believed to be important for eye health. Turmeric, yellow bell peppers, egg yolk, yellow snap beans are good sources.
Orange – beta carotin is the carotenoid mainly responsible for orange coloration. Carrots and paprika are both good sources.
Blue/green is a little bit different. These colors are not produced from a carotenoid. They come from compounds called phycocyanins that are found in cyanobacteria. The best source for phycocyanins for aquarium fish is spirulina.
A Varied Diet is Important for Health
In the wild, fish don’t just eat the same thing every day. They eat whatever they can, whenever they can.
It’s a good idea to mimic this in the aquarium to make sure that your fish get a balanced diet that includes all the proteins, fiber and vitamins they need.
It’s important to feed fish one kind of food per feeding. Otherwise, they may ignore some foods and only eat what they like best.
It’s kind of like giving a kid a plate of broccoli and a plate of chocolate chip cookies and telling them they can choose which one they’d like to eat.
It’s better to only give them the healthy option to eat so they can’t pick and choose.
Reviews for the Best Cichlid Food
Now you understand the theory behind choosing the best food for your cichlids, you can use the following reviews to make and educated decision.
1. Fluval Bug Bites Pellets
This is a great food for carnivorous/insectivorous fish. Black soldier larvae are easy to digest and mimic the natural diet of many fish. This is a great choice for fish like convicts or yellow labs.
Dried black soldier fly larvae, salmon, fish protein concentrate, green peas, potato, wheat, dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, DL-methionine, lecithin, choline chloride, L-lysine, vitamin E supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium L-ascorbyl-2-monophosphate, calendula, zinc oxide, manganous oxide, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin B12 supplement, beta-carotene, rosemary extract, riboflavin, copper sulfate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, inositol, folic acid, vitamin A supplement
- Mimics the natural diet of any fish that would eat insects in the wild
- Easy to digest
- Doesn’t contain a lot of color enhancing ingredients
2. Omega One Super Color Cichlid Pellets
These floating pellets are a good all round diet for carnivores and omnivores, but they’re a bit low on fiber (2% max). They do contain things like salmon skin, astaxanthin and marigold extract that are great for enhancing color.
Salmon, Whole Herring, Wheat Flour, Wheat Germ, Whole Shrimp, Pea Protein, Wheat Gluten, Kelp, Marigold Extract, Astaxanthin, Canthaxanthin, Potassium Sorbate, Ethoxyquin (Preservative), BHT (Preservative), BHA (Preservative), Natural and Artificial Colors, Ascorbyl Monophosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Niacin, Inositol, Folic Acid, Biotin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid
- Quality ingredients
- Great for color enhancing
- Very low in fiber
3. Zoo Med Spirulina 20
This is a great all round food for carnivores and omnivores. The flakes are 20% spirulina which is a great color enhancer that is naturally high in protein and vitamins.
The only real downfall is that it’s low on fiber (only 3% max).
Salmon Fish Meal, Spirulina Algae Meal, Soy Flour, Wheat Flour, Brewers Dried Yeast, Corn Starch, Dried Krill Meal, Shrimp Meal, Plankton Meal, Lecithin, Vegetable Oil, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (stabilized Vitamin C)
- Spirulina is a natural color enhancer that provides a boost of protein
- Low on fiber
4. Repashy Super Green
Repashy comes in the form of a powder that you mix with boiling water. It sets up into a gel that’s the consistency of jello. It might sound weird, but believe me, this is high quality food. And fish really love Repashy.
Super Green is made 100% from plant sources so it’s perfect for herbivores. And ingredients like spirulina, hibiscus, marigold and paprika are great for enhancing colors.
Spirulina Algae, Algae Meal (Chlorella), Pea Protein Isolate, Rice Protein Concentrate, Alfalfa Leaf Powder, Stabilized Rice Bran, Dandelion Powder, Dried Brewer’s Yeast, Ground Flaxseed, Schizochytrium Algae (Source of DHA), Dried Seaweed Meal, Dried Kelp, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Lecithin, Potassium Citrate, Taurine, RoseHips, Hibiscus Flower, Calendula Flower, Marigold Flower, Paprika, Turmeric, Calcium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate (as preservatives), Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate
- Perfect diet for herbivores like Mbuna and Tropheus
- Loaded with color enhancing ingredients
- You have to mix it up yourself and it has a pretty strong smell
5. Hikari Bio-Gold Plus Pellets
This feed is best suited to carnivorous cichlids, like Jack Dempseys or flowerhorns.
Floating pellets are nice because they don’t sink down and get lost in the substrate. If there are uneaten pellets, you can easily scoop them out and help keep your water clean.
Fish Meal, Wheat Flour, Brewer’s Dried Yeast, Gluten Meal, Spirulina, Fish Oil, Bacillus Subtilis, Enzyme, Garlic, Astaxanthin, Monosodium Glutamate, Vitamins And Minerals Including Stabilized Vitamin C
- Floating pellets help keep the water clean
- Includes probiotics that can aid digestion
- MSG and garlic enhance flavor
- Fish meal is not a high quality ingredient
- Extremely low fiber content could cause digestive issues
6. Northfin Food Veggie Formula
This food is intended for herbivorous fish, but with the high concentrations of animal proteins, this may be better suited to omnivorous fish instead of herbivores.
Kelp, Whole Antarctic Krill Meal, High Omega-3 (DHA) Herring Meal, Whole Sardine Meal, Wheat Flour, Spirulina, Garlic, Astaxanthin (Haematococcus Algae), Calcium Montmorillonite Clay, Vitamin A Acetate, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source of Vitamin C), D-Activated Animal-Sterol (D3), DL Alpha Tocopherol (E)
- Whole krill and sardine meal are high quality ingredients
- Haematococcus algae and spirulina are great color enhancers
- May be too high in animal protein for herbivores
- Low fiber content (5% max) is not best for herbivores
7. Omega One Veggie Rounds
Veggie rounds are meant for bottom feeding herbivores, like Jewel cichlids. They sink immediately, so they’re good for getting food past fast moving surface feeders.
But, they’re really low on fiber so most herbivores are going to need other foods to make sure they get what they need.
Whole Kelp, Spirulina, Whole Salmon, Halibut, Whole Shrimp Wheat Flour, Wheat Gluten, Fresh Kelp, Lecithin, Astaxanthin, Zeaxanthin, L-Ascorbyl-2-Phosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Natural and Artificial Colors, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement
- High quality ingredients
- Whole kelp and spirulina are great food sources for herbivores
- May be too high protein and low fiber for some herbivores
8. New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula
You really can’t ask for better ingredients than what new life offers. All the main sources are aquatic and all meals are made from whole ingredients.
Spirulina, algae meal and all of the fruit and vegetable extracts make this a balanced food that could be a good choice as a staple for carnivores and omnivores. All the plant sources make this a great choice for color enhancing.
The only real downside is that sinking pellets can drop too fast and make it past top swimming fish.
Whole Antarctic Krill Meal, Whole Herring Meal, Wheat Flour, Whole Squid Meal, Algae Meal, Soybean Isolate, Beta Carotene, Spirulina, Garlic,
Vegetable and Fruit Extract (Spinach, Broccoli, Red Pepper, Zucchini, Tomato,Pea, Red and Green Cabbage, Apple, Apricot, Mango, Kiwi, Papaya, Peach, Pear),Vitamin A Acetate, D-Activated Animal-Sterol (D3), Vitamin B12 Supplement
- High quality ingredients
- Loads of color enhancing ingredients
- A well-balanced diet good for carnivores and omnivores
- Needs to be fed carefully for top swimming fish
Final Word on Choosing the Best Cichlid Food
Fish nutrition is an important part of keeping happy, healthy fish long term. There’s no point in setting up a pricey aquarium and filling it with expensive fish and then skimping on the food you buy.
For humans, a 30 year old 300 pound weight lifter needs a much different diet than a 65 year old granny who barely weighs 100 pounds soaking wet.
Fish are no different. What’s good for a carnivore could be deadly long term for an herbivore and vice versa. It’s best to mimic what they would eat in the wild as much as possible.
A well-balanced diet can also help your fish look their best. Look for foods that contain pigment enhancing ingredients so your fish will have the brightest color possible.
Just like people, fish need a balanced and varied diet. It’s best to give them different foods on different days so they get all the various nutrients they need.
Cichlid Food FAQs:
How often should I feed my cichlids?
This depends on the species and how active they are. It can be tough, but you’ve got to strike a balance between feeding your fish enough for them to be healthy, but still make sure you don’t overfeed.
For smaller, high energy cichlids, you should be feeding small meals up to three times a day. Their stomachs are smaller and their metabolisms are faster. So a single meal doesn’t last them very long.
Active, medium-sized fish (3-4 inches or 7.6-10.1 cm) can go a bit longer between meals. They should be fed twice a day.
In the wild, large carnivorous fish don’t necessarily eat every day. It’s quite common for predatory fish to go without food for several days if their attempts to catch something aren’t successful.
So, you don’t need to feed them as often, maybe only once a day or every other day.
How much food should I feed my cichlids?
This is always a tough question to answer. It really depends on the fish.
Usually, it’s more important to make sure you’re not feeding too much, rather than too little.
But with cichlids, if they feel like they’re not getting enough food, their aggression can go off the charts. You don’t want your fish to decide that its tank mates are on the menu.
One of the best ways to gauge how much your fish really need to eat is to dole food out a little at a time. Don’t just dump a huge portion in there.
Put in a small pinch of food and wait for the fish to eat it. If they gobble it up within a few seconds, add some more. Keep doing this for about a minute, longer if you have slow eaters.
When you start to see the fish slow down a little bit, or lose interest completely, stop feeding. Over time, you’ll start to get a feel for how much your fish really need to eat.
Feeding this way means less uneaten food ends up in the substrate.
What vegetables are good for cichlids?
There are lots of tasty veggies that you can use to supplement your fish’s diet. You should blanch veggies before you put them in the tank:
Peas (pop the skin off the pea)
Why are my cichlids losing their color?
The single biggest thing that causes cichlids to lose their color is stress.
This stress can be caused by many different factors:
Poor water quality
The easiest way to have happy colorful fish is to give them the best possible environment:
Keep up with water changes so your water stays clean
Rehome fish if you have a serious bully or there are too many fish in the tank
Feed a high quality, varied diet appropriate to the species
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Last update on 2019-10-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API