9 Best Fish Foods Based on Quality of Ingredients (2019 Buyer’s Guide & Reviews)

Here’s the thing about fish food:

It can be one of the biggest rip offs in this hobby. They all have their slogans and sales pitches on the front of the package, but that doesn’t mean there’s a quality product inside of the package.

In this guide, I’ll show you what ingredients to look for (and what to avoid so you don’t get ripped off) and share with you what I consider (after over two decades in the hobby) the best fish food.

Fish Food Product Table

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How to Choose a High-Quality Fish Food

I’ll be straight with you, there are several major name brands that have seriously sub-par ingredients in them, but they continue to be sold in the majority of stores despite this. And aquarists buy them because they just plain don’t know any better.

If you take nothing else away from this article, I hope you learn this: the absolute number one thing to do is ignore the hype and sales pitch on the front of the package and take a look at the ingredients list on the back.

Ingredients You Want

Here’s a list of the good stuff that you want to see as one of the main ingredients in your fish food:

  • Whole fish
  • Algae meal – usually made from grinding up dehydrated Chlorella 
  • Spirulina – a blue-green algae (technically a cyanobacteria) that’s rich in vitamins and minerals as well as protein
  • Krill – small shrimp-like crustaceans
  • Squid meal 
  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Earthworms
  • Black worms

These are all high-quality food sources that are nutrient dense and easily digestible. One or more of these should be among the first ingredients listed on the label.

Ingredients to Avoid

Here’s what you don’t want to see in your fish food.

Low-Quality Fish Meal

There are two kinds of fish meal. High-quality fish meal is made from grinding whole fish that aren’t that great for human consumption because they’re small, bony and fatty. But they’re great as an animal feed since they’re high in protein and Omega-3.

But, then there’s low quality fish meal. It’s made from the leftovers of the fishing industry. Fish processing plants cut the meat off the fish, leaving the guts, scales, skin, bones and other totally gross stuff.

They gather all that wonderful garbage together and grind it up. Yes, it does contain protein, but it also contains a lot of indigestible things, too and is really inferior compared to whole fish meal.

The problem is, most fish food companies use the low-quality fish meal. 

When you’re looking at the label, if it just says “fish meal,” more than likely, it’s the cheap stuff. High quality fish meal will usually be listed as “whole fish meal” or will list the species of fish it’s made of, like “whole menhaden meal.” 

Terrestrial grains/legumes

Fish can’t digest things like soy or wheat gluten very well. Their systems just haven’t evolved to break down things like that. 

You’re never going to be hanging out next to a field and suddenly see a marauding school of fish sweep in to eat up all the wheat.

So ingredients like wheat and soy mostly just pass through their digestive system as waste that then breaks down in the tank and fouls your water. 

Even quality foods do include some terrestrial grain/legume products, so you can’t get away from it completely. But it’s better to go with a brand where terrestrial grain/legume is not one of the top three ingredients. That way, you know it makes up a much lower percentage of the food.

Types of Fish Food

Okay, so now we know what to look for in ingredients, let’s discuss the different types of food available.

Flakes 

Ingredients are ground together, dehydrated, spread paper thin and then baked. Flake food is best for top and mid-water feeding fish. Bottom feeders will eat flakes that sink to the substrate.  

Pellets

Pellets are similar to flakes but they’re made into small, dense balls or sticks instead of paper-thin flakes, kind of like dog kibble. Pellets can be floating, which is good for top feeding fish, or sinking, which is better for mid-water and bottom feeding fish. Pellets are a good choice for larger fish, like South American cichlids.

Sinking Wafers

Very similar to pellets, these are hard disks of dry food that immediately sink. They’re meant for bottom-dwelling critters, like catfish and plecos. These are often sold under the name “algae wafers,” but you have to be careful, many contain little to no algae at all and are made of very poor ingredients.

Gel Food

Gel food comes in a powder that you mix with boiling water. It sets up into a stiff gelatine, like Jello for fish. Believe it or not, fish and invertebrates go crazy for this stuff. It’s especially great if you have sick fish since you can mix medications right into the food for easy delivery.

Freeze Dried

Freeze dried foods are usually whole ingredients, like whole bloodworms or brine shrimp, that have been freeze dried. These have a great shelf life and are an excellent way to supplement your fish’s staple diet.

But, freeze dried food should just be a treat. It’s not really practical to make these the backbone of your fish’s diet because the volume you’d need to feed your fish would be enormous.

Frozen

Frozen foods are whole ingredients that have been collected and frozen into cubes that you defrost and feed to your fish. Commonly available foods include bloodworms, brine shrimp, algae mixes or beef heart.

These foods end up being about 70% water, so you need to feed your fish a bigger volume than if you were feeding a dry food.

I also recommend that you stay away from beef heart. It’s really popular with some discus breeders, but this form of protein can tax a fish’s kidneys and shorten their lifespan. 

Live Foods

Live foods are some kind of small critter that you feed to your fish. It could be small invertebrates like daphnia, brine shrimp or ghost shrimp. Some aquarists feed guppies, minnows or goldfish to their large predatory fish.

Frankly, I don’t think this is a great idea since “feeder” species are raised as cheaply as possible, often under very poor conditions. A feeder fish is only as nutritious as what it’s been eating.

So, a scrawny, half-starved feeder fish doesn’t really provide that much nutrition. You also risk parasites and diseases being spread from the feeder fish to the fish in your display tank.

Best Fish Foods Reviewed

Okay, so know you understand more on what you need from your fish food, here are my reviews for the top choices.

1. Zoo Med Spirulina 20 Flakes

  • Diet: omnivore/herbivore
  • Size of Fish: can be crushed to smaller pieces for tiny fish or fed as is for larger fish
  • Water Level: top

Spirulina 20 is made up of big green flakes perfect for larger fish. The flakes can also be crushed up for smaller fish.

This food contains truly awesome ingredients like spirulina, krill and plankton meal. I’ve personally used this food and found it can help improve color, especially blues and greens.

It also contains salmon meal instead of generic fish meal.

It’s only downside is that soy flour is near the top on the ingredient list, but otherwise this is a high quality food that makes a great staple diet.

Pros: 

  • Color enhancing food with quality ingredients
  • Large flakes are great for bigger fish or simply break them up for smaller critters
  • Contains salmon meal

Cons:

  • Does contain some terrestrial grains/legumes

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

2. Omega One Freshwater Flakes

  • Diet: carnivore/omnivore
  • Size of Fish: small to medium
  • Water Level: top and mid-water

Omega One uses amazing ingredients like whole salmon, herring, halibut and cod, along with whole shrimp and kelp. 

All those quality ingredients help to naturally enhance fish coloration.

I’m a big believer in this brand’s products and have fed them to my fish for years.

It does contain some terrestrial grains/legumes, but they are pretty far down on the ingredients list.

I’ve never had a fish turn this stuff down, even really picky eaters.

Pros: 

  • High quality protein sourced from whole fish
  • Even picky eaters love this food
  • Naturally color enhancing

Cons:

  • Does contain some terrestrial grains/legumes, but this is minimal

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

3. Fluval Bug Bites Cichlid Formula (Pellets

  • Diet: carnivore/omnivore
  • Size of Fish: medium to large
  • Water Level: top and mid-water

Fluval Bug Bites is a relative newcomer to the market. The first two ingredients are dried black fly larvae and salmon, both excellent protein sources that are easily digestible by fish.

The soldier larvae is really great because insects are a part of the diet of most freshwater fish. So this mimics what they would eat in nature. And since black fly larvae don’t have an exoskeleton, they’re almost pure protein. 

I feed this to my big Texas cichlid and he goes completely bonkers for it. He practically comes out of the tank to get to them.

My one qualm is that it also does contain fish protein concentrate and potato, not the most natural ingredients for fish, but the fact that the pellets are 40% black soldier fly larvae kind of makes up for this.

Pros: 

  • High quality ingredients that provide natural proteins
  • Does not contain terrestrial grains/legumes
  • Fish seem to love it

Cons:

  • Does contain some processed ingredients

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

4. Omega One Super Color Veggie Kelp Floating Pellets

  • Diet: carnivore/omnivore
  • Size of Fish: medium
  • Water Level: top

Once again, Omega One busts out the high quality ingredients, including salmon, whole herring and shrimp, as well as kelp and spirulina.

The salmon and shrimp will help enhance red coloration and the kelp and spirulina are great for bringing out blues and greens.

These are a great floating pellet for top-feeding fish like gouramis, angelfish or large tetras. The pellets do float for a long time, so they’re not really suited for mid-water or bottom feeding fish.

My only sticking point is that there is some wheat flour among the top ingredients.

Pros: 

  • Top notch ingredients
  • Naturally color enhancing
  • Pellets float for a long time

Cons:

  • Does contain wheat flour
  • Only suited for top-feeding fish

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

5. Fluval Hagen Vegetarian Pellets

  • Diet: herbivore
  • Size of Fish: medium to large
  • Water Level: bottom

Here’s what I love about these Fluval Vegetarian Pellets: the number one ingredient is spirulina. So many brands put out food that’s supposed to be meant for herbivores, but the first four or five ingredients are all some sort of animal protein.

And what animal protein this does contain is high quality herring meal and krill.

This food also contains tons of veggies like peas, cabbage, carrots, garlic and spinach. It would make a great staple diet for herbivorous fish, like silver dollars or Mbuna cichlids.

They’re really great for goldfish. Since the pellet sinks to the bottom of the tank, goldfish can gobble them up without swallowing air, which can get trapped in their intestines and harm them.

And they provide the fiber and plant-based diet goldfish need.

Pros: 

  • Great herbivorous diet 
  • Animal protein sources are top quality
  • Sinking pellets will keep goldfish from swallowing air

Cons:

  • Does contain small amounts of wheat

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Special Word on Sinking Wafers

I’ll be honest with you, the VAST majority of sinking wafers on the market are terrible. Take a look at the ingredient lists on some of them and you’ll find that food sources like spirulina or algae meal are 9 or 10 items down the list.

And many depend entirely on fish meal as their protein source.

After looking at more than a dozen different ones, I’ve only found one brand I’m happy with. 

6. Omega One Veggie Rounds

  • Diet: herbivore or omnivore
  • Size of Fish: any size fish can snack on these once they soften up a little bit
  • Water Level: bottom

I have poured over the ingredient lists of every major brand of “algae wafer” on the market. Hands down, Omega One is the best, although it does leave a bit to be desired. 

Unlike some brands, that are made mostly of terrestrial grains/legumes, Omega One’s wafers contain kelp and spirulina, although they are respectively the fifth and seventh items on the list.  

The main ingredients are salmon and whole herring but it does also contain a high percentage of wheat flour. Wheat germ and rice bran are also pretty prevalent. They’re used to add fiber and aid digestion.

So even though these wafers have the best ingredient list on the market, they’re not perfect.

Pros: 

  • Contains kelp and spirulina
  • High quality protein sources

Cons:

  • High percentage of terrestrial grains/legumes

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

7. Repashy SuperGreen Gel Food

  • Diet: herbivore
  • Size of Fish: any
  • Water Level: bottom

SuperGreen sports five different kinds of algae and doesn’t contain any sort of animal protein.

It’s the single best food for herbivorous fish that I’ve found. The gel can be applied to tiles or driftwood so that grazing fish can slowly munch on it. Or, you can drop cubes or slabs of it that will sink to the bottom of the tank.

SuperGreen is ideal for algae-eating fish, like plecos or Mbuna.

Plus, ingredients like hibiscus powder and turmeric help enhance color.

Technically, it sinks so it’s supposed to be for bottom feeding fish only, but I’ve seen plenty of mid and top-water fish swim down to eat it.

Pros: 

  • Purely herbivorous diet with five different algaes
  • Excellent for fish that like to graze or slowly nibble at food
  • Lots of color enhancing ingredients
  • No terrestrial grains/legumes
  • Highly digestible

Cons:

  • You have to mix it up yourself

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

8. Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze Dried Spirulina Brine Shrimp Cubes

  • Diet: carnivore/omnivore
  • Size of Fish: any
  • Water Level: any

This food is made up of freeze dried brine shrimp with spirulina mixed in, and that’s it. No fillers of any kind, no terrestrial grains/legumes.

This is a great supplement to your fish’s staple diet that adds some extra protein. And fish go bananas for it, so it’s a great treat.

Brine shrimp are tiny, so little fish will have no trouble at all snatching some up. Bigger fish will just tear off mouthfuls of the cube or even eat the whole cube.

You can also press a cube to the side of the tank and fish will come up and nibble on it.

Some fish are messy eaters with this so uneaten shrimp end up sinking into the substrate. Just be mindful of it, keep an eye on them and vacuum the gravel if needed.

Pros: 

  • Excellent protein supplement
  • Tasty treat for fish
  • No terrestrial grains/legumes

Cons:

  • Can be a bit messy in the tank

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

9. Omega One Freeze Dried Krill

  • Diet:  carnivore/omnivore
  • Size of Fish: medium to large
  • Water Level: top and mid-water

The name says it all, it’s just a container full of freeze dried krill.

Since it’s the whole krill, it can be too big for medium sized fish to eat. But you can easily crumble it up before adding it to the tank so it’s smaller.

This is a great whole food supplement that most fish go crazy for. It’s rich in protein so it’s a really healthy treat for your fish.

Krill can also contain large amounts of carotenoids so eating them helps bring out reds and pinks in fish coloration.

Pros: 

  • No fillers or terrestrial grains/legumes
  • High protein content
  • Tasty treat that fish love
  • Naturally enhances coloration

Cons:

  • I can’t really think of any

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Words on Fish Food

The most important thing about shopping for fish food is to forget about the hype and look at the list of ingredients. You might be shocked to find that a lot of name brands contain low quality ingredients that are not good for your fish.

Do your best to avoid brands that are high in terrestrial grains/legumes since fish don’t digest these. These ingredients just pass through the digestive system, providing little benefit, and causing excess waste.

I hope that I’ve shared with you a solid beginner’s guide so that you can make informed decisions. If you’re going to part with your hard-earned cash, you and your fish should reap the greatest possible benefit.

Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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