Humans and fish have similar nutritional needs, but humans tend to be more adaptable than our sensitive little fish friends. That's why their nutritional needs are extra important, and feeding them the wrong foods can cause serious health problems. Many of our marine fish pets can live for a very long time. Yellow Tang, for example, can live 3 decades or more with proper care. We owe it to them to make sure their diet promotes their long lifespan and health. It's also worth mentioning that healthy fish with good diets are more beautiful, colorful, and personable, as well.
When it comes to your fishes' diet, focus on:
- high quality ingredients/trusted brands
- proper food storage
- appropriate foods for herbivores and carnivores
- a varied diet
- vitamins and supplements
Think of your fish like children. You wouldn't feed your children one food item every day for years, and you wouldn't feed them food that isn't fresh or made with good quality ingredients. Just like babies and young children, younger fish need to eat more often, too.
Of course, a diet with high quality ingredients is most important. The "economy" brand foods with fillers, terrestrial ingredients, and lower quality ingredients are not suitable for the long term health of marine fish. You wouldn't feed your tang the same food you'd feed a guppy. Stick to trusted brands that use fresh, high quality seafoods like Easy Reefs.
photo credit: Melev's Reef
One of the most common nutrition-related mistakes reefers make is feeding their fish foods that are not fresh.
A good general rule is to replace your dry fish foods within 3 - 6 months of opening if you store them properly. Even if the food isn't technically spoiled, it loses vitamins and nutrition as it ages.
If you tend to store your dry fish food near your aquarium, it's likely being exposed to warm, humid conditions that will degrade the vitamins and fatty acids. Water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C are the first to go and quickly lost, which can cause serious problems for fish health over time. Store your dry foods in a cool, dry place. Many can even be stored in the refrigerator (follow the manufacturer's recommendation) to preserve their integrity.
Not only is old food unhealthy, it doesn't taste good. If your finicky fish aren't eating, check the age of their foods.
Some higher quality foods use smart packaging to prevent spoilage during use. Easy Reefs Easy Booster is a great example - "The expiration date does not change even if the package has been opened. The reason for this is that air is expelled from the bag as the product is being released, thereby preventing the oxidation of the phytoplankton."
Frozen food storage
Frozen foods are notoriously difficult to keep fresh. Unfortunately, it isn't uncommon for frozen foods to experience thawing in transit. If this happens, the food should be discarded. If food was previously thawed and re-frozen, it can be difficult to tell. The food might look discolored, for example, mysis turns brown when it goes bad. The food may also have bubbles in the blister packs, or flat packs will be thicker on one end, bent, or distorted instead of flat and uniform. The food might appear to be "freezer burnt." When in doubt, throw it out. Feeding fish frozen foods that have turned rancid can cause health problems and even nasty bacterial infections or illness.
More information and photos comparing "good" and "bad" mysis
It's also important to realize that your home freezer can not keep the food as cold as the industrial freezers where it's stored before sale. The expiration date is only applicable if the food is being stored in industrial freezers that maintain temps below ‐30 °C. Once you bring it home, use your frozen food promptly - ideally within 2 or 3 months. Don't store your frozen fish food on the door of your freezer, as it will be constantly exposed to room temperature and expediting its spoilage.
Highly Unsaturated Fatty Acids are necessary for marine fish diets; they can't live without HUFA. Unfortunately, as ages, these fatty acid chains break down and form shorter chain fatty acids - bad fats.
If you're a health food aficionado, you might be familiar with how the Omega fatty acids in Flax can break down when stored improperly or for too long. Flax is a common human health food because of its benefits - it promotes heart and joint health and reduces inflammation. However, if a person eats too much flax that has turned rancid, it can actually cause inflammation, and over time, health issues.
Food freshness is particularly important for species that primarily consume live food items in the wild like seahorses or mandarins. Species that regularly consume dead, decaying food items have gut associated lymphoid tissues that help protect them from bacterial infections, but live food eating fish like seahorses did not evolve to eat decaying matter and are more susceptible to infections caused by spoiled food.
Herbivore, Omnivore, Carnivore
You don't need to worry too much if your herbivorous fish is eating some meat, or if your carnivorous fish ate a few green pellets and didn't spit them out like it usually does. An herbivore's diet should be primarily vegetable matter, but a little protein is also necessary. In the wild, herbivores don't eat 100% vegan diets. They inevitably consume a small amount of animal protein naturally as they're grazing on algae that contains tiny crustaceans. Similarly, though a species is primarily carnivorous, if they eat herbivorous fish, they're consuming a small amount of vegetable matter in the digestive tract of their prey, and this is important for their health.
However, there are ways to make sure each fish species is getting the right balance of foods. Marine pellets are a good staple for all your fish, but it's a good plan to feed seaweed sheets or frozen herbivore preparations in the morning so your herbivores "fill up" on those foods that they need most. Carnivores tend to avoid vegetable matter, so you don't have to worry about them eating the seaweed. Once the herbivores have eaten their veggies, you can feed the carnivores their meaty foods. Finally, the last meals of the day can be high quality pellets like Easy Reefs DKI pellets.
Of course, you'll want to research and tailor your feeding schedule to each individual's needs. Very young fish may need to eat small meals 3 - 5 x a day. Some species with a fast metabolism like anthias and seahorses should eat 3 x a day even as adults. Sedentary species like ambush predators do not even neat to eat daily as adults.
Variety is the Spice of Life
It isn't healthy for humans to live on just one type of food. It's equally important to provide a variety of foods to your pet fish. Dry foods like pellets are a fine staple diet, but also provide occasional feedings of frozen foods or fresh foods. You can even promote the production of zooplankton, tiny animals like copepods and amphipods, in your aquarium by dosing Easy Reefs Easy Booster. With use over time, you'll have countless tiny fish snacks reproducing in your tank. These tiny crustaceans are exceptionally nutritious, and they also provide some hunting/enrichment exercise to help keep your pet fish from becoming bored.
@marmatoreef hand feeding Masstick as a bonding/enrichment exercise
Easy Reefs Masstick is another highly nutritious food that promotes grazing behavior and prevents boredom. Stick it to a wall, frag plug, or other surface in the tank, and watch your fish flock to the Masstick.
It's also easy to mix frozen foods, pellets or even vitamins, supplements, and medicines into Masstick. If you've ever tried to give your pet dog a pill before, you probably know that hiding the pill in a treat can help. You can use Masstick similarly.
Dietary variety is especially important to sensitive omnivorous species like many angelfish. Some hobbyists have reported that difficult angelfish species sometimes experience sudden, unexplained deaths after years of living in captivity, and experts believe it could be related to diet, especially whey they're fed diets heavy in fatty mysis shrimp and low in sponge and vegetable matter that angelfish regularly consume in the wild.
What could be more fresh than living food? Hobbyists can also purchase live algae and live copepods for their fish as a snack or supplement to their diet. Our friends at Algae Barn have a wide variety of live algae and copepods for just about any fish species. You can use these live copepods to "seed" your tank, then feed with Easy Booster will promote their growth.
If you're feeding live shrimp, Artemia, or copepods to your fish keep in mind that these animals are only as nutritious as their last meal. That's why it's important to feed the feeder animal, or "gutload" the feeder with foods high in HUFA and vitamins before feeding it to your fish. Easy Reefs makes specific foods for growing Rotifers and Artemia which are high in HUFA.
Supplements and Vitamins
There are a number of marine aquarium fish vitamins and HUFA supplements on the market that you can mix into your fish food before feeding. Think of it like taking your own multivitamin and fish oil pills every day.
There are supplements which are known to be particularly helpful in maintaining the health and beauty of captive marine fish. Each of the new DKI Fish Care pellet line has unique properties to help fishkeepers properly condition and and maintain their aquatic pets. These supplemented foods are in a convenient, palatable pellet so you won't have to fuss with soaking your foods liquids, powders, or oils that end up in the water column instead of in your fish.
Easy Reefs DKI oleuropein phenol "stands out to fight fish diseases, so it is a great ally when we add a new fish to the aquarium, even more so if they are of wild origin." In short, oleuropein has anit-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has also been shown to help protect fish against both viral and bacterial infections while promoting immune response.
For reference, olive oil contains Oleuropein, and we all know how olive oil is a healthy part of the Mediterranean diet where people commonly live extremely long lives. According to nih.gov, "Oleuropein and its metabolite, hydroxytyrosol, have powerful antioxidant activity, which might be responsible for some of olive oil's antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and disease-fighting activities. Oleuropein is best known for its blood pressure-lowering effect."
Easy Reefs DKI Beta glucan "stands out for its ability to activate the fish's immune system, following the same story as the new fish, we could use it the weeks before the new fish arrive, so that our current aquarium inhabitants aren't negatively affected by the stress that this generates.
The second property that stands out the most is that of enhancing the brightness and the white, blue, violet colors. If you have the possibility of following up for two or three weeks you will be able to appreciate the difference in a picture."
Beta Glucan is also a popular human supplement used for enhancing immune response. Nih.gov says, "These substances increase host immune defense by activating complement system, enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function."
The use of Beta Glucan in the aquarium hobby as an immune booster during the acclimation period or illness is well documented, and thanks to Easy Reefs, we now have it in a convenient, easy to use pellet food form.
Easy Reefs DKI β-carotene "has two properties to highlight, one as a powerful antioxidant and the other enhancing orange, yellow, red colors."
This one is a must-have for yellow tangs!
Easy Reefs DKI Superoxide Dismutase "helps to reduce oxidative stress, helps cell regeneration, and acts as a preventative of some diseases."
I think we all know how important antioxidants are in our own diets, and how they can help us live longer, healthier lives. This is equally important for your pet fish.
DKI Fish Care Line Feeding instructions:
As a maintenance dose, we recommend mixing a teaspoon of each of the 4 new DKI Fish Care with original DKI Marine pellets and feed daily with that mixture. For large fish we are recommending to mix with the masstick.
Technical information and some scientific bibliography references:
We use and recommend Easy Reefs foods.
✔ Only Marine Raw Materials
✔ All ingredients aquacultured by Easy Reefs
✔ 100% Natural
✔ 100% Sustainable
✔ 100% Made in house nothing added
✔ Ready to use
✔ Nutritionally complete
✔ Environmentally friendly
❌ No wild fishmeal used!
❌ No land based ingredients or plants!
❌ No chemical additives, stimulants or stabilisers!