Au contrare! There are three common purposes for plant material in the food. Fiber, protein, and energy (carbohydrate) are all functions of plant proteins. When a company puts corn in a diet just for protein, it’s sort of sad. Sad for them (who’s doing their research?) and sad for the consumer.
Proteins can be lopsided.
But often, wheat, soy or corn meals are used *IN ADDITION TO AQUACULTURAL PROTEINS* to provide SOME protein and SOME energy. When used this way, it’s a ‘Good Thing’ because proteins in corn, soy or wheat are very different from proteins in a feed ingredient like shrimp or blood meal.
Corn protein may be VERY heavy in Leucine or Lysine. While shrimp meal may be heavy in sulfur containing amino acids and very low in Lysine. Therefore, these plant proteins can BALANCE an amino acid profile to ensure that all essential amino acids are represented and make it complete. At the same time, plant proteins can contribute needed energy in the form of carbohydrates. They may also bring fiber to the equation.
So, you might see Fishmeal as the first ingredient in a diet. Then lower on the list you might see Wheat germ, or soybean meal, or corn gluten meal. Don’t be put off by these dual-purpose ingredients.
Are there color enhancers in the diet? Look for terms like Spirulina, Bio-Red, BetaCarotene, Canthaxanthin, Marigold petals, Xanthins, Shrimp Oil, Synthetic and Non Synthetic Carotenoids, Color Enhancers…On the label. Generally, the shrimp oil is the most expensive. It performs as well or better than the synthetic carotenoids but either is acceptable. Spirulina cannot push color unless the fish are exposed to sunlight. None of these color enhancers are hazardous to fish but can make a fish with a yellow head YELLOWER and so they say: a fish with a tendency towards pink pinker. No color enhancer can replace the irrefutable contribution of genetics and sunlight to color.
Assessment 9: Ash content if stated.
Sometimes companies will level with you and tell you the “crap” content of their food. Ash is what’s left behind when you incinerate (or the fish digests) the food. It’s almost all carbon and mineral. So the higher the ash number, the less likely one is to appreciate it. Generally, when Ash is high, a smart label guy would just leave it off, and they are allowed to because it’s not required on fish food bags.
Label Assessment: Fats, Vitamin C and Immune Boosters
Assessment 5: Fat content
Find a food between 3-10% Crude fat. Go to the higher end of my range for smaller fish, and closer to 3% for adult fish.
Assessment 6: Ascorbic acid
Make sure “ascorbic acid”, or “L-Ascorbyl-2-Phosphate” or similar is on the label among the trailing ingredients. It will represent a very small part of the diet but it should be added to any milled food.
Assessment 7: Immune boosters
Some foods are made with immune boosters. These are certainly harmless and they may very well perform as promised depending on what we’re talking about. Look for any combination of following putative immune-boosting ingredients like: Optimun, Aquagen, Nucleotides, Torula Yeast, Brewer’s Yeast, Bee Propolis, Colostrum, Aspergillus niger, beta carotene, lactoferrin. Don’t hang your hat on any particular ingredient as a miracle supplement or life saver – okay? …but recognize that the addition of these items represents the manufacturer as a little more attentive and knowledgeable, and the food worth a little extra money.
Let’s say a company who is tailoring a feed to the prevailing market-climate wants to use FOUR aquacultural proteins, and tosses in shrimp, kelp, spirulina, and squid meal. That would be AWESOME! But it could jack up the proteins to a level unsuitable for fish, or at least unnecessary (and expensive).
The protein level in a decent diet should be about 32-36% …Partly because Koi can’t digest more than that in one pass. I don’t know that feeding MORE than that is a “Bad Thing” because fish will simply pass what they don’t digest.
So, looking for minimums, and recognizing that an outrageously high protein percentage you might be paying for is unnecessary, are the two take-away tidbits on this assessment.
If you were manufacturing a food and found wheat to be cheaper than fishmeal, you would want to use wheat to save money. But, you know the consumers want the fishmeal to be FIRST on the list. So you split the wheat!
Two pounds of fishmeal is less than three pounds of “Wheat”. Right?
So, honestly, that would read:
Ingredient one by weight: Wheat
Ingredient two by weight: Fishmeal
But what if you did your label based on:
2 pounds Fishmeal
1.5 pounds Wheat “germ”
1.5 pounds wheat “flour”
I’ve split my wheat into two “separate” parts and they’re taken separately into the label and my Fishmeal is boosted to the TOP of the list.
If you find a food that has NO animal protein, therefore no fish protein, AND it also has TWO plant proteins, then the manufacturer is trying to get cheaper plant ingredients to do what fishmeal should be doing. And Koi feeding results will be mediocre at best. However, if you find a food with FISH MEAL as the first ingredient and THEN wheat germ meal or similar, they are using the plant ingredient for protein AND energy, letting the fishmeal carry the bulk of the protein requirement, which is as it should be. There will be some plant protein in most foods. It’s used as a helper, dual-purpose ingredient and it’s not to be eschewed.
Wheat flour may be used to keep a high protein pellet or food stick “stuck together” like a glue.
Ingredients labels can be very exciting, or very misleading.
They can be exciting because they seem to report excellent ingredients and real care and attention in manufacture. Misleading labels use techniques like ingredient splitting and foreign law to dupe the consumer. Come with me to the store and we shall assess a label together in nine steps.
Assessing the Fish Food Label: Step-By-Step
Assessment 1: Protein source.
Look for fishmeal, squid meal, whitefish meal, anchovy meal, shrimp meal, blood meal, herring meal, etc as first ingredients. These are the best protein sources for fish and are the ones I recommend. Other proteins, for example if you found a bag of food that showed Lobster meal as the first ingredient, you understand that again, aquaculture protein is best for aquaculture.
-I have a friend named Greg Wittstock who has an Aquascape pond of probably an acre and a half. Maybe larger. And in this pond there is a teeming ecosystem of turtles, fish, plants, insects, and amphibians. If a fish were to die of starvation in his pond, we would have to assess the fish as being brain damaged. There’s plenty to eat.
Many of the large Aquascape installations will have a goodly amount of live food and plant material for the fish to be sustained on. This is great from the standpoint that you can feed conservatively, and if you are ever away or forget to feed the fish chances are they’ll find something juicy in the gravel or they could prune your plants.
Foraging in the gravel is an important way that fish prevent that very gravel from stagnating. (Or you can toss a pair of boisterous kids in for a weekly summer swim like Ellen B. in Batavia does.)
Important ones seem to be fat soluble A,D,E and K – and vitamin C.
-Vitamin deficiencies from missing vitamins are comparatively rare in the last two decades. This is because vitamin premixes exist in the processing of fish food that have eliminated most of the mystery and a lot of the onerous expense. Vitamins A,D,E and K when deficient result in lesions of the skin, eyes, and nervous system. Vitamin K contributes to blood clotting. How much this bears on fish is vague at best.
Vitamin C is not so mysterious. Addition of Vitamin C to the diet of Koi and Goldfish is a “Good Thing” for several reasons. First, it’s essential to the fish and contributes majorly to disease resistance. Second, food processing degrades Vitamin C so that enough of this has to be added to the food to where a surplus survives the processing of the food. Inattention on the part of the feed manufacturer to this could result in food too low in Vitamin C. Finally, if available over 180 milligrams per kilogram, some research supports that the immune system is not only supported, but dramatically enhanced.
-Sometimes you luck out and get a deal on bulk foods. Or, a manufacturer offers larger containers than your fish can eat in a season. Too bad. I do NOT recommend that you buy big bags of food unless your fish can eat it all in a season. This is because it’s necessarily difficult to keep 45 pounds of food in the fridge. Of course, if you CAN, do it! Otherwise, the fish food sits in the bag in a “cool dark place” and weevils hatch in it and the food is lost. Or moulds grow in it, on the condensation-side of the bag and it’s lost. Or, the cats tear out the bottom corner of the bag and the food spreads across the floor of the garage like a cancer. Can you tell “I’ve been there, done that”??
Refrigerate foods, DON’T freeze them. Freezing damages (lyophilizes = freezer burns) the fats in the food and so the fat-soluble vitamins are compromised.
Foods which are packed in nitrogen (no oxygen) by the manufacturer are better than food which is in cans with oxygen. If you can find food which has a bag that allows expression of air from the bag and resealing, that is optimal.
If food begins to smell “funny” or develops a fuzz on it, changes color, sticks together or crumbles down, it’s old or “bad” and should be discarded. Feeding “bad” food will land you in a world of hurt with your fish, because much of what grows in fish foods produces what are known as “Aflatoxins” which can cause injury, deficiency, and broken backs, in fish fed these spoiled foods. Truly, fish should go hungry while waiting for you to get fresh food, rather than being fed spoiled food “just for a few days” because it matters.