Cichlids eat crickets, shrimp, small frogs, fish eggs and worms. They also eat plant material and other fish. Cichlids kept in captivity also benefit from the added nutrients found in commercial cichlid fish-food pellets. It is best to use sinking pellets when feeding captive cichlids.
The motion of the sinking pellet stimulates the cichlid's natural, predatory hunting behavior. Any purchased commercial cichlid fish food should not include beef heart as an ingredient; it is a fatty meat that could cause degeneration of the cichlid's liver. Live food can be fed to cichlids in captivity; however, different species of cichlids eat different types of food, so experimenting with dead food first is advisable. Most cichlids also eat algae located in the substrate of their environment.
A cichlid's mouth contains a unique feature called a "moveable pharyngeal jaw apparatus," which helps the fish to chew its food. Cichlids are predatory fish that sometimes attack and eat prey that is too big to swallow whole, and the apparatus located in the back of the fish's throat is an evolutionary feature that allows the fish to trap live prey in its mouth and then slowly grind it up. This decreases the chances of the prey escaping while the cichlid is chewing on it.