Carbohydrate utilisation by tilapia: a meta-analytical approach

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Currently, studies reporting the digestibility of carbohydrates, starch and especially non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) in fish are scarce. Carbohydrate digestibility in the diet is largely dependent upon carbohydrate composition (starch vs. NSP). NSP are often considered to be indigestible and thus of no nutritional value. The present study reviews carbohydrates in fish feed, distinguishing between total carbohydrate, starch and NSP. Besides a qualitative approach, a meta-analysis was performed, compiling available data from digestibility studies on tilapia. Our meta-analysis confirms the negative effect of NSP on performance (FCR) and nutrient digestibility (crude protein, fat and energy). However, an average NSP digestibility of 24.3% was calculated in 95 cases. Out of these 95 cases, 88% of them showed a positive NSP digestibility. NSP digestibility was shown to contribute to energy digestibility. The digestion of NSP in fish is associated with fermentation in the gut, producing beneficial volatile fatty acids that are rapidly absorbed by the colonic lumen. Therefore, in diet formulation, digestibility and thus energy originating from NSP should be taken into consideration because NSP contribute to the energy needs of fish, here tilapia. Besides being an energy source, specific types of NSP may have immune-modulating and prebiotic effects and may be increasingly added to fish feed as modulators of fish health. We suggest that NSP is potentially (partly) digested by a wide range of fish species, especially by warm-water species with a long gut adapted to feeding on plant matter, as these factors favour gut fermentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1851-1866
JournalReviews in Aquaculture
Issue number3
Early online date17 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • digestibility
  • meta-analysis
  • non-starch polysaccharides
  • Oreochromis niloticus
  • starch

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