She gurgles happily, smiles, and shakes her arms in excitement. She's hungry. She sucks on her picture books, drools on her grey sweater. Would she be this happy if she knew what her parents are about to serve her?
At almost seven months old, Emilia is now ready for her first solid food. At six months of age, doctors advise the introduction of things like pureed vegetables—carrots, potatoes, kohlrabi—along with a little bit of meat. Iris Benedens, Emilia's mother, says that "the three foods a pediatrician would never recommend are: egg yolks, liver, or beef stock."
Yet on today's menu, there it is: raw beef liver, previously frozen to kill off pathogens.
Iris and her husband Leon live a Paleo lifestyle. Their diet consists of vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, and seeds. They completely refrain from any cereals, dairy products, legumes, and sugar. Processed food will never make an appearance at their table—but offal will.
"Liver is one of the most nutritious foods there is," says Iris. "[It contains] iron, folic acid, vitamin B12—and, most importantly, cholesterol."
Cholesterol? Who would give their child something that clogs arteries and is responsible for cardiovascular disease?
Chris Kresser, an American advocate for the Paleo diet, recommends that parents put emphasis on fat and cholesterol-rich foods in order to promote development of their baby's brain and nervous system. The first solid foods he recommends for a six-month-old baby are, among other things, egg yolks, cod liver oil, and liver.
Emilia kicks in the air. Maybe she's realizing that it's time to eat. Iris took the dark red piece of liver out of the fridge an hour ago so that it wouldn't be too cold for the little one. While Iris mashes up the organ with a fork, Leon speaks of Emilia's first attempts at eating. About a week ago, she got her first taste of something other than breast milk: the yolk of a soft-boiled chicken egg. "But it wasn't really eating," says Leon, laughing. They couple shows me a video of this moment in which more of the egg ends up on Emilia's face rather than in her mouth.
"You can definitely tell that she's ready," says Iris. "She is interested in what we are eating. She tries to grab it, and she's also the right age."
The question remains, though: How will a baby react to something that most adults don't even like?
Iris tips a bit of liver into her baby's mouth; the spoon definitely doesn't come out clean. Emilia presses her lips together, cocks her head to one side, and looks a little strained. Not a good sign.
"We don't want to force her," says Iris. Maybe in combination with something sweet—banana, perhaps? But liver and banana porridge are still blech for Emilia.
At this point, you're probably thinking, Maybe the Paleo diet just isn't right for babies. "Babies actually need quite a lot of fat, because of their high energy expenditure," says professor Mathilde Kersting. She is the deputy director of the Research Institute of Child Nutrition (FKE), and the go-to German reference for all things in child nutrition. The first solid foods a baby eats needn't be particularly high in cholesterol, she notes, as it is naturally produced in the body. "The first solid foods should be a good source of iron, as the need for it in the second half of the first year is very high," says Kersting.
What about egg yolk? Kersting thinks little of it. The iron contained in it can't be absorbed well by the body, and milk and meat are sufficient for added cholesterol. And when it comes to cod liver oil, the right dosage is just too difficult to administer at Emilia's age. "Liver is rich in many nutrients, and, after adequate heating, can be used similarly as something meat-based," she says. But raw liver is inappropriate for a baby, Kersting notes, for safety reasons.
If Emilia actually "ate" any of the liver today, it wasn't much, and probably unintentionally. "Maybe she does have more of a sweet tooth," says Leon with a grin.
But the two parents definitely want to try the liver again—maybe cooked next time. Kersting also warns against too much protein, as that can be a burden to the baby's kidneys. Good thing Emilia is leaning more towards banana right now.
Update: Three weeks later, liver has apparently become Emilia's favorite dish. Not raw, but lightly cooked in butter. That might merit a big thumbs-up from the nutrition expert.
This article originally appeared in German on MUNCHIES DE.