A Texas couple who claim their health was improved by following the paleo diet -- eating the same foods as our ancestors -- have created a line of paleo-inspired baby foods.
Joe Carr, 36, and Serenity Heegel, 40, started their company, Serenity Kids, last year after they talked about having a child themselves and saw that most baby foods were made using fruit and were higher in sugar than they expected.
Heegel, who lives with Carr in Austin, quit her corporate job to become a health coach after she says the paleo diet greatly improved her health. Carr began following the diet as an adult because he believes it helps his high-functioning autism, with which he was diagnosed as a child.
The paleo diet follows the premise that we should eat today the same foods as our Paleolithic ancestors, primarily meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seafood. Foods that are nonorganic, high in sugar or processed are discouraged.
After being surprised that there were few to no baby foods on the market focused on those principles, Heegel and Carr partnered with local farmers from Missouri to California to make their meat-based baby foods using all-organic products.
“We kept asking ourselves the question, ‘Why is no one doing this?’” Heegel told ABC News. “We realized that babies do not really need to eat any different, that eating vegetables, meat and nuts is good for them too.
"Another response we thought of is, ‘Well, maybe babies won’t eat it,’" she continued. "But they do.”
Serenity Kids began presales of their baby food products online last month. The line currently includes three flavors: Free-range chicken with organic peas and carrots; uncured bacon with organic kale and butternut squash; and grass-fed beef with organic kale and sweet potato.
The 4-ounce pouches are sold online in a six-pack for $26.95. The individual pouches will sell for around $4.99 each when they hit store shelves later this year, according to Carr.
“Serenity and I are paleo-inspired and we came from that mindset but it’s much bigger than the paleo community,” he said. “There are lots of parents who want to give their kids meats and vegetables, but they’re limited to fruits.”
Keith Ayoob, associate professor emeritus of pediatrics at New York City’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said parents do not need to spend $4.99 per pouch to give their children high-quality food and a balanced diet.
“I work with a lot of parents who will never be able to afford this food,” Ayoob told ABC News of the Serenity Kids line. “It is not an option for them and it doesn’t have to be.”
He continued, “It’s produced perhaps differently but I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s going to be any better for a baby.”
Ayoob, who has worked in pediatric nutrition for over 30 years, said developing children need to eat from all five food groups, including grains, dairy and fruits.
“Grains, fruit and dairy are a huge nutrient package, especially for the first few years of a child’s life,” he said. “There’s a reason that we have those food groups and excluding them could put your kid at a disadvantage nutritionally.”
Ayoob takes issue with Serenity Kids' assertion, as described on the company's website, that sugar from fruit in baby food products could cause inflammation and even a blood sugar crash in babies.
"In 30 years of working in pediatrics I don’t think I remember any case of a baby having a blood sugar crash from eating a jar of strained pears," Ayoob said. "I really find it a concern when they demonize intrinsic sugar, the sugar that is naturally present in fruit and dairy foods."
He continued, "And fruit is so loaded with antioxidants it is pretty anti-inflammatory."
Serenity Kids' baby food pouches are intended for babies six months and older. The USDA recommends that beginning at six months of age, babies eat 4 to 6 tablespoons of iron-fortified infant cereals, 3 to 4 tablespoons each of vegetables and fruits, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of protein-rich foods like meats and legumes per day.
Carr and Heegel plan to wed in November. They still plan on having a child together, after seeing through the growth of Serenity Kids, which they jokingly refer to as their first child.
"It’s not always easy and on those hard days, I just think about those babies we’re helping," Heegel said of creating Serenity Kids. "If they’ve got a busy parent who doesn’t have time to make baby food, they’re going to get whatever is put on the shelf."
Carr echoed that he and Heegel are not suggesting parents rely solely on their products to nourish their children, but just want to give parents another option on the market.
"It’s not our job to tell parents how to feed their kids," he said. "We understand that meats and vegetables are the most nutritious foods and we noticed that no one was making those available for babies and we wanted to do that."
Heegel, who tested the recipes with Austin-based babies and parents, said the response they hear the most often from parents about the line is, "Finally, thank goodness."
"Feeding babies usually isn’t a parent’s favorite chore," she said. "Every spoonful you manage to get in, we want it to be packed with maximum nutrient density."