Two Diets That Can Alleviate Gastrointestinal Symptoms of Autism

Registered Dietician

| 3 min read

April is Autism Awareness Month, so I thought it would be a good time to discuss diets that help alleviate symptom associated with the condition. Autism is a spectrum disorder that is defined by a certain set of behaviors; a developmental disability characterized by deficits in language, communication and socialization. It usually appears with various symptoms within the first three years of life.
Autism and other autism spectrum disorders (ASD) occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but is seen in boys 4 to 5 times more often than in girls. On average, about one in every 110 children have some type of ASD in the United States. There are a variety of signs and symptoms that identify someone with autism. However, be aware that these symptoms can vary greatly for each individual.
Many people diagnosed with autism are known to have some gut-function issues as well, such as diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome. The following diets have been shown to help with these symptoms, even though results do vary. At the very least, following either the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet or the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) can help you pinpoint intolerance or other issues with particular foods.

The GFCF Diet

The gluten-free, casein-free diet is just that: No gluten or casein products should be consumed. Gluten is a protein found in whole wheat and whole grain products. To avoid gluten, autistic children should stay away from whole grain and whole wheat foods. (Those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance also follow a gluten-free diet.) Casein is a protein found in milk, specifically cow’s milk or human milk or any products that contain milk or casein. By following the GFCF diet, many autism patients have fewer gastrointestinal issues and less discomfort.
Click here for six recipes that are GFCF diet-friendly:
  1. BBQ Chicken for Champions
  1. DLT (deli meat, lettuce and tomato)
  1. Kids Favorite Chicken Salad and Deviled Eggs
  1. Meatball Spaghetti Sauce
  1. Chicken and Magical Muffins
  1. Pot Pie Muffins

The Specific Carb Diet

The SCD diet is a strict regimen researched by Elaine Gottschall that has also been known to help those with autism — or anyone who suffers from gastrointestinal disorders. This diet eliminates any grain, lactose and sucrose-containing products.
The following foods are not allowed:
  • Sugar, including molasses, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup or any other processed sugar
  • All canned vegetables
  • All grains, including those found in bread, pasta and corn chips
  • Some legumes, including chick peas, bean sprouts, soybeans and fava beans
  • Starchy vegetables, including potatoes, yams and parsnips
  • Seaweed and seaweed byproducts
  • Canned and processed meats
  • All milk and many milk products, including commercial yogurt, ice cream, heavy cream, buttermilk and sour cream
  • Many cheeses, including ricotta, mozzarella, cottage and cream cheese, feta, processed cheeses and cheese spreads
  • Canola oil
  • Commercial mayonnaise
  • Commercial ketchup
  • Candy, chocolate and carob
  • Whey powder
  • Margarine
  • Alternative sweeteners like Stevia and fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Baking powder
  • Balsamic vinegar
The following foods are allowed on the specific carb diet:
  • Honey, which some people can tolerate
  • Most vegetables, in any form
  • Most legumes
  • Unprocessed meats, poultry, fish and eggs
  • Any natural cheese, except those listed above
  • Homemade yogurt that was fermented for at least 24 hours
  • Most fruits
  • Nuts
  • Olive, coconut, corn and soybean oil
  • Weak tea or coffee
  • Unflavored gelatin
  • Mustard
  • Vinegar
  • Saccharin
  • Juices with no additives
As you can see, both diets have many limitations and restrictions, so be aware of the case-by-case specifics when caring for your autistic child. You should discuss any diet regime with a registered dietitian to ensure that your autistic child gets proper nutrition along with decreased discomfort.
Photo Credit: E-Advocate

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