What’s the Best Diet For Autistic Children? If your child has recently been diagnosed with autism, you may be searching far and wide for strategies to help them. One of the first avenues parents turn to is diet and supplements.
There is an abundance of information out there, and it is often conflicting. Does diet matter at all? If so, what is the best diet for autistic children? Are supplements just marketing hype preying on desperate parents, or is there real backing behind their use?
These are the questions this article will answer. First, yes, diet does matter. It is probably the most important thing you need to focus on for your child.
This is why we’ll go over the most common diet parents use with autistic children – The Gluten-free/Casein-free (GFCF) diet. Many families around the world have had great results in implementing this diet.
GFCF diet autism success stories abound on the Internet if you just look for them. From improved sleep and gastrointestinal function to less irritability and hyperactivity, there are many parent-reported benefits from trying the diet. Even scientific research has shown the efficacy of the GFCF diet.
Keep in mind there is no such thing as an autism diet cure, though. The GFCF can be used to great effect to improve your child’s health and gut function, but you need to manage expectations when giving it a try – there are no miracle diets or supplements out there.
You also need to understand that diet alone is not enough. Many studies have shown autistic children to have low nutrient status or nutrient deficiencies, which is why we’ll also introduce you to the three basic supplements that should be in every autistic child’s supplement program. They are:
- Digestive enzymes
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Why are Supplements essential?
Because autistic children often have very limited “self-selected” diets, they are at a much higher risk for deficiencies than children who eat a more varied diet.
Some autistic children are known to only like milk and a few other processed foods, while others may like to eat bread and other grain products and refuse vegetables or meat when offered.
This poses a significant challenge for their parents, who know their kids need to eat a more diverse diet, but it’s incredibly difficult to get them to actually eat the foods they offer them.
Inevitably, after much effort and frustration, many parents give in and let their children eat what they want. After all, it’s incredibly painful to see your child refuse to eat anything, so better for them to get some nutrition than none at all.
On top of this, many studies have shown that autistic children often suffer from gastrointestinal issues. Having a dysfunctional gut means that the food your child eats may not be digested and absorbed properly, thus further increasing the risk for nutrient inadequacies or deficiencies.
This is why regular nutrient supplementation is crucial – to fill potential gaps in the diet and provide essential nutrients required for growth and development.
Let’s look into the GFCF diet and the basic supplements in more detail, and why you should consider using them with your child.
GFCF Diet and What Foods to Avoid with Autism?
The GFCF diet restricts all foods that contain gluten, which is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It also restricts all casein-containing foods.
Casein is a protein found in milk products. Both of these proteins can cause autistic children a number of health problems and excluding them from the diet can be very beneficial, especially with children who suffer from gut problems.
Examples of foods the GFCF diet excludes include the ones listed below.
- Gluten: barley, bulgur, corn, couscous, rye, oats, soy, spelt, wheat, bran, durum, semolina, and all products derived from them. Also all biscuits, crackers, granola bars, cakes, and other sweets and packaged foods.
- Casein: all dairy products (except grass-fed butter) including ice cream.
Here is one problem, though: gluten is often a hidden ingredient in many foods, so you have to learn how to recognize and avoid it.
Some names under which Gluten is hidden include:
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Modified food starch
- Soy protein
- Hydrolyzed malt extract
- Yeast extract
You will find the above ingredients in many processed foods such as condiments, sauces, deli meats, and many others. So, it’s important that you keep your eyes peeled. Buying products specifically labeled as “gluten-free” is your best when it comes to avoiding gluten.
One of the best autism diet recipes resources out there in the book The Kid-Friendly ADHD and Autism Cookbook by Pamela J Compart. If you are looking for a diet for autism and ADHD, you need to look no further. The book is full of delicious recipes for all types of meals, from main courses to special occasions and snacks.
There are even recipes for bread, cookies and desserts, which means that you don’t have to deprive your child of the foods they crave. All you have to do is make a few substitutions to ensure you keep gluten and casein out of their diet.
Recommended by Pamela J Compart
Digestive Enzymes for Autism
Digestive enzymes, while not actually essential nutrients, are an extremely important addition to your child’s supplement program, especially if they have gut issues like constipation, diarrhea, or gas and bloating. The role of the enzymes is to help break down foods more fully in your child’s gut. This is important for several reasons:
Reasons why Digestive Enzymes are Important
- When there is gut dysfunction, digestion may become compromised. This means that your child can’t break down food fully in their gut.
- Undigested food particles can get into the bloodstream and activate the immune system (which can cause inflammation and food sensitivities – these can lead to many further health problems).
- Breaking down food more fully means your child’s body has a chance to extract more nutrition from it.
Digestive enzymes come in capsules, but you can also get them as flavored chewable for children. If your child already takes capsule, try to go that route as chewable do contain extra ingredients.
In case, you need to use chewable though, try to find a product that contains as much as possible natural ingredients, because many cheaper products often contain sweeteners, colors and other substances that you generally do not want your child to consume.
Typically, the fewer additives a supplement contains, the better off you are. An example of a good-quality mid-range product is NOW Supplements’ ChewyZymes They contain a good balance of the most important enzymes, with relatively benign added ingredients.
Recommended by Now foods
For your reference,
The Key Enzymes you need to look for on product labels are:
- Proteases and peptidase – they break down proteins
- Amylase and glucoamylase – they break down starchy carbohydrates
- Lipase – breaks down fats
- Papain and bromelain are plant-derived enzymes, from papaya and pineapple respectively, that help to break down proteins
- Invertase – breaks down sucrose (table sugar) into its constituents glucose and fructose
- Cellulase and xylanase – they help to break down plant cell walls and other tough-to-digest plant fibers
Similar supplements with good reviews and Ratings.
Omega 3s for Autism
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are crucial for brain development. They make up a large portion of our brains, in fact. Other ways they are beneficial to the body include helping to fight inflammation and aiding gut health.
The richest sources of omega-3s in the diet are fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, so if your child’s diet is low in these foods, it becomes even more important to supplement them with these nutrients daily.
Several clinical trials with omega-3 fatty acids have reported benefits for children with autism, including:
- Significant increases in language and learning skills after 90 days of supplementation
- Improvements in communication and social withdrawal
- Improvements in autistic behavior (on CARS, the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, which is used by some practitioners to diagnose autism)
- Improvement in essential fatty acid levels in the blood
The most common supplemental forms you’ll see on the market are fish oil and cod liver oil. Cod liver oil has the added advantage that it contains vitamins A and D. These nutrients are often low in autistic children’s diets, so supplementing them in this way is a great idea.
Keep in mind that polyunsaturated fatty acids are quite unstable, which means they can get damaged (oxidized) easily. This is why you want to select products from brands that use the best quality control methods to ensure the final product is free from contaminants and has not been damaged.
Omega 3s Related Products
Carlson’s cod liver oil is a great choice because it is manufactured to a high-quality standard. Because it comes in liquid form, this makes it very easy to give it to your child, as well as to control the serving size. The lemon flavor also masks the fishy taste and odor – something that is especially useful with smaller children who don’t tolerate the taste of fish.
Recommended By Carlson
Nordic Naturals Children’s DHA is another great choice Please ensure your kid is obtaining enough of this vital nutrient throughout their peak development years of psychological feature growth with Nordic Naturals Children’s DHA.
Made completely from Gold Quality Arctic Cod Liver Oil, Children’s DHA is made within the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is important for brain performance.
The Strawberry flavor also masks the fishy taste and odor – something that is especially useful with smaller children who don’t tolerate the taste of fish.
Children’s DHA is third-party tested and surpasses strict international standards, Proprietary gas process ensures purity and freshness.
Recommended by Nordic Naturals
Similar Product below with Great review and ratings.
Multivitamins for Autism
A high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can help fill nutritional gaps your child might have. Research has found autistic children’s diets to be low in many essential nutrients such as calcium, zinc, vitamin A, C, D, and others.
This means it is crucial for you to ensure that any dietary inadequacies are addressed, if possible, as well as to add in a supplement as an “insurance policy”.
Nutrient deficiencies cause many health problems, so it’s vital that you get a grip on this area as soon as possible to give your child the best chance to grow and thrive.
When searching for a formulation, try to find a product which has as many of the following vitamins and minerals as possible:
Important Vitamins and Minerals to Check before Buying Multivitamin
- B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9/folate, B12)
- Folate form is either folinic acid or methyl folate (not folic acid)
- B12 in its methylated form (methylcobalamin)
- Other vitamins (A, C, D3, E, K)
- Essential minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, manganese, chromium).
- Trace elements (e.g. molybdenum, boron)
- No copper
- Adequate amounts of the nutrients
- High-quality forms of the nutrients
It is important to choose products with the “methylated” forms of folate and vitamin B12, because these are more “bioavailable” forms of the vitamins.
In other words, the body is better able to use them, whereas cheaper products usually contain folic acid and cyanocobalamin. You generally want to avoid these because they require multiple steps in the body to convert them into the bioavailable forms, and many autistic children have trouble making those conversions due to various reasons.
As with digestive enzymes, multivitamins come in capsules or chewable, and you will need to decide which product to go with, depending on your situation.
One of the highest quality products on the market is Amazon Brand Mama Bear Organic Kids Multivitamin It is NON-GMO Vegan and gluten-free. It contains a good balance of the essential nutrients your child needs to grow and develop, and the added ingredients are as benign as possible.
Delivers a delicious fruit flavor your children are bound to love! Avoids artificial colors, preservatives, flavorings, artificial toxins, and allergens possibly risky to your children
It comes with a chelation formula to assist maximize your children’s mineral absorption. Helps stop risky kids’ overuse problems by NOT adding iron within the formula
Benefits from a manufacturer’s intensive commitment to high-quality measures and certifications.
Recommended by Mama Bear
These Supplements are fastidiously crafted to confirm they’re freed from common allergens together with soy, gluten, eggs, dairy, corn or peanuts. Certainly not used GMOs in any NATURELO product.
Complete Blend of organic fruits and vegetables Which are great for Autistic Minors and Adults.
These supplements are created within the US and they follow sensible producing practices, therefore you’ll be assured that product is of prime quality.
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This is one of the best sugar-free Multivitamins to improve your child’s immune system, Very effective ingredients added in this multivitamin including Vitamin D3, Vitamin B6, B7 And B9, also Vitamin B5 and B12. Iodine and zinc are also included which can help metabolism immune system and much more.
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In this article, we covered the four most important tools to improve your child’s diet, nutritional status, and overall health:
- The GFCF diet for autistic children
- Digestive enzymes
- Omega-3 fatty acids
These are basic tools but can have a tremendous impact when you implement them together.
By removing gluten and casein, and adding digestive enzymes, your child’s gut health can improve significantly. If they had sensitivities to either gluten or casein, their immune system would now get a break, which can lower inflammation in their body. This can lead to much improve health outcomes for your child.
Further, by adding the omega-3s and multivitamin, you will be giving your child much-needed essential nutrients that can help them grow and develop as best as possible.
Of course, there are other supplements and more advanced diets you can use with your child to improve their health, but these are essential foundations that you need to get right before moving onto other strategies. Once you have got a handle on the basics, you can move on to more advanced strategies.
Related Article: Curing Autism with Diet
- Whiteley P, Shattock P, Knivsberg A-M, et al. Gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for autism spectrum conditions. Front Hum Neurosci, Jan 2012; 6:344.
- Patrick L and Salik R, The Effect of Essential Fatty Acid Supplementation on Language Development and Learning Skills in Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Autism/Asperger’s Digest: Research Article – Jan/Feb 2005.
- Meguid et al, Role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of Egyptian children with autism. Clinical Biochemistry 41 (2008) 1044–1048.
- Bell JG et al, The fatty acid compositions of erythrocyte and plasma polar lipids in children with autism, developmental delay or typically developing controls and the effect of fish oil intake. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1160-7.
- Bent et al.,. Effects of large doses of arachidonic acid added to docosahexaenoic acid on social impairment in individuals with autism spectrum disorders: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2012 Apr;32(2):200-6.
- Mazahery, H.; Stonehouse, W.; Delshad, M.; Kruger, M.C.; Conlon, C.A.; Beck, K.L.; von Hurst, P.R. Relationship between Long Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Case-Control and Randomised Controlled Trials. Nutrients 2017, 9, 155.
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