Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complicated developmental disorder that affects children by disturbing their ability to communicate and interact socially. And these symptoms can be reduced with a gluten-free or casein-free diet.
As per the Autism Network, nearly one in five children with autism are on a unique autism diet. The autism diet mainly removes certain kinds of proteins that may relieve symptoms.
The gluten-free diet and the casein-free diet (GFCF diet) is one of the most widely recognized autism dietary interventions. About 25% of patients find help and improvement with a gluten-free autism diet.
It obviously bars gluten, the protein in wheat, and casein, the protein found in milk.
What Is A Gluten-free, Casein-free Diet?
A gluten-free, casein-free diet is also called a GFCF diet and elimination diet. This diet avoids foods that contain gluten (found in bread and cereals) and casein (found in dairy products).
By following this elimination diet, eliminating gluten and casein may help to change the symptoms and behaviors of autism. Some parents have started their child with autism on a version of the GFCF diet for a different reason, and later noticed an improvement in behavior, social skills, and learning.
There are no age restrictions and so, anyone with autism can go on an elimination diet.
Idea Behind Elimination Diet or GFCF Diet
Our bodies have natural chemicals called ‘opioids’, which have an effect on pain similar to morphine. Some people believe that autism is caused by too much opioid activity in the brain.
When the proteins gluten and casein are not properly digested, they release chemicals called exorphins. The exorphins can end up in the nervous system – this is sometimes called ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. The idea is that once these chemicals are in the body, they cause an increase in opioid activity, which disrupts the brain.
By eliminating foods containing gluten and casein from the diet, this elimination diet to reduce opioid activity in the brain, thus reducing the symptoms of autism.
Foods Containing Gluten
Gluten is a combination of various proteins found in the seeds of several grains such as barley, rye, and wheat. A huge number of foods contain gluten. It provides a structure or binding to baked products.
While it is quite difficult to avoid gluten, many stores, particularly natural food stores, display foods in a gluten-free area of the store. Still, it is important to read nutrition labels to see if there are additives containing gluten.
When someone is on a gluten-free diet, most bread and grain products are forbidden. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the person receives ample fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Also Read: Cannabis Benefits In Autism Treatment
Foods Containing Casein
Casein is a protein found in dairy products and other foods containing dairy or lactose. Even foods proclaiming to be dairy-free or lactose-free contain casein. Because many soy products and imitation dairy products also contain casein, it is important to read labels carefully when following a strict casein-free diet.
Because the GFCF diet for autism restricts dairy products, you will need to make sure the child's diet has other good sources of calcium and vitamin D. Both are necessary for strong bones and teeth.
Foods To Eat On Gluten-Free Diet/ Casein-Free Diet
- Gluten Free: Can eat rice products in place of gluten products. Some of the rice products you can include are rice pasta, rice bread, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice cakes, puffed rice cereal, and bake with rice flour. Including corn products in the diet is also great to eat puffed corn cereal, corn itself, corn chips, and corn pasta.
- Casein Free: For the substitution of dairy products, you can switch to rice milk. One must be careful about buying any type of processed food as it may contain milk. Some examples of foods that may contain milk but you might not think they do are soup mixes, batter-fried foods, margarine, baked goods, instant mashed potatoes, cakes, and cookies. Try to stay away from all processed foods unless the label states “gluten-free and dairy-free”.
Most large grocery store chains now have gluten-free, dairy-free, or organic products. Health food stores will carry a variety of these products but the price tends to be higher than a larger grocery store chain.
Some Tips For Eating At Home Or Eating Out On A Gluten-Free Diet/Casein-Free Diet
- There are a large number of online retailers who specialize in food products for people following the GFCF diet. So, look for them.
- You can also prepare GFCF diet food in large quantities and freeze portions for a later meal.
- Before you make any change to a GFCF diet, do consult a licensed dietitian who can educate you about the GFCF diet and help you tailor the diet according to your child's health needs and taste preferences.
It is highly essential for kids to still get a balance of the necessary vitamins, protein, fats, and carbohydrates in order to support healthy growth and development.
- Before starting a child with autism on a gluten-free diet/casein-free diet, beware of the hidden sources of gluten. Gluten can be found in fried foods that are dusted in flour, and even in cosmetics and some medications.
- Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts may be safe. But avoid using packaged mixes because there may be traces of foods containing gluten that are not listed on the nutrition label.
- Some restaurants are now categorized as GFCF diet-friendly. If you are concerned, ask the manager or server to show you a list of ingredients used in the establishment to make sure its dishes are gluten-free and casein-free. Especially, vegetarian or vegan restaurants are accustomed to serving people on special diets and may be more willing to prepare dishes that adhere to the restrictions of a strict GFCF diet.
As such, there is no hard evidence that autism diets help children with ASD. Autism is a brain disorder. At the same time, it may seem that eliminating certain foods from the diet could relieve the child’s symptoms effectively.
Also, if your child has GI problems (diarrhea, constipation) and sensitivity to certain kinds of foods that contain gluten or casein, then the GFCF diet is worth considering.
Research on specifically restricting gluten and casein in the diet of children with autism is relatively limited, despite its popularity as a treatment for autism.
Proponents of a GFCF diet suggest benefits across a wide range of symptoms related to autism, with changes in social engagement and verbal skills being the most commonly noted. Go Gluten-Free!
Tags: Foods To Avoid With Autism, Autism And Milk Addiction, Who Invented Gluten Free Diet For Autism, Celiac Disease And Autism