Essential Foods to Avoid from the Autism Diet

Explore what foods to avoid with autism to manage symptoms and boost gut health. Empower your parenting!

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
May 15, 2024
Published On
May 15, 2024

Understanding Autism and Diet

Autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, impacts social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. It's crucial for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to understand the potential role diet can play in managing autism symptoms. While there are no definitive foods to avoid with autism, observations suggest that certain foods may worsen symptoms in some children [1].

Impact of Diet on Autism Symptoms

While there is no conclusive research or evidence, some foods have been reported to potentially worsen autism symptoms. For instance, gluten could cause stomach sensitivities, decrease motor and thought coordination, and decrease good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. Similarly, artificial food dyes, which include Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and 6, Citrus Red 2, and Red 40, can trigger various behaviors in most kids. Many families with autistic children avoid these food dyes in their diet to prevent behavioral issues.

However, it's important to note that reactions to these foods can vary greatly from child to child. Therefore, if specific foods seem to exacerbate symptoms in a child, it's advised to consult with a pediatrician or dietitian for recommendations.

Sensory Aspects of Food for Autistic Individuals

Autistic individuals often exhibit hypo- or hyper-responsiveness to sensory input, including flavors and food textures. They may avoid or crave certain flavors, food textures, or even colors, and some might gravitate strongly towards certain food types such as pasta, bread, or sweets. These sensory preferences and aversions can make meal planning challenging and may lead to a limited, unbalanced diet if not addressed properly.

Understanding these sensory aspects can help parents cater to their child's unique dietary preferences while ensuring they receive a balanced, nutritious diet. It's beneficial to work closely with a dietitian or nutritionist who can provide personalized advice and strategies to accommodate these sensory sensitivities while ensuring nutritional needs are met.

In conclusion, while diet alone cannot treat autism, it plays a significant role in managing symptoms and overall well-being. Tailoring dietary choices based on individual needs and preferences can enhance the quality of life for children with autism.

Foods to Avoid with Autism

When managing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the diet plays a significant role. Certain foods might exacerbate symptoms or trigger unwanted behaviors. This section will delve into two main categories - gluten and artificial food dyes - that are commonly advised to eliminate from the diet of a child with autism.

Gluten and its Effects

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It's often suggested to avoid gluten in the diet of children with autism. According to the LeafWing Center, gluten can cause stomach sensitivities, decrease motor and thought coordination, and decrease good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system.

Given these potential adverse effects, a gluten-free diet might be beneficial for children with ASD. However, it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before making any significant dietary changes.

Potential Effects of Gluten
Stomach Sensitivities
Decreased Motor Coordination
Decreased Thought Coordination
Reduction in Good Gut Bacteria

Artificial Food Dyes and Behavior

Artificial food dyes are another category to consider when exploring what foods to avoid with autism. These dyes, which include Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and 6, Citrus Red 2, and Red 40, can trigger various behaviors in kids. Many families with autistic children avoid these food dyes in their diet to prevent behavioral issues, according to PubMed.

Moreover, research conducted at Southampton University in England identified a link between food dyes and hyperactive behavior in children. While it does not prove that food coloring causes autism spectrum disorder, there appears to be a connection.

It's important to note that artificial food colorings generally contain petroleum and are produced using a chemical process that involves substances like formaldehyde, aniline, hydroxides, and sulfuric acids. Impurities in food colors may include lead, arsenic, and mercury.

The U.S. FDA has yet to investigate the effects of synthetic dyes on children's behavior, highlighting a gap in regulatory oversight regarding the impact of artificial food colors on health outcomes.

Artificial Dyes Potential Effects
Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and 6, Citrus Red 2, Red 40 Behavioral Issues, Hyperactivity

In conclusion, identifying and excluding potential trigger foods like gluten and artificial dyes can be an effective strategy in managing ASD symptoms. However, every child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. It's always recommended to seek professional advice before implementing significant dietary changes.

Allergies and Intolerances in Autism

Understanding the connection between food allergies and autism can provide parents crucial insights when deciding 'what foods to avoid with autism?'.

Food Allergies and Autism Symptoms

Recent medical research has found a significant link between food allergies and autism in children. A study spanning 1997 to 2016, analyzing 199,520 children between ages 3 and 17, showed that about 11.25% of children with autism had a reported food allergy compared to 4.25% of neurotypical children. Other types of allergies were also reported at higher rates in children with autism compared to their neurotypical peers [5].

Moreover, children with autism are more likely to suffer from stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation, often attributed to certain foods like casein and gluten. These gastrointestinal issues are believed to be linked to immune system problems and changes to gut microbes possibly due to sensitivity to certain foods or food allergies [5].

Non-IgE Mediated Allergies

Alongside food allergies, food sensitivities, rather than allergies, may be more common in autistic children. These individuals have differences in their gut microbiomes that can lead to indigestion and gastrointestinal problems. Studies suggest an intimate relationship between gut health, immune system health, and brain function, with the gut microbiome potentially triggering autism-like symptoms [5].

One type of allergic response increasingly seen in people with autism is eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), which causes inflammation in the esophagus and results in symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, chest pain, and food impaction. The swelling of the esophagus is believed to stem from a combination of both IgE and non-IgE immune responses, leading to chronic inflammation.

Furthermore, food intolerances, though not the same as allergies, can cause discomfort and increase behavioral problems in children with autism. Intolerances can lead to digestive discomfort, pain, and distress. Some commonly reported culprits in autistic children are casein and gluten, known to trigger stomach-related issues like pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

In conclusion, being aware of potential food allergies and intolerances can significantly influence the dietary choices for children with autism, thereby improving their quality of life.

Gut Health and Autism

The importance of gut health in overall well-being cannot be understated, especially in children with autism. This connection, coupled with the potential impact of certain food additives, is a key aspect to consider when determining what foods to avoid with autism.

Importance of Gut Health

Maintaining a healthy gut plays a crucial role in various aspects of well-being, including immune system strength, heart and brain health, mood, sleep, digestion, prevention of certain diseases, and overall physical, emotional, and mental health in children with autism.

Recent medical research has found a link between food allergies and autism in children. A study spanning 1997 to 2016, analyzing 199,520 children between ages 3 and 17, showed that about 11.25% of children with autism had a reported food allergy compared to 4.25% of neurotypical children.

Autism has been linked to immune system problems, gastrointestinal issues, and changes to gut microbes, possibly due to sensitivity to certain foods or food allergies. Children with autism are more likely to suffer from stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation, often attributed to certain foods like casein and gluten.

Food Additives to Avoid

Food intolerance can cause discomfort and increase behavioral problems in children with autism. Although not the same as allergies, intolerances can still lead to digestive discomfort, pain, and distress. Some commonly reported culprits in autistic children are casein and gluten, which are known to trigger stomach-related issues like pain, diarrhea, and constipation [5].

Given the importance of gut health in the overall well-being of a child with autism, it's crucial to pay attention to the food consumed and to avoid specific food additives that may negatively impact gut health. These additives may include:

  • Artificial preservatives
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Artificial colorants
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Trans fats
  • High fructose corn syrup

Avoiding these food additives may improve gut health, reduce symptoms of food intolerance, and potentially alleviate some behavioral symptoms associated with autism. It's advised to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian when making significant dietary changes for a child with autism.

GFCF Diet for Autism

One of the dietary approaches some parents and caregivers turn to when considering what foods to avoid with autism is the Gluten-Free and Casein-Free (GFCF) diet. This dietary approach involves eliminating all foods containing gluten and casein from the child's daily food intake.

Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet Overview

Gluten, a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat, and casein, another protein found in dairy products, are the primary constituents that need to be avoided on a GFCF diet [7]. The theory behind this diet is that children with autism may have an allergy or high sensitivity to foods containing these proteins. It's believed that these individuals process peptides and proteins differently, treating them like false opiate-like chemicals in the brain, thereby influencing certain behaviors. The goal of the GFCF diet is to reduce symptoms and improve social, cognitive behaviors, and speech.

Foods to Avoid Alternative Foods
Wheat, Barley, and Rye Rice, Quinoa, Corn
Dairy Products Almond Milk, Soy Milk, Coconut Milk

However, it's important to consider that gluten provides structure in baked goods, making it challenging to eliminate entirely, while casein is present in most dairy and lactose-free products. Parents and caregivers need to read labels carefully to avoid hidden sources of gluten and casein in fried foods, cosmetics, and medications.

Effectiveness and Challenges of GFCF Diet

While some parents report benefits such as changes in speech and behavior after implementing a GFCF diet, the effectiveness of this diet lacks scientific backing. Reviews of studies have concluded a lack of scientific evidence to determine whether this diet is helpful or not [7].

Reported Benefits Challenges
Improvement in Speech Difficulty in Eliminating All Sources of Gluten and Casein
Positive Changes in Behavior Ensuring Balanced Nutrient Intake

On a GFCF diet, which eliminates dairy products, it's essential to ensure the child's diet includes other good sources of calcium and vitamin D for strong bones and teeth. Consulting a child's doctor and licensed dietitian before starting the GFCF diet is necessary to maintain a balance of necessary vitamins, protein, fats, and carbohydrates to support healthy growth and development.

Moreover, the Missouri study found that 23-85% of children with autism have gastrointestinal difficulties, highlighting the prevalence of such issues in this population. Therefore, any dietary changes, including the GFCF diet, should be considered with the child's overall health in mind, and should be implemented under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

References

[1]: https://www.medicinenet.com/whatfoodsshouldbeavoidedwithautism/article.htm

[2]: https://leafwingcenter.org/avoid-foods-autism/

[3]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32006369/

[4]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/sugar-and-autism

[5]: https://elemy.wpengine.com/autism-and-diet/food-allergies

[6]: https://worldstemcellsclinic.com/blog/eating-for-autism-food-additives-that-destroy-the-gut/

[7]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/gluten-free-casein-free-diets-for-autism

[8]: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/professional-practice/gluten-casein-free