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A diagnosis of autism can be overwhelming for both children and parents. There are a lot of decisions to be made, and it can be difficult to figure out what is best for your child.
One popular concern is diet. Can diet help ease autism symptoms? Let’s find out.
Common Medical and Nutritional Challenges for Kids with Autism
Some kids with autism have medical and/or nutritional challenges that can make it difficult to get them to eat a variety of foods. To make matters worse, many kids with autism suffer from stomach issues.
It’s important to understand these challenges before trying to create a healthy diet for your child.
Some common medical and nutritional challenges that can make it difficult for kids with autism to eat a variety of foods include:
- Gastrointestinal Issues: Many kids with autism suffer from gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, and/or stomach pain. These issues can make it difficult for kids to eat a variety of foods.
- Diarrhea: Another common gastrointestinal issue that can make it difficult for children with autism to eat certain foods is diarrhea.
Diarrhea can cause abdominal pain and can make some foods, such as dairy and high-fiber foods, difficult to digest.
- Abdominal Distention: This is a condition in which the stomach bulges outward and is often accompanied by bloating, discomfort, and pain.
- Discomfort/Bloating: Some children with autism experience discomfort and bloating after eating, which can be caused by a variety of factors, including food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): A condition in which the contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus, often causing heartburn, pain, and vomiting.
- Excessive Gas: When a child with autism suffers from excessive gas, it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. In some cases, it can also lead to other problems like bloating, indigestion, and even reflux.
- Constipation: Constipation is a common issue for kids with autism. A diet rich in fiber can help alleviate constipation and keep things moving smoothly.
- Fecal Impaction: Also called bowel impaction, fecal impaction is a condition in which the feces (waste matter) become hard and dry and can’t be passed easily.
When this happens, the person may have a bowel movement only every few days or not at all.
- Food Regurgitation: Some kids with autism have difficulty swallowing, which can lead to food regurgitation. This is when partially digested food comes back up through the esophagus and is spit out.
- Leaky Gut Syndrome: This condition, also called increased intestinal permeability, happens when the intestines become more permeable, or porous.
This allows toxins, bacteria, and other substances to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, which can cause inflammation and other problems.
Nutrition difficulties may include:
- Allergies: Allergies to cow’s milk, soy, eggs, wheat, and other foods are common in autism. Resolving these allergies often requires radical changes to the diet.
- Food Intolerances: Children with autism often have difficulty digesting certain foods. This can lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Feeding Problems: Many children with autism struggle to eat certain textures or types of foods. They may also have trouble with chewing or swallowing.
To help your child develop a healthy food relationship, it is important to understand and address any medical or nutritional challenges they may face.
If your child has allergies, you will need to work with a doctor or nutritionist to develop a safe and healthy diet for them. This may involve eliminating certain foods from their diet or making sure they get enough of specific nutrients.
It’s also important to note that if your child has food intolerances, you will need to be careful about what they eat and how much of it they eat. You may need to avoid certain foods altogether or make sure they are getting enough of specific nutrients.
And lastly, if your child has feeding problems, you may need to work with a speech therapist or occupational therapist to help them develop the skills they need to eat safely and effectively.
The bottom line is that every child with autism is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all diet for them. But by working with a doctor or nutritionist, you can develop a diet that meets your child’s specific needs and helps them develop a healthy relationship with food.
It’s important to remember that there isn’t a universal “autism diet.” That said, some people with autism may benefit from a gluten-free, casein-free diet (GF/CF diet), while others may do better with a low-oxalate diet.
Below, we’ll explore the different types of autism diets and answer some common questions about them.
Remove Certain Proteins
For some people with autism, removing gluten and casein from their diet can help improve symptoms. The protein gluten is found in rye, barley, and wheat. Casein is a protein found in milk and dairy products.
Studies have shown that the GF/CF diet may help improve behavior in some children with autism. However, not everyone will benefit from this diet. If you’re considering a GF/CF diet for your child, it’s important to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian first.
Certain grains, like wheat, rye, and barley, contain a protein called gluten. People who suffer from celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can experience digestive problems, fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms by consuming gluten.
Casein is a protein found in dairy products. Some people with autism are sensitive to casein and may experience gastrointestinal distress, behavioral problems, and other symptoms when they eat foods that contain it. A casein-free diet eliminates all sources of casein from the diet.
Other foods to consider removing include:
Could removing these foods really make a difference in the health of a child with autism? Let’s find out.
Why Does Removing These Foods Work?
The autism diet is based on the theory that children with autism are sensitive to certain proteins found in food. These proteins can cause inflammation in the gut, which in turn can lead to problems with brain function.
A gluten-free diet is often recommended for children with autism, as gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Some children with autism also benefit from a casein-free diet, as casein is a protein found in milk and dairy products.
However, some foods are thought to be beneficial in an autism diet. Eggs, fish, and seafood are good sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to be beneficial for brain health. Peanuts, soybeans, and other legumes are also good sources of protein.
How to Test the Foods and See if Symptoms Change
The best way to know if the autism diet will help your child is to remove certain foods from their diet for a period of time and see if there are any changes in their symptoms.
If you think your child may be sensitive to certain proteins, you can work with a healthcare professional to have them tested. A food allergy test can identify if your child is allergic to any particular food.
Dietary Restrictions for Those Who Have Autism and Seizures
Certain dietary restrictions may help people with autism who also have seizures. The ketogenic diet, for example, is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been shown to reduce seizure activity in some people with epilepsy. You might also consider a diet free of sugar or yeast.
Downside to Keto
Please note, though, that such a diet can lead to poor growth and weight gain, as well as other health problems. If you think the keto diet might be right for your child, please consult with a healthcare professional beforehand to make sure it’s safe and appropriate.
What if My Child Is a Picky Eater?
If your child has autism, you may find that he or she is a picky eater. While this can be frustrating, there are some things you can do to help matters.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Introduce foods slowly
- Ask your doctor about supplements and vitamins
- Make mealtime enjoyable
- Avoid textures your child doesn’t like
- They may like their food in a specific shape
- They may only like certain colored foods
- They might not like foods sharing a plate
While it can be difficult to get your child to try new things, it’s important to persevere. A healthy diet is an important part of a child’s development. With a little patience and creativity, you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food.
An autism diet is a unique approach to nutrition that can help your child enjoy eating the right foods. There are many different aspects to the diet.
The most important thing is to make sure that your child is getting the right nutrients and calories for their age and activity level. While it may take some time to get used to, an autism diet can be a great way to improve your child’s overall health.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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