Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a group of symptoms that affect proper brain development, resulting in learning disabilities and or emotional difficulties. ASD may affect the way children communicate, along with multiple physical problems with the immune system, motor skills, and digestive health. Most children with ASD have many food intolerance/sensitivities resulting from compromised gut health. This inflammatory process is borne from an unbalanced microbiome in the gut and the inability for the body to tolerate specific kinds of foods.
Gut health is critical, especially with ASD. The gut has a separate nervous system that is called the enteric nervous system. It’s made up of bundles of nerve cells and fibers that interact with the community of bacteria that keep your immune system functioning properly. Gut health plays a major role in mental and physical well-being. We are currently seeing more mental health issues being impacted because of the foods we eat and a lack of beneficial bacteria in our gut.
Avoidance of certain foods can contribute to improved behavior and overall health for those with ASD. Try to avoid or minimize the consumption of packaged products or processed foods. And while this is not always possible, be sure to read labels carefully and be prepared to make phone calls to manufacturers to get specific questions answered about what is actually in each product consumed.
While every child is different and each case is so unique, I do have some general guidelines as to what foods should be avoided in order to see an improvement in overall health and behavior with ASD.
- Anything involving casein or dairy. This includes cow’s milk, yogurt, and even some non-dairy cheeses.
- Gluten and most grains can cause more inflammation and exacerbate an already problematic digestive system.
- Artificial colors and dyes are known to contribute to hyperactivity and can contribute to behavioral changes in children. They are often found on ingredient lists as a color followed by a number on them. Such as Yellow #5 and Red #40.
- Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Also, any sweeteners derived from corn. Corn sweeteners have multiple names and can include cornstarch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, fructose, glucose and many more. If there is a sweetener in a food and the label does not list the source, it is likely from corn.
- Avoid most fruit juices, as they are high in sugar.
- Any products with soy in them.
- Vegetable oils, as they are often mixed with soybean oil.
- Caffeine and stimulants.
- Foods high in Phenols/ Salicylates & Nitrates/Nitrites. This includes berries, tomatoes, plums, oranges, chili powder, cloves, apples, vinegars, raisins, pickles and cured meats.
- GMOs, MSG, and non-organic foods.
Every child has their own specific needs, so I recommend working with a healthcare specialist who can help you figure out which foods may be most problematic for your child. The ASD journey is challenging for both parents and children. Realize that each day is a nurturing and rewarding experience. Take time to care for your child and yourself. This will improve the health of your whole family.