The Diet Debate
In the world of autism spectrum and related disorders, there is debate about the effectiveness of a Gluten Free/Casein Free (GFCF) diet. Some research says that the GFCF diet improves the symptoms of autism, while other research reports that it has no effect. Still other research reports that some other type of diet is needed. The truth of the matter is that some people will respond well to a GFCF diet, others need a different type of special diet, and still others don’t need a special diet at all. So how do you know which one your child does or does not need?
This article is not written as a be all, end all answer about special diets; rather it is meant to help parents have a general understanding of the special diets available so as to make the decision about which (if any) diet could benefit their child. It should be noted that in some cases, finding the right diet is by trial and error; but for many children looking at symptoms and food sensitivities can help in determining the best diet option. If you decide to try a special diet for your child, I suggest that you commit to at least six months. If you do not see any changes after six months of truly following the diet (no cheating), then this diet is probably not going to be helpful for your child. I also suggest seeking advice and support from a nutritionist or dietician when looking for the best diet for your child.
The following is a brief summary of the most popular special diets that families of children with autism spectrum disorders use:
- Gluten/Casein Free (GFCF) – In simple terms, this diet eliminates all gluten and all casein. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, commercial oats, kamut, and spelt. Casein is a protein found in dairy. At first, knowing what to look for on package labels can seem a bit overwhelming; but most people find that once they get started, it isn’t too difficult. In order to determine the effectiveness of this diet, it is necessary to eliminate all sources of gluten and casein. A child who is sensitive to gluten and casein may exhibit the following symptoms: diarrhea or constipation, vomiting clear mucus, leg aches, fuzzy thinking, high pain tolerance, self-injurious behavior, and opiate like symptoms.
- Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) – This diet eliminates all sugars and starches except fruit, honey, and non-starchy vegetables. The theory behind this diet is that malabsorption of sugars leads to bacteria and yeast overgrowth, causing damage to the small intestine. This diet works best for people with chronic diarrhea.
- The Body Ecology Diet – The components of this diet include proper food combining, acid/alkaline level in order to balance with low acid-forming foods, low/no sugars and starches, fermented foods, and foods easy to digest. This diet works to build up the alkaline blood PH to heal the gut. The purpose of this diet is to clear up candida (yeast) overgrowth.
- Elimination Diet – This diet simply tests to see which foods may be potentially problematic. Typical foods for an elimination diet include dairy, wheat, eggs, corn, sugar, chocolate, peanuts, citrus, food colorings, food additive, and preservatives. Essentially you pick one food and eliminate it from the diet for one week; at the end of the week you give the person a small amount of the food, then watch him/her for the next 2-3 days for any symptoms of reaction. If a reaction occurs, the food should be eliminated from the diet.
- Rotation Diet – This diet is used to prevent development of more food sensitivities than already exist. Essentially, one food from a group of foods is rotated every 3-4 days. For example, quinoa on Monday and Thursday; rice on Tuesday and Saturday; millet on Wednesday; etc. This diet is most effective for people with several sensitivities.
- Low Oxalate Diet (LOD) – This diet works to improve the symptoms of a leaky gut, which include gut pain, inflammation, continued constipation or diarrhea, and painful urination. People on this diet will need to avoid high oxalate foods such as certain greens, some nuts and seeds, legumes, some grains, a few fruits, some vegetables, cocoa, chocolates and black teas. This diet may be helpful for people who have tried several other diets that were not effective.
- Feast without Yeast – This diet works to eliminate the symptoms of yeast overgrowth. It eliminates sugar, refined carbohydrates, moldy and aged foods, and baker’s yeast. This diet tends to be a good place to start for those with yeast overgrowth.
While there are certainly more special diets out there, this gives parents a place to begin thinking about which if any diet will be helpful for their child. It is best when choosing a diet to research it thoroughly before beginning!