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Top Nutrition Strategies for Autism

Guest Blog Post By: Adam VaconHello Joyous Readers,As a registered holistic nutritionist who supports adults and children with intellectual disabilities I a
Jul 24, 2014 | Adam Vacon

Guest Blog Post By: Adam Vacon

Hello Joyous Readers,

As a registered holistic nutritionist who supports adults and children with intellectual disabilities I am very passionate about empowering these individuals and their care providers to improve their health with nutrition and wellness strategies.

There is one fundamental strategy that has the greatest impact. This one fundamental strategy lies true for every single person on earth, which is to improve one’s digestion. Digestion is at the root of health for everyone, regardless of skin colour, cultural background, sexual orientation or ability. This is simply the process of eating food, breaking it down into base nutrients and assimilating those nutrients into our body.

Research has found that there is a link between compromised digestion and ASD. Children (and likely adults) with autism have higher rates of Gastro-intestinal (GI) disturbances as well as higher incidence of food allergy. It is well known that there is a major link between cognitive function and digestive health, making sense that poor digestion can worsen ASD symptoms and behavior problems.

There are two strategies that have been linked to enhanced digestion in children with autism. These are following a gluten-free, casein free diet and adding probiotics into their diet.

Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet

Gluten (found in wheat) and casein (found in dairy) are two proteins that are known GI irritants and are both common food allergens. Experts believe these two proteins can cause problems for those with autism by triggering an immune response that has an impact neurologically or by causing GI inflammation and irritation that leads to an increase of ASD symptoms and behavioral problems.

Pennsylvania State University conducted research to see if children who followed a gluten-free, casein-free diet would see a reduction in their symptoms of autism. They gave a 90-item survey to 387 families who had a child with autism.

The research from the survey results showed that the children who completely eliminated both gluten and casein from their diets for greater than 6 months found the greatest benefit.

They saw an improvement in ASD symptoms such as greater eye contact, engagement, attention span, social responsiveness and decreased requesting behaviours. These are very promising results and show the value in giving this diet a try.

Strategy #1: Eliminate Gluten & Casein Containing Foods

Eliminate Gluten Containing Foods:

wheat, kamut, spelt, barley, rye, oatmeal (unless it states on the package it is gluten free)
Look for these ingredients in breads, pastas and any packaged foods or dressings. These ingredients can be hidden in many places.

Enjoy the following instead

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Beans and lentils
  • Gluten Free Bread products (I like silver hills bakery - not all their products are GF though)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Starchy vegetables (squash, pumpkin, potato, beets, root vegetables)
  • Pasta - (quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet)

Eliminate Casein Containing Foods

  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Milk and all variations
  • Dairy based ice cream
  • Sour cream
  • Watch out for packaged foods with milk solids or other dairy- based ingredients.

Enjoy the following instead:

  • Coconut yogurt
  • Almond, hemp or other nut milks
  • Coconut ice cream (in moderation due to sugar content)
  • Small amounts of organic butter are acceptable as it aids in healing the digestive tract.

It can be a challenge to eliminate casein and gluten from one’s diet, but now that we’re empowered with more nutrition knowledge than ever it can be done without sacrificing the delicious foods you love.

Here are some of my favourite gluten-free, casein-free recipes from Joyous Health:

Strategy #2 – Eat probiotic rich foods

Eating probiotic rich foods is another great strategy to help anyone improve their gut health and may have significant benefits for those with ASD.

A study was done in the Journal of Probiotics and health, where 25 children received a six-month supply of a probiotic supplement with 10 billion active cultures. Caregivers were given a survey to complete for 21 days prior to starting the probiotic regarding GI problems as well as a score of ASD symptoms using the Autistic Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC). After 21 days of supplementing with the probiotic 48% of participants saw a reduction in diarrhea severity, 52% saw a reduction in constipation and 88% saw a reduction in overall ATEC scores.
These are very promising findings and will likely create a demand for further research to be done, exploring the benefits of probiotics for individuals with ASD. Supplementing with probiotics can have great outcomes under the supervision of a health care practitioner, but a simple way to start is by adding probiotic rich, non-dairy fermented foods.

Enjoy the following:

  • kombucha (great replacement for soda)
  • kimchi
  • sauerkraut
  • coconut kefir
  • miso
  • tempeh
  • anything pickled (ideally done at home. If store-bought makes sure it's vinegar-free)

Adding one of these foods in daily is a great way to get the healing powers of probiotics!
The above two strategies are fantastic ways to start improving your health if you have ASD or of you provide care for someone with ASD. Before starting any new health regiment always speak with your physician or health care provider to ensure it will be safe. Remember, everyone is biochemically unique and will always have their own distinct health and nutrition needs.

Yours truly,
Adam Vacon

Read other guest posts by Adam:

Choosing the Best Protein Powder


Gluten-free, Casein-Free Study

Probiotic Study

Jul 24, 2014 BY Adam Vacon
SueMom   •   July 25, 2014

Thanks for that! All good information. May I add a warning: While it's great to see a lot of gluten/casein-free baking appearing in stores, the goodies often have more sugar in them than regular baking!! (I think bakers are compensating for the different texture by doubling up on sweetness) Buyer beware!

Kate McDonald-Walker   •   July 27, 2014

Chantal   •   August 14, 2014

Great article, thank you. I was taught in school however that ASD children would also benefit from nutritional supplements such as multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B6, magnesium, and other nutrients. Beginning multiple supplements at one time may impede the ability to determine what’s working or not working in ASD patients. Therefore, it may be to start one supplement at a time for several weeks to determine whether there’s an improvement in symptoms.

Lindsay Suline   •   November 30, 2019

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