Introduction to Diet and Nutrition

Dietary intervention and nutritional supplementation are the important first step of our treatment program. Diet is a key component to the success of the biomedical approach. Typically, food is digested into chemical compounds that are used for energy, and cellular function. For those with ASDs and gastrointestinal problems, the body often digests food improperly, causing biochemical imbalances and nutritional deficiencies. Food sensitivities or “allergies” are common, and can cause many of the behavioral reactions seen in ASD children. When the offending foods are removed, improvements are often seen in areas such as attention, cognition, behavior, and sleep. Often these food reactions are delayed reactions, which makes it very difficult to pinpoint which food is causing the problem. A simple blood test can help identify the foods which are causing challenging behaviors, and often worsening gut inflammation at the same time.

Diet is a key component to the success of the biomedical approach. Typically, food breaks down into chemical compounds that are used for energy, and cellular function. For those with ASDs, the body often improperly metabolizes food, causing biochemical imbalances. Food sensitivities or “allergies” are common, and can cause many behavioral reactions seen in ASD children. When the offending foods are removed, improvements are often seen in areas such as attention, cognition, behavior, and sleep. Often these food reactions are delayed reactions, which makes it very difficult to pinpoint which food is causing the problem. A simple blood test can help identify the foods which are causing challenging behaviors, and often worsening gut inflammation at the same time.

All healthy diets need to remove common toxic or unhealthy ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), Trans fat (any partially-hydrogenated oils), Monosodium Glutamate (MSG, a neurotoxin), artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives. Organic meats are raised without hormones and antibiotics, and are often grass-fed, yielding higher omega-3 content. Organic fruits and vegetables are also important, not only for their low pesticide content, but because they are more nutritious than conventionally-grown produce.

There are four major diets that are used to treat patients on the autism spectrum at this time. They are: GF/CF, SCD/GAPS, LOD, and BED. We will help you figure out which diet is best for your child. A good book that gives an overview of diet and nutrition is Nourishing Hope, by Julie Matthews.  Read more here about these four major diets.

GF/CF Diet. Special diets are often necessary to rid the body of morphine-like compounds formed in most autistic children from gluten (wheat, oat, barley, and rye) and casein (dairy) foods. This is called the gluten-free, casein-free diet, or GF/CF diet. In addition to general food intolerances, there can actually be “drug-like” effects from certain foods. Mercury often adversely affects an enzyme in the digestive tract called DPP4. When this enzyme isn’t functioning properly, children are not able to properly digest the two proteins gluten (found in wheat, oats, barley and rye) and casein (found in all dairy products). The improper digestion of gluten and casein can cause the formation of morphine-like substances that enter the bloodstream, and can cause symptoms in the child such as spacey or withdrawn behavior, poor attention, constipation, high pain threshold, etc. When the opiate-inducing foods are removed, often children seem to “come out of a fog” and show greater interest in their surroundings, and function and learn better. A GF/CF diet (gluten-free, casein-free) has been shown to help about 80% of children on the autistic spectrum with their symptoms. There are many websites that can help families with this diet, and GF/CF foods are now widely available. More information on this diet can be found at www.gfcfdiet.com.   A good GF/CF cookbook is Special Diets for Special Kids, by Lisa Lewis.

SCD/Gut and Psychology (GAPS) Diet. Sometimes, the gut is so damaged that patients need to advance into a more restrictive diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or SCD. This diet removes all disaccarides (starches), and focuses on meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and a little honey. More information on this diet can be found at www.breakingtheviciouscycle.com and at www.pecanbread.com.  The GAPS diet is essentially the SCD diet without any dairy products. This diet is based on the book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” by Elaine Gottschall, and has been very beneficial to many children on the spectrum. Our practitioners work with each family to help them find the diet that is right for their child. Since most children on the spectrum are picky eaters to begin with, dietary changes can be difficult. We understand this, and can help you every step of the way based on our own experiences with our own children. An excellent follow-up book is Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Low Oxalate Diet.  Others have problems with the oxalate content of some plant-based foods. Oxalates are sharp microscopic crystals in plants that can cause inflammation and pain in the GI tract and urinary tract especially. These patients may benefit from the Low Oxalate Diet. More information on this diet can be found at www.lowoxalatediet.com.  People considering or doing the Low Oxalate Diet should join the Yahoo chat group Trying Low Oxalates.

Body Ecology Diet, or B.E.D.   This diet emphasizes fermented foods, which are natural probiotics. Since many children on the spectrum cannot eat fermented milk products like yogurt or kefir, it is possible to ferment vegetables, and even coconut water to achieve the same result. More information on this diet can be found at www.bodyecologydiet.com.  The following Nutrition sections under “Treatments” have more specific information on successful dietary practices for the ASD patient.  To learn more, read the book The Body Ecology Diet, by Donna Gates.