Sunday, April 14, 2024

What Foods Can Help Autism

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Autism and Food – What foods can help your autistic child

First, there are no cures for the disorder and there is no one single best treatment for all children with ASDs. Every child must be evaluated individually. This can be tricky because the diagnosis usually occurs in 1- to 3-year-olds who are not great communicators. Doctors base their treatment protocols on lab results, parent reports, and physical exams. Even though there are no lab tests to diagnose autism, there are tests that can help us manage underlying symptoms.

Most children show improvement with early-intervention treatment services, where they learn important skills like walking, talking, and interacting with other children.

Depending on the symptoms, kids are treated with some form of diet. Medication is common, as are physical, occupational, social, educational, and communication therapy. And because the research lags behind, some physicians try complementary and alternative medicine approaches that are safe.

Recommended Dinner Diet For Autism

Dinner fare can be the same as that for lunch, since there are no major restrictions. It is important, though, to include not just individual preferences when creating the menu but also the various bodily responses to food which may not be part of the autism spectrum. This includes minor allergies and gut issues whose discomfort may be overwhelming to an autistic person. Because of this, new food items should be introduced one at a time, and in small amounts.

Rule Out Any Stomach Problems

If your child is often uncomfortable when eating, this may lead to outbursts and stress. Its a good idea to have their doctor check for any possible illnesses or underlying conditions that could be causing discomfort or pain.

According to one 2014 research review of gastrointestinal problems and autism, autistic children are more likely to have gastrointestinal issues than their neurotypical peers. This can include symptoms such as:

  • diarrhea
  • pain in the abdominal area
  • constipation

So, if mealtime is a source of stress for your autistic child, you may want to talk to their doctor about possible related health issues.

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Increase Vitamins And Minerals

We have known since the 1970s that a nutritional approach can help autism, thanks to the pioneering research by Dr Bernard Rimland of the Institute for Child Behaviour Research in San Diego, California. He showed that vitamin B6, C and magnesium supplements significantly improved symptoms in autistic children. In one of his early studies back in 1978, 12 out of 16 autistic children improved, then regressed when the vitamins were swapped for placebos9. In the decades following Dr Rimlands study, many other researchers have also reported positive results with this approach.

Still others have, however, failed to confirm positive outcomes with certain nutrients. For example, a French study of 60 autistic children found they improved significantly on a combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium, but not when either nutrient was supplemented alone11. This study shows how important it is to get the balance of these nutrients right. Its likely to be different for each child.

Paediatrician Mary Megson from Richmond, Virginia, believes that many autistic children are lacking in vitamin A. Otherwise known as retinol, vitamin A is essential for vision. It is also vital for building healthy cells in the gut and brain.

Wheres the evidence? Search our evidence database andenter vitamins or minerals or nutrients or retinol and autism into the search field for a summary of studies that demonstrate the effect of these nutrients on autism.

The Ketogenic Diet For Autism

How to Get Your Autistic Child to Eat New Foods

The ketogenic or keto diet is a popular diet that involves reducing carbohydrates and replacing them with fat. The body is then forced to use fat as an energy source which results in a faster metabolic state called ketosis. The keto diet was first used to treat patients with epilepsy, which is a condition present in some children with autism.

A small study suggested the possibility that a modified ketogenic diet is beneficial for people with autism. The study was done in 15 children ages two to 17 years old for three months. The children went under a modified ketogenic diet with supplemental MCT . MCT is a dietary supplement that contributes to weight loss and lowering inflammation.

The study concluded that: Components of the KD are possibly beneficial in improving social effect in children with ASD. Additional studies are needed to understand how the KD improves behavior.

To go on a keto diet, you need to avoid foods high in carbohydrates. Meats, high-fat dairy, low-carb vegetables , nuts and seeds, avocado, and artificial sweeteners are the main staple in this diet. These foods are not allowed in a keto diet:

  • Grains
  • Sugar
  • Fruits
  • Tubers

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Develop A Meal Schedule

Regular schedules are often very important for autistic children. This includes mealtime. Regularly scheduled meals and snacks help your child know what to expect.

If your childs meals tend to be in front of the TV, on the go, or generally not at the table, experts at the advise slowly introducing family dinner and other mealtimes at designated places.

To start, they suggest having your child sit for as little as 30 seconds and gradually increasing the time you expect them to sit at the table with you. Ideally, you can work up to 15- or 30-minute meals at the table.

Take Baby Steps When Introducing A Food

Many children with autism are resistant to new foods. To keep from turning the dinner table into a battlefield, it’s best to choose steps that allow your child to be successful.

A first step to introducing a new food might be simply placing the food on your child’s plate. If even that leads to problems, you can start by placing the food on the child’s plate for only a few seconds.

As soon as your child is successful with that first baby step, reward him! Rewards vary from child to child but should include warm praise, a hug if that’s something she likes, and a “motivator” such as a small amount of a preferred food or time doing a preferred activity.

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Gluten Contains Zonulin Which Contributes To Leaky Gut

Another important reason for implementing a GFCF diet for autism: gluten is high in zonulin, which can cause intestinal permeability .

Increased gut permeability contributes to heightened reactions to food components in the intestinal tract of children with autism. As a result, the child becomes sensitive to any food that they eat often.

The reactions can vary from child to child but often include difficulty concentrating, constipation and/or diarrhea, and widespread inflammation. A 2017 review suggests that leaky gut may also contribute to anxiety and depression.

Make Sure There Isn’t An Underlying Stomach Problem


It is common for people with autism to have gut-related symptoms such as stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea or gas and they may find it hard to communicate it to you. You can use resources such as the pain scales on the National Autistic Society website to identify if discomfort is what is causing them to avoid eating or, in some cases, to eat too much food.

If you are concerned that there might be a stomach issue, arrange an appointment with the GP.

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Picky Eaters With Autism Are Common But The Reasons Are Unclear

No one really knows why so many children with autism are picky eaters, says Kimberly Kroeger-Geoppinger, an assistant pediatrics professor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. But there’s no doubt that it’s a common phenomenon. That means that parents’ permissiveness is probably not the cause.

Kroeger says there are several possible reasons for autistic children’s pickiness. “We know that children with autism tend to select down, eliminating one food from their diet at a time. The reasons could be sensory , or even a randomly developed routine.”

Are There Tips For Eating At Home Or Eating Out On A Gluten

There are a large number of online retailers who specialize in food products for people following the GFCF diet. Some parents make GFCF food in large quantities and freeze portions for a later meal.

Before making the change to a GFCF diet, consult your child’s doctor. It is important for kids to still get a balance of the necessary vitamins, protein, fats, and carbohydrates in order to support healthy growth and development. A licensed dietitian can educate you about the GFCF diet and help you tailor the diet to your child’s health needs and taste preferences.

In addition, before starting a child with autism on a gluten-free/casein-free diet, beware the hidden sources of gluten. Gluten can be found in fried foods that are dusted in flour, and even in cosmetics and some medications. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts may be safe. But avoid using packaged mixes because there may be traces of foods containing gluten that are not listed on the nutrition label.

Some restaurants are now categorized as GFCF-friendly. If you are concerned, ask the manager or server to show you a list of ingredients used in the establishment to make sure its dishes are gluten- and casein-free. Vegetarian/vegan restaurants are accustomed to serving people on special diets and may be more willing to prepare dishes that adhere to the restrictions of a strict GFCF diet.

Read Also: Can Autism Be Passed Down

Eats A Limited Number Of Foods

Think about the number of foods that you eat. There are probably too many to count. Now think about the number of foods that your child eats. Can you fit them all on two hands? There is no idea or normal when it comes to diet diversity, yet an extremely limited diet can be a sign of eating challenges.

Dr. Kay Toomey, a pediatric psychologist who developed the Sequential Oral Sensory approach to feeding, proposes that most children – even picky ones – eat over 30 unique foods. Extreme or problem feeders, on the other hand, eat under 20 foods.

Having a limited range of safe foods puts kids at a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies and growth issues. Additionally, it makes everyday life, like visiting a restaurant or going to a friends house, challenging.

In my experience as a dietitian who works with extreme picky eaters, a very limited diet is a trait that almost all of the children I meet share. Most eat under 10 different foods.

If Your Child Is A Picky Eater Here Are Four Things To Add To Mealtime To Help:

Can Diet Help Reduce Your Childâs Autism Symptoms ...

1.) Continue to serve formerly preferred foods

Formerly preferred foods are any foods your child used to eat and has since started rejecting. Think of anything all the way back to first foods up to the foods they most recently started rejecting. You can serve these in small portions the same way they were used to eating them or change up the presentation a little.

2.) Offer tiny portions of new foods

Small portions are key. You might want to start as small as a penny or even tinier – the size of a grain of rice!

Additionally, you can give your child a choice about the foods youll serve: which food do you want to work on? Which size bite do you want? Try to only offer two options for them to choose between.

3.) Expose your child to non-preferred foods, even if its just the ones that youre eating

Dont isolate your child from non-preferred foods even if theyre uncomfortable being around them. Exposureis crucial for learning to like new foods. If they cant tolerate a non-preferred food on their plate yet, you can always place them on the table or ensure that they witness you or other family members eating a variety of foods.

4.) Involve them in food-related activities such as gardening, grocery shopping, and cooking

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Food Allergies/sensitivities Trigger Mast Cells Which Contribute To Leaky Gut

We mainly think of mast cells when referring to something we’re allergic to, but they do a lot more. Mast cells in the body are connected to the immune response and they release histamine, interleukins, proteoglycans, and other enzymes.

Thus, even eating foods that we are sensitive to can stimulate mast cells and thereby can create a permeable gut lining. Moreover, continuing to eat these foods makes the problem worse. But, when we stop eating foods that we are sensitive to, it calms the mast cells.

How To Identify Extreme Picky Eating In Autism

Its not surprising that kids with spectrum disorders might struggle to eat. Eating is one of the most complex activities that our bodies do. It involves the simultaneous coordination of our entire sensory system, muscular system, oral motor controls, and more.

While there is no definitive definition of extreme picky eating behavior, the following traits are more common in extreme picky eaters. See how many your child displays. The more they have, the more severe their eating behaviors may be.

As you read through the following list, you will also want to consider the duration of the symptoms you see and their evolution. For example, consider if a behavior is new, short-lived, or already well-established. Additionally, examine if symptoms seem to be resolving or are becoming more extreme.

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Are There Other Diet Strategies That May Work

Autistic kids who also have a seizure disorder may find relief from a high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. This diet often leads to poor growth, poor weight gain, and increased cholesterol levels, so it is imperative to use this approach under the supervision of a registered dietitian and physician.

Some children are successful when they follow a yeast- and sugar-free diet.

Most parents would benefit from tips and mealtime strategies to encourage their children to accept new foods. Parents need to serve as role models by eating the new foods that are introduced along with familiar foods.

What Is An Autism Diet

The KETO DIET | How It Can Help AUTISM Symptoms

Children with autism often have sensory challenges. As a result, they can have specific food aversions that prevent them from getting the number of nutrients they need to be healthy. If your child is a picky eater, you might find that introducing healthier food options can sometimes be next to impossible.

More research and extensive studies have been recommended to prove the connection between autism, diet, and behavior. The autism research community has not ruled out the possibility that diet can affect symptoms of autism, nor have they reached a definite stance on the issue.

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Can Too Much Folic Acid Cause Autism

A 2011 study by C. Mary Bear et al., studied whether too much folic acid in utero or after birth could cause autism. The studys results were inconclusive and required further research, but it did note that not enough folic acid is proven to cause nervous tissue damage and therefore it suggested that too much folic acid could potentially cause nervous tissue damage associated with autism. It might be worth it to have your childs folic acid levels assessed via blood work to be sure he/she is receiving an appropriate dosage.

While further studies were suggested in 2011, there has not been any conclusive evidence yet published.

Allow Hunger To Motivate Eating:

We generally recommend five opportunities to eat in 24 hours. This includes three regular meals and two snacks. There isnt a problem adding more opportunities, as long as they follow a regular pattern and some rules. What you want to avoid is eating whenever your child feels like it, especially if he/she has a constant grazing type pattern. If you have more meal/snack opportunities regularly expected in the routine, then your child wont have to wait too long for another opportunity.

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