Autism treatment includes many diet-based therapies that address underlying issues inside the body.
One of the roles of the gastrointestinal system is to act as the “first-line of defense” for our immune systems. When the “gut” is weakened, it cannot properly perform this duty, which leads to other physiological and biochemical disturbances. By healing the gut, we begin to heal the body.
Gluten-Free/Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet:
Foods and nutrients can impact the symptoms of autism. Autism is a whole-body disorder, the gut-brain connection is an important area for parents to understand. The foods and substances that children eat directly impact what happens in their brain—and parents’ food choices can have a direct affect. These GFCF basics can help you get started with this important dietary approach. With a little practice and familiarity, GFCF can easily become a regular part of your family’s health and healing program.
Basics of Implementing a GFCF (Gluten Free Casein Free) Diet
Parents are becoming increasingly aware of the many benefits children see when they implement the GFCF diet. Removal of gluten and casein—the gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet—is a great way to begin nutritional intervention for autism, the diet is not difficult to do, and with some basic insights you can get started right away.
Gluten is the protein in wheat, as well as other grains including rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and commercial oats, and casein is the protein in dairy. These proteins have been found to be problematic for many children on the spectrum, eating foods containing them can affect their body’s physical and cognitive functions. Eliminating those foods (and ingredients containing these food proteins) from your child’s diet can help improve many symptoms of autism. It can help children feel and learn better by reducing inattentiveness and hyperactivity, improving speech and language, decreasing digestive disturbances, and much more.
When going GFCF you need to look out for hidden sources—gluten or casein can be a hidden ingredient within processed food. With a few pointers it’s not difficult to ensure you are fully avoiding these substances.
Sources of GLUTEN to Avoid
- Oats (commercial)
- GF oats are available
Gluten Containing Ingredients and Foods:
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Proteins *
- Dextrin and maltodextrin *
- Artificial flavors & coloring *
- “Spices” *
- Soy sauce (unless wheat-free) *
- Potato chips/fries *
- Sauces and gravies *
- Bologna and hot dogs *
- * May contain gluten, unless specified gluten-free
Sources of CASEIN to Avoid
Casein is found in all animal milk products (cow, goat, sheep milk, etc.), such as:
- Yogurt and kefir
- Ice cream
- Sour cream
Casein Containing Ingredients and Foods:
- Milk chocolate
- Casein, Caseinate
- Lactose in seasoning
- Lactalbumin, as natural flavor Artificial butter flavor
- Cool Whip
- Lactic acid *
- Canned tuna *
- Seasoned potato chips *
- Hot dogs and bologna (may contain) *
- * May contain casein
It is pretty easy to substitute your child’s favorite foods with gluten-free options—GF waffles, GF pancakes, GF muffins, GF pasta are all readily available in stores. GFCF hotdogs and chicken nuggets are also pretty close to the original gluten containing versions, and easy to substitute. Breads are more difficult to substitute, since gluten’s texture makes bread more difficult to duplicate with gluten-free flours. As you try different brands of GFCF bread, consider making some of your own. Gluten-free breads, with and without yeast, taste much better and have a fresher texture when made at home.
Some aspects of going casein-free are also easy to change: butter substitutes such as ghee and coconut oil are delicious, healthy, and available in most health food stores. Coconut yogurt (by So Delicious) is dairy-free and soy-free, casein-free pudding and ice cream is also nearly indistinguishable from the dairy versions. Milk can be slowly diluted over time with dairy-free milk. Mac and cheese can be made fairly easily without any cheese substitute at all. Melted cheese such as on GF pizza is harder to mimic because of its gooey texture. Fortunately, Galaxy Foods makes a Vegan Rice cheese that is free of casein and caseinate, as well as soy-free, that can be used when you simply must have pizza.
Here Are Some Initial Steps for Implementing GFCF:
1. Experiment. Before removing anything, introduce GFCF alternatives such as rice pasta, GF waffles, and other GFCF foods and snacks-this will support the elimination portion later. Try some prepared foods and mixes. Find options you child likes and that you can substitute later during implementation.
2. Explore GFCF resources (books, cookbooks, videos, autism websites) to become familiar with the diet and learn helpful ideas, what to expect, and what foods are allowed. Watch instructional videos – many available at YouTube.
3. Create a meal plan—a list of gluten-free and casein-free foods, meals, and snacks your child will eat or that you would like to make on GFCF.
4. Shop for foods according to meal plan, as well as purchasing GFCF flours, milks, and other cooking staples.