If your child has been diagnosed with autism, the condition can last for a few years or be lifelong. While medication is a must and cannot be skipped, there are a few things you can do to supplement the treatment your child receives. And one of them is making changes to his or her diet. Here’s a list of food that your child or loved one should and shouldn’t eat to make the treatment more effective.
What To Eat
Autistic children often suffer from a poor gut health and are regularly affected by abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. An autistic child’s gut microbiota is seen to consist of fewer “good” bacteria and more of the “bad” ones. Most studies have observed that a probiotic-rich diet could reduce gastrointestinal problems in autistic individuals. Probiotics are live bacteria that promote the growth of “good” gut bacteria. So, if your child is autistic, make sure you include fermented foods in their diet.1
Examples of probiotics are yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, kefir, buttermilk, and some types of cheese.
2. High-Fiber Food
Apart from consuming probiotics, including high-fiber foods in your diet is another way to help cope with autism. Studies indicate that children with ASD (autistic spectrum disorders) often get an insufficient amount of dietary fiber. Since autistic individuals frequently experience digestive issues like constipation, fibrous foods can aid digestion and make bowel movement smoother.2
Examples of high-fiber foods are wheat, corn, rice bran, cruciferous vegetables, apples, avocados, berries, nuts, and dried fruits.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The positive effect of omega-3 fats on autism is widely talked about. It’s been noted that most autistic children may have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Since omega-3s enhance brain function and offer anti-inflammatory benefits, they are believed to help children with autism.3 Although results do not offer conclusive evidence, several studies indicate that consuming omega-3 fats can lead to a general improvement in the well-being of autistic children.
Examples of omega-3 fatty acids are avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, spinach, seafood, and fish oils.
4. Unrefined Whole Foods
If your child is autistic, make sure their diet is not comprised of processed, refined junk food. Most autistic kids often dislike and tend to avoid whole foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.4 However, it’s important that they intake whole foods to achieve a wholesome mental and physical development.
Whole grains, tubers, legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables are examples of whole foods.
What To Avoid
Although soy products are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, they fall into the “avoid” list. Studies have revealed that soy may cause a decline in the brain function of autistic children. Furthermore, most children with autism exhibit autoimmune conditions that may cause an allergic reaction to soy.5
2. Gluten And Dairy
A gluten/casein-free diet is something that is believed to help most autistic children. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, oats, whereas casein is a protein found in milk and milk products including cheese, ice cream, and butter. Some autistic individuals find it difficult to digest these proteins completely, while others are allergic to them. Although studies offer mixed results on the efficacy of a gluten and casein-free diet, most parents have claimed that the diet has improved digestion in their autistic children.6 7
However, remember to approach a nutritionist to try a gluten/casein-free diet for your autistic child. A self-designed diet may end up doing more harm than good.
These dietary do’s and don’ts are just ways to supplement a medical treatment and are in no way a replacement for therapy. In addition to this, you could also consider using digestive enzymes and other nutrient supplements to help your child cope with the condition. But always remember to consult your child’s doctor before including and removing any food or supplement from their diet.
|↑1||Navarro, Fernando, Yuying Liu, and Jon Marc Rhoads. “Can probiotics benefit children with autism spectrum disorders?.” World journal of gastroenterology 22, no. 46 (2016): 10093.|
|↑2||Hyman, Susan L., Patricia A. Stewart, Brianne Schmidt, Nicole Lemcke, Jennifer T. Foley, Robin Peck, Traci Clemons et al. “Nutrient intake from food in children with autism.” Pediatrics 130, no. Supplement 2 (2012): S145-S153.|
|↑3||Bent, Stephen, Kiah Bertoglio, and Robert L. Hendren. “Omega-3 fatty acids for autistic spectrum disorder: a systematic review.” Journal of autism and developmental disorders 39, no. 8 (2009): 1145-1154.|
|↑4||Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Diet. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.|
|↑5||Westmark, Cara J. “Soy infant formula may be associated with autistic behaviors.” Autism-open access 3 (2013).|
|↑6||Buie, Timothy. “The relationship of autism and gluten.” Clinical therapeutics 35, no. 5 (2013): 578-583.|
|↑7||Elder, Jennifer Harrison, Meena Shankar, Jonathan Shuster, Douglas Theriaque, Sylvia Burns, and Lindsay Sherrill. “The gluten-free, casein-free diet in autism: results of a preliminary double blind clinical trial.” Journal of autism and developmental disorders 36, no. 3 (2006): 413-420.|