Treating Autism With Gluten and Casein Free Diet
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect the communication and social abilities of children. The symptoms of these developmental disorders can be remedied by alternative treatments like a special diet. Gluten-free or casein-free diet is increasingly becoming a part of the treatment protocol for autism. Children who are given gluten-free foods regularly have reportedly shown improvements in their speech and behavior.
Why parents should give gluten-free/casein-free foods to their autistic child?
Gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet is just one of the various alternative treatments for autism. This diet requires the elimination of gluten from all foods. Parents who follow this regimen must make sure that gluten or casein is barely present in all the foods eaten by their autistic child.
Autistic children may be very sensitive or allergic to gluten, and this sensitivity is believed to be one of the causes of autistic symptoms. Some parents choose to have their autistic child undergo allergy test before beginning the GFCF diet. However, even if their autistic children show no allergic reactions to gluten, some parents still give GFCF foods to them. Among the improvements seen in autistic children who follow this diet are better speaking ability and more controlled behavior.
How does gluten-free/casein-free diet treat autism?
The basic principle of gluten-free/casein-free diet lies on the belief that autistic children are sensitive to certain foods. As its name suggests, this diet aims for the elimination of gluten and casein in the child’s diet. Autistic children are believed to have problem in processing proteins and peptides in gluten-rich foods, which presumably aggravates the symptoms of the disorder. It has been suggested that the brain of autistic children considers these proteins as something similar to opiate-type chemicals, thus triggering abnormal behavior. This assumption is the rationale behind the use of gluten-free/casein-free diet to treat autism. The diet is aimed at reducing autistic symptoms while improving the cognitive functions, behavior, and speech of autistic children.
There is scientific evidence that backs the theoretical foundation of gluten-free/casein-free diet. Research showed that some autistic children have high level of peptides. However, there are still no randomized trials conducted to prove the effectiveness of GFCF diet in treating autism. A review of clinical studies in recent and distant years showed that there was no strong evidence that this diet could benefit autistic children. One of the obstacles to studying the effectiveness of GFCF diet is that preparing gluten- and casein-free foods is quite laborious for researchers.
What are the foods that contain gluten?
Gluten is present in various grains, particularly in the seeds of rye, barley, and wheat. Moreover, most of the foods we eat have gluten. This protein provides structure to baked foods. There are commercially available gluten-free foods which are often sold at natural food stores. Despite the reported benefits of gluten-free foods, you should still check food labels to see if these products contain additives.
Following a GFCF diet means giving up grains and bread. To prevent malnutrition, parents have to make sure that their child would still get sufficient fibers, minerals, and vitamins while under this food regimen. Giving food supplements can make up for nutritional deficiency following the transition to a GFCF diet.
What are the foods that contain casein?
Casein is commonly found in dairy products and other foods that are high in lactose. But take note that even products that claim to be free from dairy or lactose may still have casein. Soy-based products also have casein, so it’s better to look closely at the nutrition labels.
Since the GFCF food regimen would lower the intake of dairy products, parents have to ensure that their child would get Vitamin D and calcium from other food sources. These nutrients are important in the formation of healthy bones and teeth.
Make sure that your autistic child will not have nutritional deficiency by consulting a nutritionist before beginning the GFCF food regimen. Your child may need to take supplements to compensate for the foods displaced by the GFCF diet.
Which is better – home-made, packaged, or restaurant-cooked gluten-free/casein-free food?
Numerous food manufacturers have their own brands of gluten-free foods. However, some parents prefer to prepare GFCF foods themselves. They sometimes cook a large amount of GFCF foods and freeze them for latter consumption. When deciding what GFCF foods to make, consult with your child’s doctor or nutritionist. Dietitians can offer invaluable inputs on what foods to include in your child’s diet to satisfy both his or her nutritional needs and appetite.
Be aware of gluten from hidden sources Gluten is present in fried foods coated in flour or cosmetics. Whole foods are usually safer. Packaged mixes may also contain gluten. Some food mixes have gluten-rich ingredients that are not indicated on the nutrition label.
Restaurants can also be a good source of GFCF foods. If you want to make sure that a restaurant is serving gluten-free foods, you can ask the manager or restaurant staff to provide you with a list of the ingredients they use. You may also try vegetarian restaurants if you want to request for GFCF foods. Vegetarian restaurants usually cater to people with dietary restrictions, so they are likely to prepare foods that can meet the requirements of a GFCF diet.