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As more articles surface about the gut’s impact on Autism, we’re providing a list of 4 common diets that special needs parents turn to. Although there isn’t any large-scale clinical study showing that diet directly improves symptoms associated with Autism, there are plenty of encouraging studies that point to the need for larger, clinical trials on the relationship among diet, gut health and Autism.
Parents know what research is just beginning to confirm: Kids with Autism experience more GI symptoms, including constipation and diarrhea. Oftentimes they turn to diets to help remedy symptoms.
Moreover, according to a literature review, children with Autism Spectrum disorder have more feeding problems than their peers. Eating a fewer variety of foods can cause a lack of nutrients, which in turn, impacts overall gut-health.
Some diets claim to help behavior and social communication skills. That being said, parents often believe that diet changes are a non-invasive way to potentially improve behaviors, particularly before starting medications.
I am a firm believer in holistic supports for Autism, ADHD and other special needs, particularly those that center around wholesome food. Tracking foods helped us to find root causes of stomach pain, some behaviors and sleep challenges.
Below are 4 common diets that parents report help symptoms associated with Autism.
The Feingold diet removes artificial preservatives, colors and sweeteners. It’s also recommends the removal of foods with salicylates, which includes many fruits. The Feingold diet is often associated with helping alleviate behaviors related to ADHD.
Dr. Benjamin Feingold, both a pediatrician and allergist, began recommending the diet to his patients to relieve symptoms of allergies in the 1970’s. Patients reported an improvement in behavioral symptoms after following the plan. However, research is inconclusive as it relates to helping ADHD symptoms.
Before following a gluten and dairy free diet, my family tried the Feingold diet. On it, we did see some behavioral improvement. Most important, we did learn a lot about additives and preservatives, and still avoid processed foods to this day.
The term GAPS comes from Dr Campbell-McBride, and is short for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. She believes that poor gut health is responsible for many mental health, neurological and behavioral conditions.
At the core of the GAPS diet, foods that are difficult to digest and might damage the gut flora or gut lining should be avoided. Instead, they eat nutrient-rich foods that help the gut heal.
There’s an introduction diet that happens first, followed by a full GAPS protocol. The diet includes avoiding all grains, sugars, starchy vegetables, refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
It’s recommended to start this diet by reading the GAPS book. I read this book and found a lot of great information, but in the end, we did not implement this diet. We do however, routinely eat bone broth as a pathway to better overall health.
Gluten and Casein Free Diet
Referred to as a GFCF diet, or gluten-and-dairy-free diet, it consists of avoiding foods that contain gluten and casein. Gluten is found in in many breads and cereals, whereas casein found in milk products.
There are some studies that suggest a gluten and casein free diet may improve social behaviors and physiological symptoms associated with Autism. Our family started this diet because my kiddo had routine stomach complaints, and later noticed improvement in behavior, social skills, and learning. We have often said this could be due to gut healing, or perhaps due to no longer having physical pain due to these food sensitivities. At any rate, we’ve continued this diet for several years with success.
Some would categorize this diet as difficult to follow, however, after doing this for quite some time, it wasn’t all that difficult to adapt to. We now don’t think twice about the diet, it’s just simply ingrained in our lives. I’ve also learned how to make some of our favorite foods like Christmas cookies and chicken nuggets over the years. We don’t feel like we’re missing anything.
The Nemechek Protocol is just that – it’s a daily protocol to improve both gut and brain health. There aren’t too many diet rules with this protocol, other than avoidance of omega-6 oils that are so prevalent in today’s food. The idea, at the most basic level, is to heal the gut while supporting brain function.
This protocol is very easy to follow, and consists of taking the right type and combination of extra virgin olive oil, fish oil and fiber. There are different studies that support this protocol; Here’s one showing that those with ASD who increased omega-3 fatty acids over 12 weeks showed improvements in social awareness and communication.
We’ve been doing this protocol for more than a year now, with really great results. For anyone interested in starting, I’d highly recommend reading the book first. I am not an affiliate – just a parent who tried this because it’s non-invasive, supports healthy gut and brain function as well as super easy to follow.
More and more research is looking at the impact of gut health on Autism and related symptoms. With that, many parents are choosing different diets to support good gut health as part of a holistic approach.
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