written by: Keren Perles
• edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom
• updated: 12/22/2010
Which diet is most helpful for a child with Asperger's syndrome? The jury is still out, but there seem to be two main contenders. One is the GFCF diet, and the other is just a healthy diet that keeps your child's blood sugar stable.
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Typical Healthy Diet
What is the best diet for Asperger's syndrome? Answers to this question vary. The most mainstream answer is that the same healthy diet recommended for most children and adults is helpful for people who have Asperger's syndrome. This means that people with Asperger's syndrome should make sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (e.g., salmon, olive oil) and should limit sugar, refined grains, unhealthy fats (e.g., margarine, deep fried foods), and artificial ingredients.
Most importantly, people with Asperger's syndrome should make sure that their blood sugar stays relatively stable. When a child with Asperger's drinks a sugar soft drink and eats some candy instead of eating a meal, the child's blood sugar levels rise quite high and then plummet. This can cause the child to become moody, absent-minded, or distracted, all of which only heighten the differences between the child and those around her. The effects of unstable blood sugar can lead to anti-social behavior, inability to concentrate in class, or other problems related to the disorder. Therefore, people with Asperger's syndrome should make sure to eat small regular meals throughout the day (including breakfast) that contain healthy ingredients.
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The most favorite "alternative" diet for Asperger's, at least among parents, is probably the Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) Diet. This diet is based on the theory that people with Asperger's cannot easily digest gluten (an ingredient in most grains) or casein (an ingredient in dairy products). The undigested molecules, according to this theory, can aggravate their Asperger's symptoms. Based on this theory, many parents rid their homes of all grains containing gluten - including flour, cereal, pasta, pretzels, bread, and crackers - as well as all products containing casein - including milk, cheese, sour cream, pudding, yogurt, pudding, and dairy margarine.
Is there proof that the GFCF diet works? Researchers have found that undigested gluten and casein molecules do appear in the urine of children with Asperger's syndrome. Anecdotal reports from parents is positive, with some of them claiming that the GFCF diet "cured" their child's symptoms. But true studies on the diet seem to contradict each other, with some finding no improvements at all due to the diet, and others finding significant improvements in many children.
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Helping Your Child Stick to a Diet for Asperger's
Whatever diet you choose, your child with Asperger's syndrome will have to stick to it in order for it to be effective. Even neurotypical children have difficulty sticking to a diet, and children with Asperger's often have it even harder. After all, they may have food fetishes such as only eating food that is a specific color or texture, refusing to eat foods unless they are very sour or spicy, or wanting the same foods for every meal. There are several ways that you can help your child stick to a healthy diet for Asperger's. Eating meals together as a family or together with friends can apply some "social pressure" for kids to eat the foods that are served. Changing the texture or form of healthy foods can also help, such as serving pea soup instead of peas, fruit kabobs instead of fruit salad, and whole grain pizza instead of whole grain bread. For children with Asperger's syndrome who are artistically oriented, simply arranging foods artfully on a plate or using a mix of colors can make the food seem more enticing.