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A Guide to Nutrition Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

written by: theMallorys • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/18/2010

Nutrition therapy for autism spectrum disorders begins in the grocery aisle. Whether you’re using the GFCF diet, the specific carbohydrate diet or another option, you’ll have to become an expert at reading food labels. You’ll also want to know about organic options, and why you should avoid GMO food

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    Nutrition therapy for autism spectrum disorders is often the first intervention that parents use when they receive a diagnosis or suspect that their child has autism. Studies have proven that nutrition has an impact on exacerbating or alleviating symptoms, because of the link between the gut and the brain. There is a hierarchy of nutrition therapies, starting with the least restrictive to the most restrictive diet, and parents should follow it and examine the results before switching diets.

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    Pure Water

    Tap water contains concentrations of heavy metals and fluoride that can have harmful effects on individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Many if not all bottled waters are also fluoridated. It’s important to invest in a good water filter that can remove water contaminants if you don’t have access to well water. There is believed to be a correlation between metal toxicity and autistic symptoms, and the last thing you want to do is get it through the water you drink.

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    Chemical Free Foods

    The first step is to stop feeding your child foods with additives and food colorings and items covered in pesticides. Chemicals have a devastating impact on a compromised immune system and gut, which are what many children with autism spectrum disorders have. Most processed foods contain additives and colorings, and non-organic fruits and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides. Learning how to read labels is the key to nutrition therapy. Before you purchase canned or frozen foods, or other packaged foods, check the ingredients carefully. You’ll find that your options are limited, which means you’ll have to make more foods from scratch using organic and bulk ingredients. You can also learn to make your own broths, such as chicken bone broth.

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    Food Allergies and GMO Foods

    There are also some foods that you should avoid because they are believed to cause allergic reactions in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. These are genetically modified foods, which are not considered to be real foods by some people. Some labels will state whether the food contains “No GMO” ingredients, but others don’t. If you don’t buy organic foods, then the following ingredients should be a list of suspects:

    • Corn
    • Wheat
    • Soy
    • Non-organic sugar

    Even if you buy organic foods, you should avoid soy altogether because it’s been known to mimic hormones, which is no good for autistic children.

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    Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet

    Perhaps the most popular nutrition therapy for autism spectrum disorders is the gluten-free casein-free (GFCF) diet. The diet is based on the fact that the intestines of an autistic individual are impaired and cannot absorb the peptides from gluten or casein. The peptides are released into the blood system which leads to brain dysfunction, which is manifested in the symptoms you see in individuals with autism.

    Gluten is found in wheat and wheat products and casein is found in dairy products. By eliminating both, the body doesn’t have to deal with those peptides. Many processed foods contain gluten or wheat, and it’s important to read labels and avoid those foods as well. You can buy foods that are naturally gluten free, and processed foods that are made and packaged in gluten free facilities. According to the Autism Research Institute, 65 percent of parents reported that their children got better while on the diet.

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    Chemical Free Foods

    One of the most restrictive diets is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). You would have to remove all carbohydrates from your diet, as well as yeast and sugars, in order to stop feeding bacteria and other viruses in the gut. There are several other restrictions as well, which you can view in detail at Pecan Bread. The website lists the allowed and illegal foods for the diet, as well as providing recipes and support. If you experience little or no change on the GFCF diet, then you should try SCD. More parents reported success on SCD than on the GFCF diet, according to Autism Research Institute, which shows that 69 percent of parents reported that their children got better.

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    Conclusion

    You need to allow enough time on any nutrition therapy for autism spectrum disorders to see whether it’s effective. The minimum should be 30 days, but some diets take three months or longer before you can observe a difference.