Autism and Elimination Diets – Join the Food Detectives

Diets.   Do you flinch when you hear that word?   There’s no need to – it’s time consuming but certainly not impossible.

Gluten and casein free (GF/CF) diets are often mentioned in relation to autism and yet some professionals are still skeptical about them.  But despite that people from all walks of life suffer from those intolerances too – like Doug whose symptoms began with daily sickness when he drank milk.  Even after cutting it out he gradually grew more sensitive to casein which caused fever, headaches, diarrhea and more: problems that were often triggered by products that were seemingly casein free.

Gluten too accounts for a whole range of chronic health conditions, as author Anne Sarkaisian, one of the leading authorities on the subject, tells us.   Unlike many researchers she has even cured her own health problems by going gluten free.  In her book Toxic Staple Anne introduces us to Angela whose non-verbal, violent, non-interactive 3-year-old son responded almost miraculously to a GF/CF lifestyle.

Other parents too have found similar benefits: noting reduced physical symptoms like colic and pain and behavioral differences including improving sociability, communication, concentration and more.  And yes, such accounts are certainly anecdotal but that doesn’t invalidate them.  So if you feel a diet might help your child, it’s certainly worth trying for it’s one of those things that you’ll probably always wonder about if you don’t.

Anne Sarkaisian recommends that anyone thinking of a gluten free diet should get an AGA test (a simple medical test that measures sensitivity to gluten). If that is not possible do take advice from a registered dietitian who can help tailor the diet to meet your child’s needs – and ensure he doesn’t go short of vitamins and minerals.

Turing detective is seemingly hard when it comes to food for many processed foods have hidden gluten and casein – like fried foods dusted in flour (gluten), packaged mixes thickened with flour or soups and sauces that contain dairy products etc.

Top tips for all diets
• Always think ‘CAN’ not ‘can’t.’
• Use healthy, whole foods including vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, lean meats, poultry, and fish, quinoa, millet and rice noodles.
• There are some apps that can help. Some cover a range of foods while others address just one product like gluten. (If you find any of them helpful please share them in the comments.)
• Always read labels and remember that manufacturers can switch ingredients without notice.
• Asian, Indian, and Mexican foods can offer interesting alternatives like burritos and enchiladas made with corn or rice noodles.
• Try new things you haven’t tasted before. NB If new things are problematic for your child try eating them yourself when he is in the room and then leave them where he can get at them without effort.
• If your supermarket has a website you may find that it already offers a gluten/dairy/soy free alternatives. Even so many such lists don’t include their tinned or ready-made products – so if you belong to an autism group you may want to arrange to talk to/lobby someone in the grocery area for ask for help locating gluten-free products and putting them online or simply ask for more products if the choice isn’t broad enough.
• Use a personal ‘safe food list’ when you go shopping.

‘If in doubt, go without!’

Eating out?
• Check cafes/restaurants first and talk to them about what your child CAN eat – making sure they don’t offer the things the child can’t have like bread/milkshakes etc.
• Use:
o restaurants categorized as GFCF-friendly
o Vegetarian/vegan restaurants.
o Ethnic restaurants – Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
o Kosher restaurants/‘pareve’ foods – which are dairy free.

Before you begin it is also worth noting that new research has discovered that probiotics containing the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) bacteria have proved beneficial to toddlers and infants with milk allergies.

More information is available from:
PDF: – re gluten
Children may enjoy


For children:
Gluten Free Friends Activity Book Kids – Nancy Patin Falini
Adam’s Gluten Free Surprise – Debbie Simpson
Kids with Celiac Disease Danna Korn

For parents
Diet Intervention and Autism Marilyn Le Breton
Toxic Staple: How Gluten May Be Wrecking Your Health – And What You Can Do about It!                      Anne Sarkaisian

 Autism and the sixth sense Steady on!