The extremes of a restricted diet in autism

Considerable research efforts have been put into examining the various relationships between autism and food down the years. Food as an intervention in the form of several proposed dietary changes suggested to affect presentation, continues to attract discussion and debate. Perhaps more relevant to the day-to-day presentation of at least some autism however are the various issues reported with regards to feeding and feeding behaviours.

Several recent reports have highlighted how problematic feeding habits can impact on the physical health of those with autism. A report from Columbia University in New York by Baird & Ravindranath* describes the experiences of one boy with autism who “self-limited exclusively to a single “fast food”-a particular type of fried chicken” and as result “was hospitalized with hepatomegaly and liver dysfunction, as well as severe lactic acidosis”. Doctors diagnosed severe deficiencies in various vitamins, particularly the B vitamins, and following intervention, at least some symptoms improved.

Keown and colleagues** from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland reported a similar case of health-related outcomes following consumption of a narrow range of foods. In particular, they report that the young boy at the centre of their report “consumed excessive quantities of carrot juice (excess 2.5 L daily)”. Such excessive consumption again, had health-related effects and lead to an urgent referral to dietetic and related services.

The autism research literature is dotted with various other reports – some case studies, others discussing larger cohorts – describing how such limited feeding patterns can often have significant repercussions for physical as well as psychiatric health when present.


* Baird JS. & Ravindranath TM. Vitamin B Deficiencies in a Critically Ill Autistic Child With a Restricted Diet. Nutr Clin Pract. 2014 Aug 11. pii: 0884533614541483.

** Keown K. et al. Nutritional implications of selective eating in a child with autism spectrum disorder. BMJ Case Rep. 2014 Mar 20;2014. pii: bcr2013202581.

Read more about these studies at: