Dairy-Free Diet Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Dairy-Free Diet Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders often respond favorably to a gluten-free, dairy-free diet. However, for most autistic children, eliminating gluten and casein, and sometimes soy, can be too drastic of a change. Unless the child has celiac disease, diet interventions for autism spectrum disorders can be made slowly. A very strict elimination diet that totally removes all possible offending foods at once is not initially required.

Help Autistic Children Adjust to Change – Slowly Move to Dairy-Free Diet

To help autistic children adjust to the change that a gluten-free, casein-free diet (GFCF) brings, parents can move in that direction by first implementing a dairy-free diet. While the autistic child’s resistance and refusal to give up familiar rituals like a glass of milk before going to bed might create additional behavior problems, eliminating all milk proteins from the diet is far easier than taking away most of the food a child is used to eating.

In the book, The Autism and ADHD Diet, author Barrie Silberberg cautions parents of autistic children not to move too fast, and suggests that milk be replaced initially at a ratio of 50/50: 50% of the type of milk the autistic child is used to drinking mixed with 50% of a milk alternative. After a few days, if the child tolerates the dairy alternative, move to a higher proportion of milk substitute; maybe 40/60. As long as the child is doing well, Silberberg counsels parents to slowly up the ratio of non-dairy milk every few days until the cow’s milk has been completely eliminated.

Dairy Intolerance: Milk Substitutes, Milk Alternatives, and Non-Dairy Milk in Recipes

For those with dairy intolerance, milk substitutes replace the milk used in recipes as well as the milk the autistic child drinks. For recipes, finding milk alternatives is easy. Simply replace the milk called for in the recipe with one of the following non-dairy milks in an equal amount:

  • rice milk
  • almond milk
  • coconut milk
  • hemp milk
  • soy milk
  • potato milk (Vance’s Darifree; available in regular and chocolate)

Many autistic children have issues with soy, so it is better to not introduce soy milk into the diet until later on. Also be careful with the brand of rice milk you choose as the natural flavorings can come from barley. Even those marked gluten free may still contain small amounts of gluten due to current FDA labeling laws. While at this point, gluten is not yet being eliminated from the diet, it is best not to introduce something that might need to be taken away later on.

In addition to the many alternative milks on the market today, dairy-free cooks also use other liquids to replace the milk in recipes when alternatives to milk are not available. Some of those additional liquids are:

  • water
  • fruit juices
  • vegetable juices
  • fruit purees like applesauce
  • additional eggs
  • honey, corn syrup, or molasses (recipe liquid would then need to be reduced)

Finding a Butter Substitute for an Autism Spectrum Disorder Diet

Butter substitutes are difficult to find since most margarines contain casein, caseinate, whey, or lactose; but there are a few milk-free, soy-free margarines available:

  • Earth Balance Soy Free
  • Fleischmann’s Light
  • Mother’s Margarine, kosher for Passover
  • Ghee (clarified butter has the casein and lactose removed)
  • Nucoa Margarine

To replace butter in baking, sometimes vegetable oil can be substituted for the butter in the recipe. This works well if the recipe calls for melted butter, or if there is some liquid in the recipe that can be eliminated or reduced to compensate for the extra wetness. Another idea is to substitute applesauce for part or all of the butter. In cookies, this makes a soft, more cake-like cookie. Coconut oil also makes a good butter substitute. Since Crisco has soy, Spectrum palm oil shortening can be used as well.

Cheese Substitutes (Vegan Cheese) are Another Dairy-Free Diet Intervention for Autism

Cheese substitutes are easier to find, and are generally available at most major grocery stores. Don’t fall for cheeses that claim dairy-free status, though. Dairy-free cheeses generally have lactose in the list of ingredients. Cheese needs to be marked “vegan.” While many cheese substitutes are made from soy, there are vegan cheeses made from rice. The downside to most vegan cheese is that without the lactose, it usually does not melt well. However, most small children would rather eat sliced cheese out of hand anyways.

Autism Spectrum Disorders Often Improve on a Dairy-Free Diet

Dairy-free diet interventions for autism spectrum disorders, if used slowly and sparingly, can help an autistic child improve as well as adjust to the change that new food and drinks bring. While change is never easy for anyone, for a child with autism, it can be especially difficult. Easing into a gluten-free, casein-free diet gives the child time to adjust. While disrupting an autistic child’s routine will still create stress that must be dealt with patiently, the possible benefits are worth the effort.

Categories: Diet, Health, Nutrition