A New Diet for Autism? Finding alternatives to the GFCF diet

A New Diet for Autism? Finding alternatives to the GFCF diet

In recent years, the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet has been the most popular dietary intervention for children on the autism spectrum.

Some parents claim strict adherence to the diet has caused dramatic improvement in their child while other parents find the diet too inconvenient and difficult to follow. While the GFCF diet can be a good start toward better nutrition, there are other things to consider when feeding an autistic child. One important consideration is how the foods the child eats affect blood glucose levels.Focus on maintaining steady blood glucose levels rather than strict elimination of certain dietary components may go a long way to improving behavior in autistic children.

Alternative Diets for Autism

According to neurologist Natasha Campbell-McBride M.D. in her article titled “The Essential Diet for Children with Autism,” autistic children should eat foods in their most natural form. She says the processed foods parents feed their children cause a rapid increase in blood glucose (hyperglycemia) causing the pancreas to pump out lots of insulin very quickly resulting in a very low level of blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Dr. Campbell-McBride contends this up and down glucose roller-coaster is harmful for anybody, let alone autistic children.Instead of feeding carbohydrates in a highly processed form, she says to feed carbohydrates in the form of mostly raw fruits and vegetables so that blood glucose levels will increase gradually. Many of the foods advertised as GFCF are often just highly processed foods that have had casein and gluten removed.

Going back to food in its natural state is also the basis for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). This may sound like yet another restrictive diet but it is a way of eating most likely practiced by our ancestors long before the invention of processed foods. While this diet does allow some foods a caveman would not likely have on hand (cheeses and yogurt), the bulk of the diet consists of vegetables, fruits and unprocessed meats. The foods allowed are similar to those in the GFCF diet except that some dairy products are included and many whole grains are excluded. No processed foods are allowed which could cause a dramatic fluctuation in blood glucose.

Implementing a New Diet for Autism

Elimination of processed foods and inclusion of more whole foods (unprocessed vegetables, fruits, and meats) may be the key to improved behavior. However, cooking from scratch may seem even more inconvenient than purchasing specialty GFCF products and reading every food label.

Learning how to cook and involving the entire family in meal preparation can ease the work load associated with preparing whole foods. Picky eaters may also benefit from cooking lessons. A child will often try a food they cooked themselves over one prepared by a parent. Also, frozen homemade meals can make eating well more convenient.

While elimination of allergenic and problematic foods will certainly cause a child to feel better, taking the diet one step further and using food to stabilize glucose levels can also have a dramatic affect on an autistic child’s behavior. Parents who have become frustrated with the cost and inconvenience of the GFCF diet may want to concentrate less on finding foods that are gluten-free and casein- free and go back to a more basic way of feeding their child.

Categories: Diet, Health, Nutrition