According to the CDC, autism otherwise known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed in one out of every 54 children in the United States. There are several mental and physical health challenges faced by children with ASD such as abnormal social skills, behavioral issues and problems communicating, in addition, children with autism are also far more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems and be fussy eaters than children who don’t have ASD.
The diet an autistic child eats has a big impact on their general health and the severity of their symptoms, therefore a kid with ASD must get a diet that is tailored to their nutritional needs. However, due to their symptoms children with ASD are often picky eaters so it can be a challenge making sure they eat well.
To make sure an autistic child receives a diet that controls and manages their symptoms, parents can ensure their diet is full of fruits, nuts, lean meats and vegetables. On the other hand, there are several foods that parents should avoid to promote better mental and physical health outcomes and reduce a child’s pickiness as they aren’t left feeling sick after dinner.
For parents of children with autism considering how to improve their child’s diet and feeding habits, here are the foods you should avoid in their diet.
Kids suffering from ASD who experience gastrointestinal issues often have decreased levels of enzymes required to digest complex sugars and struggle to absorb simple sugars into the bloodstream. A vast majority of children with autism suffer from gastrointestinal distress although autism probiotics can alleviate some symptoms such as chronic diarrhoea, constipation and cramping. In addition, much like people with diabetes, children with autism may also suffer from glucose intolerance and problems regulating excessive insulin levels.
Removing sugars and refined carbohydrates from a child’s diet whilst adding more lean protein will help to develop their mental capabilities including concentration and decision making.
There are some healthy alternatives to sugary snacks and treats suitable for an ASD diet including almonds, apricots, dark chocolate, figs and mangoes.
Although dairy can be delicious and a great source of certain nutrients, it is, unfortunately, a cause or trigger for inflammation in certain people as it contains the protein casein. Since autism and the severity of symptoms is closely linked to levels of inflammation in the body, it is recommended that dairy is avoided to help avoid gastrointestinal issues which will, in turn, have positive effects on their behavior. Alternatives to milk and other daily products are almond or soy milk.
Products Containing Corn
Corn has been a vastly popular staple in the United States for many decades, however, corn products are not suitable foods for kids with autism as they are high in omega-6 fatty acids that are known to increase inflammation, rather than omega-3 fatty acids which work to reduce inflammation. Furthermore, most corn production, aside from organically grown corn, involves extensive use of herbicides and pesticides which have been claimed to increase the risk of autism and other health conditions.
Processed Foods With Preservatives
Propionic acid (PPA) is a preservative commonly found in many processed foods such as baked goods, which work to limit and slow down the growth of bacteria and mold to make food last longer. PPA is also naturally produced by bacteria in the gut, however some children with autism may already have higher than average levels of bacteria that produce PPA. For this reason, it is often better to avoid feeding processed foods to autistic children as excessive amounts of PPA can increase the severity of ASD symptoms.
Found in grains including barley, rye and wheat, gluten is a combination of proteins that can cause increased systemic inflammation due to an antibody reaction to gluten. In addition to this, gluten also lowers the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut increasing the chance of gastrointestinal problems which in turn causes distress and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress.
Furthermore, gluten related inflammation also affects brain functions in the cerebellum, a key part of the brain vital for coordination, motor skills and processing of information. Children with ASD are more likely to experience issues with brain functionality and gluten may worsen these symptoms. Some dietary alternatives to foods containing gluten are chickpeas, lentils and rice.
Unfortunately, due to environmental pollution traces of mercury can be found in almost every kind of seafood, although larger fish higher up in the food chain such as king mackerel, swordfish and tuna, accumulate mercury and are usually contaminated with greater amounts of the poisonous element.
It is common practice for food manufacturers to add artificial ingredients to alter or enhance flavors and colors, however, these additives do not occur naturally in food and some people have raised concerns that they increase hyperactivity in children.
Foods Containing High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is regularly added to processed to increase shelf life and of course, make them sweeter, however, there are a variety of concerns surrounding HFCS as it is usually produced using GMO corn and chemicals such as caustic soda and hydrochloric acid that can have traces of mercury.
Healthier alternatives to processed foods containing HFCS are unprocessed dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables as well as HFCS-free products and homemade baked goods.
Meat producers and processors often add nitrites and nitrates to processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs and sliced meats to stop the growth of bacteria that causes botulism. Such chemicals are considered to be potentially carcinogenic, therefore processed meats are unlikely to have positive effects on the mental and physical health of an autistic child. Alternatively, they should eat lean meats such as beef, chicken and turkey.
Ensuring a child suffering from autism is getting all the nutrients required to not only grow healthily but also to manage the symptoms of ASD can be challenging. The reactions autistic children have to certain foods can lead to them becoming even fussier at dinnertime as they can connect it to feeling sick mentally or physically afterwards, therefore parents must ensure these foods are avoided.