Allergic Solution Newsletter
Autism and Food - The Connection
Feb 2013


Where did January go? This month we are going to focus on Autism.  When I first started my career in nutrition, I had not heard of Autism, today I don't think there is anyone who hasn't heard of it and I am pretty sure we all know someone who is dealing with it or are dealing with it personally.  I have worked with families affected by Autism, helping them navigate the GF/CF (gluten-free casein-free diet).  What I have seen when adopting this diet has been amazing. The changes in these kids can be miraculous.  Some more than others but one of the keys I have experienced is perseverance. You may not see changes overnight or even in 3 months but you will see changes. It takes 18 months on a gluten free diet to completely rid the body of gluten.  In that time the body will start to repair some of the damage that has occurred.  Be patient, it can be difficult but it is not impossible.  I worked with a single mom whose Autistic son only drank milk and ate donuts.  Yes everyday she would drive to the local coffee shop and buy him 2 dozen donuts. What was this kid going to eat? We started very slowly by watering down his milk and skipping every other donut snack replacing it with boiled chicken cut up in bite size pieces.  It took almost 4 months to completely get rid of the donuts and a full 2 years to get him eating 12 different foods.  Lots of melt downs from him and tears from Mom but she stuck to it and today that little 3 year old is now 9, eats a variety of foods, talks, is toilet trained and attends regular school with a teacher's aid and he even plays hockey.


The food we eat is a powerful tool in our health, it is the fuel that runs our bodies, we all need to be more mindful about what we are fueling up with. 

Tammie Sarra
President of Allergic Solution

Autism and Food - The Connection


-Article and recipes by Sarah Maughan, B.A, RHN   

Autism. A word that everyone has heard before. You may know more than one person affected by Autism because the number of children affected by Autism is on the rise. Without getting into why this is happening - I'm here to talk about the role that food plays in Autism. If you've ever googled "Food and Autism" you've likely come across "GF-CF", which stands for Gluten-Free Casein (dairy)-Free. You may have read how going gluten- free and dairy-free can cause incredible changes in children with autism, and also read about the flipside that it isn't effective. At this time, diet is still not part of the mainstream recommendations for managing Autism. The reason is that the evidence isn't always collected in a lab under controlled conditions, and when it is, the conclusion is that more research is needed. This makes people nervous, so lets go over what we do know about the role of food and the brain so we can make our own conclusions and empower children's brains with food!   

What we know - you be the judge: 

  • Gluten and Casein are proteins found in wheat and dairy products. These proteins break down in our intestinal system into molecules that resemble those from opiate drugs (gluteomorphin/gliadorphin and casomorphin). If the gut has any openings in the intestinal wall these molecules will travel through the bloodstream to the brain and attach to opiate receptors which can create the feeling of being drugged (1)
  • Opiates (morphine, codeine, heroin, etc) increase pain tolerance, relax throat muscles and disrupt speech, cause restlessness, are addictive, and create a feeling of being disconnected - and anything that mimics opiates (ie. Gluten and casein molecules) can do the same
  • Opiates cause withdrawal symptoms once removed - agitation, anxiety, insomnia, crying, and craving for the drug or anything that will ignite a "feel good" sensation - ie. Sugary food  
  • Food affects the brain
    • Certain foods can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy - foods rich in glutamate and aspartate(2)
    • Certain foods have to be avoided if people are taking medication with MAOI inhibitors ( eg. anti-depressants) to avoid interaction(3) with the drug
    • Every single person knows what it feels like to have a craving - a craving is a thought, but yet is delivered to your digestive system
    • White sugar ignites the same addiction pathway in the brain that illegal drugs do - Dr. Vera Tarman, Addictions Specialist, discovered that "The surplus of neurochemicals that result [from processed high sugar food] create a heightened sense of well-being that is the same as a drug intoxication. Look on a SPECT scan, a specialized radiological study of part of the brain, and you could not tell the difference between a sugar high and a cocaine high." She also discovered that dairy, chocolate, and sugar activate neurochemical reward pathways similar to opiates and after a few weeks of sugar withdrawal rats have shown similar symptoms of opiate withdrawal(4)
  • Most of the foods that people are addicted to or comforted by include pizza, bagels, bread, muffins, cakes, cookies, pies, cereal, pasta, cheese, crackers - all of which are commonly made with products that contain gluten and casein
  • People who share their stories about how Gluten-free and Casein-free diets have helped their child's Autism do so in order to help other parents find the best solutions for their children - they have nothing to gain from promoting GF-CF diets 


As you can see food has a powerful effect on the brain and how people perform. People jump at the chance to try a new and untested cancer drug knowing that the drug could kill them - so does a small diet change seem risky and harmful? Absolutely not! As I've mentioned in previous newsletters with Allergic Solution, eating without gluten and casein can be flavourful with a lot of options too! Are you ready to make this change for your child? Are you ready to empower your child with food? Excellent! To get started on a gluten and casein free diet here are my top tips to implement the diet with as little stress and the whole food way!  

  1. Go gluten free, the healthy way - no refined white rice flour, potato starch, filled and preservative filled gluten free products. Look for flours like chickpea, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, teff, nut flours, and coconut flours to provide maximum nutrition and blood sugar stability for energy and mood 
  2. Remove, don't necessarily replace - you don't need to replace every single gluten and dairy filled product you've ever had before - just replace the ones that you find that have great ingredients and also taste great. Avoid the packaged speciality products that are actually a chemical storm that will affect your child regardless of whether or not they have Autism 
  3. Focus on feeding your child whole foods that are gluten/casein free - make sure they get lots of nutrients through fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, gluten free whole grains, and healthy fats and opt only for food products that contain real food and no fillers, preservatives, artificial ingredients, colours, etc.
  4. Be Patient - there may be anger and frustration as they may experience cravings, intense thoughts about gluten/casein food, but it will pass. It will be tough and with your support, they can push through the cravings. 
  5. Remember to always smile and remain positive - you're feeding your child some kind of food regardless, and all parents need to think of the quality of food they are feeding their children.Try and avoid getting stressed out, children feed off of parental anxiety and stress. Smile knowing that you are a parent, trying to do the best for your child ☺

Stay tuned for the March Edition of this newsletter where I outline specific nutrients needed for brain health and more specifics for how to be gluten and casein free in the healthiest and easiest way! 





Sarah Maughan is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist in Toronto, ON and is one of few Nutritionists in Canada who is also Board Certified in Practical Holistic Nutrition™ Like us on FacebookFollow us on Twitter 

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specializing in autism spectrum disorder for ten years. She will support you in making dietary changes that can significantly impact the lives of children with autism, and your entire family. At Nourishing Hope, you will receive food and supplement guidance, methods for cleaning up your home and avoiding toxins, practical instruction for healthy cooking, and support for pregnant moms and babies too!


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