Autism diet recommendations can be many and varied. Some experts will suggest gluten-free and casein-free diets. Gluten is a substance found in breads and other grains and casein appears in milk and dairy products. The belief is that some people with autism have trouble digesting such substances, resulting in a decreased, foggy state of consciousness.
Other autism diet suggestions include cutting out yeast and sugars, and concentrating on consuming larger quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Each of these theories have solid research to back them up, but while adults may be able to make dietary decisions for their children, it is not always as easily applied as they may wish.
Kids are still kids whether they have autism or not! They have individual tastes, and will prefer some foods to others. It is not always easy to remove the foods that they enjoy, and introduce those that don’t typically appeal.
So the following are practical tips for parents who are aiming to introduce a healthy autism diet.
Turn it into finger food. Some small children can be more likely to eat something when they know what’s in it, and often enjoy vegetables raw rather than cooked. A healthy diet should include generous servings of vegetables in at least two meals a day so try slicing up a selection of vegetables like carrots, broccoli and sweet red pepper into little sticks and serve them plain or with a dip for dunking.
Offer berries. Almost all types of berries are nutritious and rich in antioxidants so keep strawberries, blueberries, raspberries – and any other berries that you can find and that your child enjoys – on hand for snacks. They can satisfy a sweet tooth and don’t break the rules of most autism diets.
Sugar-free sweetening. You can still give your kids sweet things without loading them down with sugar. Stevia can be an effective solution for this problem. Readily available in health food stores, Stevia is a South American herb that’s sweeter than sugar and is an excellent alternative, as long as it is used in moderation. In most autism diets, other sweetening agents – sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, jelly etc – should be kept to an absolute minimum. Stevia can be used in many of a child’s favorite recipes such as in lemonade and cookies.
Use supplements. If you are worried that your child’s diet isn’t giving them all the nutrition they need, speak to your doctor or naturopath about supplements. When kids are off dairy products, they may need calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D. Enzyme supplements can help aid digestion. And there are a host of other beneficial supplements from fish oil to amino acids, Vitamin B12 to calcium, magnesium and zinc. Many come in child-friendly chewable forms but always check with a health expert first, as many of these chewable vitamins come with a high dose of sugar.