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Autism Diet plan

Diet to Support Positive Behaviors & Healthy Eating in Autism & ADHD – Dr. Vidur Vithal MD

People with autism are also at higher risk for gastrointestinal problems. Children with autism may avoid certain foods or develop strong texture or temperature aversions because of the physical discomfort they associate with those sensations. In frustration, parents of autistic children may limit their child’s foods to only those they know will be accepted. However, this is not a sustainable model to develop healthy eating and nutrition.

It is important to work with your pediatrician and a behavior therapist to expand your child’s diet. Over time, you and your child’s treatment team can develop a list of optimal foods that your child enjoys as well as a list of foods to avoid that often result in digestive issues. Many parents with autistic children turn to specialized diets in an effort to support their child’s well-being.

Several studies have shown that children with autism tend to shy away from healthier foods, like vegetables and fresh fruits, in favor of more processed starches and snack foods. They may also struggle to get enough protein, as the texture of several foods containing protein may be unappealing. To encourage change in these behaviors, parents often try certain approaches to feeding problems. These are the three most common diets for autism:

Autism MEAL Plan: This is not just a nutritional plan. Parents can train in this behavioral approach so they can best help their children. Behaviour  therapies like ABA have been the most effective approach to addressing feeding problems in people with autism. The autism MEAL plan focuses on changing behaviors toward certain foods. This is still a relatively new approach to helping children with autism get their nutritional needs met. Some studies offered parents training in autism MEAL plans for eight weeks and found that the behavioral approach eased caregiver stress around mealtimes a great deal. However, it was noted that children with autism did not have behavioral improvements around meals or food selectivity. Future research is still needed to understand if applying this specific behavioral approach can help children long term or if there is little benefit to the approach.

Gluten-free/casein-free diet (GFCF): Many parents put their children on the GFCF diet, especially parents who have children with autism. Since both gluten, a wheat protein, and casein, a dairy protein, can make digestive problems in people with autism worse, removing these from a child’s diet can seem to make sense. The gluten-free/casein-free diet may improve behaviors around food for a while, but it can be difficult to make sure your child gets enough protein, whole grains, and amino acids, which are often part of bread and dairy in Western diets. It’s important to find other food options to meet these needs.

Modified ketogenic diet: This low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, high-fat diet can help children with autism get needed protein for brain and muscle development while removing potential sources of digestive discomfort like wheat. A focus on certain types of protein can even help you remove dairy from your child’s diet, if cheese or milk causes them digestive distress. Since this diet is tied to higher nutrient intake while removing certain irritants, it might be more effective for children with autism than other diets. It is important to be careful of the amount of fat that is consumed, as this can contribute to heart disease and obesity, especially if your child struggles to eat other healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

Autism & Homoeopathy - Dr. Vithal
Autism & Homoeopathy – Dr. Vithal

The Optimal Food List for Children With Autism

A study found that the most common nutrient insufficiencies in children with autism were fiber, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6, and B12. Due to food preferences or obsessions, some children may have too much of one or two of these nutrients. Food avoidances mean that many autistic children don’t have enough of these vitamins and minerals. To help your child get the right balance of these important nutrients, try adding these foods to their diet with the help of a behavior therapist:

  • Beans like navy beans, pinto beans, and black beans
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Soy milk
  • Almonds and almond milk
  • Dried figs and apricots
  • Cruciferous vegetables like kale and broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Oatmeal
  • Green peas
  • Mango
  • Melons like cantaloupe
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Carrots
  • Sweet red pepper
  • Pumpkin
  • Citrus like oranges and grapefruit
  • Mushrooms
  • Beet greens
  • Butternut squash
  • Avocado
  • Rice
  • Onions and garlic

Many of these foods offer multiple nutrients, so combining them in different ways through meal planning can help your child get high-quality nutrients, avoid foods that cause discomfort, and slowly add new experiences to your child’s eating habits.

Begin planning meals that contain several fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins, so there is a variety of options. Sprinkle in new foods with tried-and-true options you know your child will like.

 Food to Avoid

If you notice a particular food results in stomach issues or negative behaviors, avoid it. These are common foods that may cause issues in children with autism:

  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Wheat products
  • High-sugar foods
  • Processed meats
  • Chocolates
  • Animal Fats, eggs , animal protein

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Dr. Vidur SN Vithal BHMS; DNHE; MD (Hom.)

Internationally Renowned Homoeopath & Nutritionist.