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Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diets for Autism

Which foods contain gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in the seeds of several grains such as barley, rye, and wheat. A huge number of foods contain gluten. Gluten provides structure or binding to baked products. While it's quite difficult to avoid gluten, many stores, particularly natural food stores, display foods in a gluten-free area of the store. Still, it's important to read nutrition labels to see if there are additives containing gluten.

When someone is on a gluten-free diet, most bread and grain products are forbidden. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the child (or other person) receives ample fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Supplementation can help make up for the lack of these nutrients when foods containing gluten are eliminated.

Which foods contain casein?

Casein is a protein found in dairy products and other foods containing dairy or lactose. Even foods proclaiming to be dairy-free or lactose-free contain casein. Because many soy products and imitation dairy products also contain casein, it's important to read labels carefully when following a strict casein free diet.

Because the GFCF diet for autism restricts dairy products, you'll need to make sure the child's diet has other good sources of calcium and vitamin D. Both are necessary for strong bones and teeth. Talk with your child's doctor about fortified foods and/or supplementation to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.

Are there tips for eating at home or eating out on a gluten-free/casein-free diet?

There are a large number of online retailers who specialize in food products for people following the GFCF diet. Some parents make GFCF food in large quantities and freeze portions for a later meal.

Before making the change to a GFCF diet, consult your child's doctor. A licensed dietitian can educate you about the GFCF diet and help you tailor the diet to your child's health needs and taste preferences.

In addition, before starting a child with autism on a gluten-free/casein-free diet, beware the hidden sources of gluten. Gluten can be found in fried foods that are dusted in flour and even in cosmetics. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts may be safe. But avoid using packaged mixes because there may be traces of foods containing gluten that are not listed on the nutrition label.

Some restaurants are now categorized as GFCF-friendly. If you are concerned, ask the manager or server to show you a list of ingredients used in the establishment to make sure its dishes are gluten- and casein-free. Vegetarian/vegan restaurants are accustomed to serving people on special diets and may be more willing to prepare dishes that adhere to the restrictions of a strict GFCF diet.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan G Weintraub, MD on May 12, 2013

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