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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diets for Autism

How does a gluten-free/casein-free diet for autism work? continued...

There may be some scientific merit to the reasoning behind a gluten-free/casein-free diet. Researchers have found abnormal levels of peptides in bodily fluids of some people who have symptoms of autism. Still, the effectiveness of a GFCF diet for autism has not been supported by medical research; in fact, a review of recent and past studies concluded there is a lack of scientific evidence to say whether this diet can be helpful or not.

Unfortunately, eliminating all sources of gluten and casein is so difficult that conducting randomized clinical trials in children may prove to be very difficult.

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.

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