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Health Benefits of Autism Diets and Nutrition

By Jodie Parus, RD, LD

Should your child with autism spectrum disorder be on a special diet; will it really help; and what does the research say? An online search for information on autism and nutrition will provideHealth Benefits of Autism Diets you with overwhelming and often contradictory information. You may read "this diet is a miracle" as well as "there is absolutely no link between autism and nutrition". Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in autism spectrum disorder for ten years says, "Diet can help some children with autism" and that "the disorder can be influenced by the choices a parent makes regarding treatment and therapies. Most immediately, children's health, learning, and behavior can improve when specialized attention is given to the foods and nutrition they receive." 

In the past, autism was considered strictly a brain disorder. However, the recent work of autism researches has brought about a more appropriate "whole-body disorder" perspective. A complex set of factors influence autism including, toxins, environmental factors, digestive health and inflammation. All of which have specific effects on the brain.

Toxins from the environment and food can build up and have detrimental effects causing irritability, aggression and brain and cellular damage. Examples of such toxins include salicylates, artificial ingredients, chemicals, preservatives, colorings and dyes. 

Common physical symptoms of children with autism are diarrhea, constipation, bloating and GI pain. When the GI is not functioning properly, negative behavioral changes and cognitive problems may occur or be exacerbated. Changes in diet that promote healing of the GI can improve autism symptoms.

Nutrition is a great tool to use in the effort to ease symptoms of autism, as it is something accessible to everyone and has few downsides. When properly implemented, autism diets have shown improvements in GI problems, language, learning, focus, attention, eye contact, behavior, sleep difficulties, toilet training and skin rashes/eczema. 

  • Eliminate foods that inflame the gut: gluten and casein free diets are among the most effective
  • Add foods that heal the gut: ginger, turmeric, sources of omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish, flax and walnuts
  • Avoid food additives: any artificial ingredients, chemicals, preservatives, colorings and dyes
  • Remove high salicylate foods: apples, berries, grapes, melon, tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber, spinach, almonds, olive oil, and more
  • Reduce sugar intake 


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