The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet for Autism
By glutenfreegigi on February 10, 2014
The GFCF Diet for Autism
Know someone with Autism? Then you have probably heard about the Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) diet.
Working with special diets and nutrition is my full-time job, so I get many questions about this so-called “Autism Diet”.
When people learn I have a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, one of several Autism Spectrum Disorders, the questions really start rolling in! I love that!
We parents of autistic children are some of the most passionate I know. Even if we do not always see eye-to-eye on how to manage and live with autism, there is generally tremendous mutual respect for the desire each of us has to learn more about this serious neurological condition. We share a common goal, to enhance the lives of our children.
Sometimes this involves alternative treatments. That’s where the GFCF Diet comes in…
What is the GFCF Diet?
The obvious answer is that it is a diet free from gluten and casein.
Let’s remind ourselves what these are…
Gluten is the protein portion of certain grass-related grains such as wheat (including spelt and kamut), barley, rye, triticale, and malts.
Casein is a protein in milk and milk products.
So, in addition to following a gluten free diet, a person on the GFCF Diet would also be dairy free.
Can this diet help with Autism?
Some doctors and scientists believe, “Yes!”, it can. Here’s one reason why…
Drugs, liquids, and even the foods we put into our bodies trigger the release of certain brain chemicals.
Because autism is a neurological condition, one theory suggests children with autism may be highly sensitive to proteins like gluten and casein found in the foods they eat.
It is possible autistic individuals even process these proteins differently from those who do not have autism. This may lead to the production of chemicals in the body that cause the symptoms of autism to be more pronounced.
To test this theory, scientists have observed autistic children on a GFCF Diet. Some have shown improvement, particularly with their behavior and speech, and the gastrointestinal issues that are somewhat common for autistic individuals.
Why isn’t Everyone with Autism on a GFCF Diet?
The answer is simple: No definitive body of research exists that shows the GFCF Diet to be effective in autism.
Just last May at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia, researchers announced the diet “didn’t show significant benefits”. That was the headline.
However, the study was also extremely small, including only 14 individuals. Compared to the nearly 1.5 million Americans believed to be on the autism spectrum, this is just not enough evidence to make such a broad statement.
From the years of research experience I gained earning my masters in behavioral neuroscience, I know it was risky to make this claim regarding the ineffectiveness of the GFCF Diet for autism based on such a small sample size. The study could hardly be called definitive.
Scientific research requires a great deal of time and funding. As a result, many studies fall short when it comes to the number of individuals evaluated. Often, the resources aren’t available to study the thousands required to reveal adequate results. When this is the case, whatever the findings, they should be handled with care.
There is also an abundance of anecdotal evidence in favor of the GFCF Diet for Autism. There are stories written about the positive results in magazines and journals regularly. I also hear directly from parents about how the GFCF Diet helps.
These stories and the parents report increased alertness in their autistic children, as well as marked improvements in social interaction, sensory perception, and other behaviors after just a short time on a GFCF Diet.
Given this disparity, what is the right answer?
Here’s how I look at it. The GFCF Diet is not radical. It is simply about removing foods from the diet for a period of time to see what happens. The decision to try the GFCF diet is a personal one and before making it you should consult your physician.
You can find lots of GFCF recipes in my Recipe Index here.
You may also enjoy my 5 Essential Dairy-Free Recipes eBook, with recipes for Fudge Sauce, Nacho “Cheese” Sauce, Homemade Oat and Rice Milks, and Banana “Ice Cream”. All recipes are free from gluten, dairy/casein, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, corn and eggs, too! :)
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