Autism Diet & Nutrition

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Table of Contents

What is Autism?

A complex developmental and neurological disease that usually occurs in the first few decades of life is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It affects brain function, especially in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Delayed speaking, lack of interest in playing with other children, not wanting to be hugged or cuddled, and poor eye contact are classic signs. There’s no known cause for ASD, but both genetics and environment are thought to play a role.

It is estimated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has diagnosed 1 in every 59 American kids with ASD. It’s about four times more prevalent in boys than in girls. People with ASD often may repeat behaviors or have narrow, limited interests. These kinds of actions can affect eating habits and food choices, resulting in the following health issues.

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Autism unique dietary challenges

Food choices. Someone with autism could be sensitive to the odor, color, flavor, and texture of foods. They may limit or altogether avoid some foods and even entire food groups. Dislikes might include intensely flavored foods, fruits, vegetables, or detailed textures like slippery or soft foods.

Not eating enough. Children with disabilities may have trouble focusing on a single task for an extended period. It could be difficult for a kid to sit down and eat a meal from start to finish.

Constipation. This issue might be due to a child’s limited food options, low physical activity levels, or drugs. It can generally be remedied by slowly increasing dietary fiber sources, such as bran cereals and fruits and vegetables, together with loads of fluids and regular physical activity.

Medication interactions. Some stimulant drugs used with autism can lower appetite. This can decrease the amount of food a child eats, which might affect growth. Other medicines may increase appetite or affect the absorption of certain minerals and vitamins. Inquire with your healthcare provider about potential side effects if your child takes medication.

Healthy diet. It can be daunting on many levels to look after a child with ASD, and healthy eating is no exception. A safe, balanced diet plan for children with ASD can make a huge difference in their ability to learn, how they manage their feelings, and how they process knowledge. Since children with ASD often skip certain foods or have limits on what they eat, in addition to having trouble sitting through mealtimes, they may not be receiving all the nutrients they need. A meta-analysis of scientific research in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders confirms these parental concerns and gives insights into the most common nutritional deficiencies related to autism.

Researchers in Marcus Autism Center at Emory University School of Medicine examined and analyzed all printed, peer-reviewed studies about eating issues and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers discovered that children with ASD are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as intense food selectivity, and ritualistic eating behaviors. They also found insufficient nutrition to be more prevalent among children with autism than those unaffected by the disease. Specifically, they found a general low intake of protein and calcium. For building strong bones, calcium is a must. For growth, mental development, and wellness, adequate-protein is necessary.

The investigators note chronic eating issues also increase a child’s risk for social difficulties and low academic achievement. This might also increase the risk of diet-related ailments like obesity and cardiovascular disease in adolescence and adulthood.

The researchers expressed further concern about alternative diets. Many parents say that the effects of their children’s autism and related medical conditions improve when their diets exclude casein or milk protein and gluten (wheat protein). But, casein/gluten-free diets can raise the challenge of ensuring adequate nutrition.

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Autism diet therapy

For those with a child with ASD, try these diet & nutrition strategies.

Be flexible & patient

Many parents feel that the most significant challenge to a healthy eating plan is their child’s reaction to tastes, colors, smells, and textures. Getting your child to try new foods — especially the ones that are soft and slippery — might seem almost impossible. You may realize that your child avoids certain foods or even entire food groups. Among the simplest ways to approach sensory difficulties is to handle them out of the kitchen. Make your child go with you to the store to select a new meal. When you get home, study it together to find out where it is growing on the worldwide web. Then, decide together how to prepare it. When you’re finished, don’t be concerned if your child does not want to consume it. Only becoming acquainted with new foods in a low-pressure, positive manner can eventually help your child become a more elastic eater.

Regular mealtimes 

A child with ASD would have to work harder at mealtimes with many possible stressors. Making foods as predictable and regular as possible can help. Serving meals at precisely the same time every day is among the simplest ways to decrease stress. Moreover, think of what concessions you may make for simpler mealtimes. Let your child choose a favorite chair at the table. If your child is sensitive to lights, then consider dimming them consider candlelight with adult supervision. Let your child select a favorite food that will be included in each meal.

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Seek Guidance for Special Diets

You might have discovered that a gluten- or casein-free diet may improve symptoms of ASD. Gluten is a kind of protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Casein is a protein found in milk. Proponents of the diet consider individuals with autism have a “leaky gut,” or gut, allowing parts of gluten-free and casein to seep into the blood and affect the brain and central nervous system. The belief is that this can lead to autism or magnify its symptoms. But, controlled scientific studies haven’t proven this to be true, so the survey at this time doesn’t support their use. Restrictive diets require careful planning to ensure that your child’s nutrition needs are being met. Before making any dramatic adjustments to

the meal plan for your child, speak to a registered dietitian nutritionist as there could be side effects and potential nutritional shortages when a gluten- or casein-free diet is self-prescribed.

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Working With a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

With or without autism, most kids can be demanding and specific about the foods they consume. A registered dietitian nutritionist may determine any nutrient risks based on how your child eats, answer your questions about the efficacy and security of nutrition therapies and nutritional supplements promoted for autism, and help guide your child about the best way to eat well and live healthfully.