Autism & Diet: The Best & Worst Foods

autism diet foods

Getting your children to eat healthy foods can be a challenge. In fact, more than half of American children are eating poor diets today.

If your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), helping them get all of the nutrients they need can be even more challenging due to food aversions, gastrointestinal symptoms, eating habits, and medication interactions. 

Research suggests that diets can impact the quality of life of people who have autism, so it's essential to try to give your child the proper foods. Read this post in under 10 minutes to find out which foods are best and worst to eat if you have autism.

Autism & Unbalanced Diet

There are several reasons you may have an unbalanced diet or require a special diet if you have autism. The reason can be due to:

  • Food aversions.
  • Medication interactions.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
  • Food allergies.

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What Does the Research Say?

Studies and research show that in relation to food and diet if you have ASD, you are more likely to:

  • Become overweight or experience obesity due to decreased physical activity and an increase in certain eating habits.
  • Prefer calorie-and-carbohydrate-dense junk food that has high sodium levels and less nutritional value.
  • Have GI issues that may lead to problems with diet, including constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
  • Experience leaky gut.
  • Have thinner bones.
  • Have imbalances in your gut microbiome.
  • Have imbalanced blood sugar levels, possibly due to ADHD/ASD overlap.
  • Have deficiencies in essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3s, due to an enzymatic defect that takes essential fats out of brain cell membranes too quickly.
  • Have an allergy to gluten and casein. 
  • Have restricted diets due to food selectivity or food aversion, or “picky eaters.”
  • Have a weaker immune system due to hypersensitivity, autoimmunity, or inflammation.
  • Have increased nutritional needs based on low iron, zinc, calcium, fiber, folic acid, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6, and B12.
Best foods for autismBest foods for autism
Some of the best foods for autism include beans, leafy greens, fresh fruits, grass-fed meats, fatty fish, and eggs.

The Best Diet for People With Autism

While there isn’t one specific diet that's recommended for people who have autism, there are some foods that may reduce the symptoms of autism and have positive side effects.

  1. Gluten-free diets and casein-free diets (GFCF diets) are commonly adopted among people with autism. The strongest link between foods and ASD is between wheat and dairy products. If you have ASD, you may respond well to this diet because the proteins in wheat and dairy can be hard for your gut’s enzymes to break down. 
  2. Research shows that adding essential fatty acids to the diets of kids and teens who have autism reduces their anxiety levels.
  3. Daily incorporation of a multivitamin supplement or a probiotic may help digestion and sleep, and could also help with nutritional deficiencies. 
  4. Cutting out sugar and refined sugar could help balance your blood sugar levels.
Some of the healthiest foods you can eat if you have autism include beans, leafy greens, and fruits.Some of the healthiest foods you can eat if you have autism include beans, leafy greens, and fruits.

Good Foods for Autism

There are some studies that show certain foods are good for you if you have autism. Some of the foods on this list help with vitamin deficiencies, such as zinc and vitamin D, and others help with things like fiber intake.

  • Beans
  • Nuts, especially walnuts.
  • Seeds, such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds.
  • Grassfed beef or animal proteins.
  • Fortified (filled with Omega-3 fatty acids) eggs.
  • Fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon.
  • Alternative milk, like soy or almond.
  • Leafy greens, such as spinach or kale.
  • Variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • If you must eat grains, make sure they’re whole grains.

Foods That Can Make Symptoms Worse

Just like the “good” foods aid in calming anxiety or increasing nutrition levels, certain “bad” foods may make symptoms of ASD worse.

  • Glutens, such as pasta and bread.
  • Sugars or refined sugars.
  • Corn
  • Artificial colorants.
  • Dairies, like cow’s milk, cheese, or ice cream.
  • Artificial sweeteners.
  • Processed meats.
  • Preservatives or pesticides.

Always keep allergies in mind when trying new foods. Talk to a dietitian or nutritionist if you think you might be allergic to certain foods.

Snack Ideas

Here are some quick snack ideas for those days when you’re too busy to make meals but want to stay away from harmful foods.

Autism snack veggies and hummusAutism snack veggies and hummus
Veggies and hummus.
Egg muffins for autism dietEgg muffins for autism diet
Egg mufins with veggies.
Nuts and fruit for autism diet.Nuts and fruit for autism diet.
Nuts and dried or fresh fruit.
Smoothie for autism diet.Smoothie for autism diet.
Chia seed, spinach, berry, and almond milk smoothie.

Tips to Help Along the Way

Adjusting to a new diet or new foods may be difficult if you have autism, especially if you experience food aversions. Keep these few things in mind as you introduce new foods:

  • Keep a food journal. It may come in handy when you’re trying to remember which foods you liked or disliked. A food journal can also help when it comes to tracking patterns in how certain foods are affecting your behaviors or sleep patterns. 
  • Go at a pace you are comfortable with. If you read this blog and want to introduce new foods into your diet right away because you think something may work for you, remember that you may take longer to adjust. Children with autism and adolescents with ASD also usually take longer to adjust to dietary intervention. 
  • Stay in touch with your healthcare provider during the process of introducing new foods in case the new meals cause gastrointestinal issues or other behavior-related changes. 

Only you, your child, and a healthcare provider can decide what diet is right for your or your child's dietary needs. Be sure to talk to a healthcare professional about diet before making any changes. 

Child with autism experimenting with diet.Child with autism experimenting with diet.

How Aeroflow Urology Can Help

Sometimes when we experiment with new diets, it can have a certain reaction inside our bodies. If you or your child experiences incontinence, Aeroflow Urology can help. We assist in supplying incontinence supplies for children and adults through Medicaid (and some private insurance) plans. 

Am I Eligible for Incontinence Supplies Covered by Insurance?

If you'd like to find out if you qualify to receive incontinence care products through your insurance, simply fill out our eligibility form. From there, one of our Continence Care Specialists will take care of everything.

If approved, we'll help you find the exact products you or your child needs.

Each month, your supplies will be sent directly to your door in discreet packaging.

We will send you a text message or email reminder when it's time to fill up on supplies each month, so you'll never have to go to the store for incontinence supplies again!

References:

5 Foods That Can Make Autism Worse | Amen Clinics | Amen Clinics. (n.d.). https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/5-foods-can-make-autism-worse/

Autism and Nutrition - Unlock Food. (2019). Unlockfood.ca. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Childrens-Nutrition/Health-Conditions/Autism-and-Nutrition.aspx

More than half of American children are eating poor diets, study finds. (n.d.). TODAY.com. https://www.today.com/health/children-healthy-eating-nutrition-most-kids-have-poor-diet-study-t176669

Doreswamy, S., Bashir, A., Guarecuco, J. E., Lahori, S., Baig, A., Narra, L. R., Patel, P., & Heindl, S. E. (2020). Effects of Diet, Nutrition, and Exercise in Children With Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Literature Review. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.12222

Autism - Food for the Brain. (n.d.). Food for the Brain. https://foodforthebrain.org/condition/autism/

Nutritional Therapy for Autism. (n.d.). Https://Www.nichd.nih.gov/. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments/nutritional-therapy#f6

Hyman, S. L., Stewart, P. A., Schmidt, B., Cain, U., Lemcke, N., Foley, J. T., Peck, R., Clemons, T., Reynolds, A., Johnson, C., Handen, B., James, S. J., Courtney, P. M., Molloy, C., & Ng, P. K. (2012). Nutrient Intake From Food in Children With Autism. Pediatrics, 130(Supplement 2), S145–S153. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2012-0900l

Disclaimer

Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care from a healthcare professional. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.

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