GFCF Diet Guide: Complete Guide to going Gluten, Casein, & Soy Free For Autism
Everything You Need To Get Started On The GFCF Diet for Autism
My goal with this GFCF Diet Guide is to help parents navigate a brand new way of eating for their kids with autism. Within this guide is everything you will need to start a GFCF diet for your family.
It is a daunting task to change everything you once did in terms of food. My aim here is to answer as many questions a parent may have and provide everything you need in one convenient place.
Because this is a complete guide, it is quite lengthy. Not to worry, I have included a “Table of Contents” to help make navigating this guide simple. Simply click on a chapter to go directly to that section of the article. This should make it easy for you to come back and pick up where you left off.
If you would like the to read this offline, you can subscribe to my newsletter by entering your email at the end of this guide, and I’ll send you the PDF as my gift. Additionally, you can also purchase the EBook for $5 -no email signup required.
A Parent’s GFCF Diet Guide:
Table of Contents
**Click On the Title Below To Jump To A Specific Section**
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Grains, Flours, and Baking
- Cooking Ingredients
- Oils and Fats
- Dairy Substitutes
Remember, I’m simply a Dad sharing the knowledge and experience I’ve learned over the past 9 years. The content in this guide is for informational purposes and should not be considered medical advice.
EBook is Available
This GFCF Guide will always be free here on ImSimplyaDad.com, and I send all new email subscribers a free copy. However, if you would like to own this guide and be able to read it offline, you can purchase the EBook for a mere $5. OR, Simply enter your email at the end of this page and I’ll send you a free copy.
Our Early Days on the GFCF Diet
I think parents everywhere will agree on how difficult it is to get our kids to try new foods. Throw in a condition like autism, and it feels nearly impossible. I remember the struggles we used to have with our son.
When we first started on the GFCF diet for his autism, meal times looked more like behavior therapy sessions at best. However, most of the time it was just a downright battle.
In the beginning, taking away all his favorite foods was a major struggle. Thankfully, it did get much easier, and today it’s near effortless. 9 years ago, we begged, brawled, and bribed our way to a 100% GFCF diet for him. Through this process my wife & I shed many tears, withstood a great deal of stress, and we certainly earned our warrior parent stripes.
The GFCF Diet Gets Easier
We endured all the tantrums at the refrigerator and all the meltdowns next to the Goldfish display at Target. Through all the food thrown across the room, we did not waiver. We stuck with the diet, and today we are reaping the rewards.
Today, many of the foods we fought so hard to get him to taste are now his favorites. Even better, his immune system is stronger, and his sleep has greatly improved. My promise to any parent considering the GFCF diet for their child is simply “it gets easier”.
It will be hard at first. There’s no doubt about that. If you stick with the diet 100%, it will get easier. I will teach you a couple strategies that eventually worked for us throughout this guide, but if you persevere through the battles in the beginning, you will likely develop your own strategies as well.
A Complete Guide to Going Gluten & Casein Free (Soy Free Too)
GFCF Diet Parent Testimonial
“Diet was instrumental to us! The fourth day off milk, he looked us in the eye for the first time! GFCFSF is crucial. I can’t even imagine anyone being successful in recovery without it. We have tried so many things and while they all worked a little, I am confident that the #1 intervention we did was the diet. If you focus on what you can have and not what you can’t, it’s not that bad. Our son has been on it for 8 years and now at 10, he reads all labels & is always asking questions about what he can and can’t have. I feel like while it was difficult in the beginning, it’s actually the easiest thing we did.” –Monica
For my purposes, when I refer to the GFCF diet, I’m actually talking about the GFCFSF diet. The GFCFSF diet stands for gluten free, casein free, and soy free. (However, I am using only GFCF simply because it will help others find this page when searching Google, but I will be using the 2 terms interchangeably in this guide). It is often the launching point for many parents of kids with autism and/or ADHD.
Additionally, when I talk about this diet, I am talking about a “healing” GFCFSF diet. I’ll define why & what I believe to be a healing GFCF diet later, but it goes beyond simply removing gluten, casein, and soy from the diet.
Go “All In”
The very first thing you need to know is that you have to be 100% GFCFSF compliant. No cheats. No exceptions for birthdays or special occasions. In order for you to really give the GFCF diet a fair shot, you have to go “All In”.
If you’re always gluten and casein free when you are at home, but then allow your kid to go off diet away from home, then you are not GFCFSF. The goal with the diet is to reduce inflammation, slow down the immune system, and allow the body to heal. A single cheat can trigger inflammation, so even if you only cheat once a week, the immune system never really slows down. Therefore, you may never notice any improvements. Go “All In” and give the diet a real chance!
Overview on the Science behind the GFCF Diet
I’m not going to dive too deep into the science behind the diet in this post. There are entire books written on gluten alone, so I will just give you a brief overview and point you to a few very good resources should you want to learn even more.
*If you already have an idea on the science behind the GFCF diet click here to skip to the next section
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein commonly found in wheat, rye, barley, and most oats. We can now find this deleterious ingredient everywhere. Because of its sticky composition it’s become a favorite tool of chefs & food scientists, so you will find it in a host of packaged & processed foods. Of course you’ll find gluten in obvious places like pizza, bread, and pasta, but you’ll also find it hidden in salad dressings, ketchups, deli meats, potato chips, and a host of other foods. It may even be lurking in your shampoo, toothpaste, and art supplies. (glue, play-doh, etc.)
You’ll want to remove all sources of gluten including non-food sources. It’s a good idea to buy natural body care products (they typically say gluten free). Model magic is an excellent GF alternative to play-doh, or you can make your own!
What is So Bad About Gluten?
There are many ways gluten can pose a problem, only 2 of which are generally recognized by the medical community. The first is an allergy that causes an acute allergic reaction immediately after coming into contact with gluten. The second is an autoimmune reaction where the body mounts an attack against its own tissues. In this circumstance, gluten triggers the immune system to start attacking the small intestines in a condition known as celiac disease. For both of these conditions there are tests that can confirm whether a person has a gluten allergy or celiac.
Similar to a gluten allergy is a gluten sensitivity. A sensitivity is different from an allergy because it is a different immune response, yet it may even do more long term damage. A food sensitivity is when the body sends out soldiers to protect itself from a foreign invader. The immune system tags the food molecules as the enemy. In the case of gluten sensitivity the body wages war against the gluten peptides. This is a problem because gluten peptides look similar to the proteins of our own body, and those soldiers may inadvertently attack our own tissues.
Now, gluten sensitivity has yet to be fully accepted by mainstream medicine, but we are getting closer. Afterall, it now has its own fancy name: NCGS or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. An allergy is immediate and a food sensitivity may have a delayed immune reaction of up to 72 hours. For example, you may be struck with a migraine headache or your kiddo suddenly gets hyperactive. The culprit could be that slice of pizza you don’t remember eating 3 days ago. It’s this delayed response that makes emphatically proving gluten sensitivity and the efficacy of the GFCF diet so difficult.
If you’re still a little confused on gluten sensitivity, try this video. Dr. Josh Axe describes gluten sensitivity and the symptoms and side effects that may occur with food sensitivities.
What makes gluten even more precarious is its link to over 50 diseases/conditions including autism and ADHD. There’s a host of symptoms like migraines, fatigue, brain fog, GI distress, and hyperactivity that may be triggered by gluten. The list of possible symptoms is too long to list here, but as Dr Sidney Baker puts it, “you may be missing the boat if there is a chronic symptom and you have not tried eliminating gluten from your diet.” (Detoxification and Healing)
Perhaps, the most well researched association with gluten is in a condition called intestinal permeability better known as “leaky gut”. Dr. Alessio Fasano, a top researcher in this field, has connected gluten to this condition. Essentially, leaky gut is when the there are cracks in the lining of the gut. Through these cracks, valuable nutrients are lost and partially digested proteins (called peptides) are “leaked” into the bloodstream. As described earlier, the partially digested gluten peptides can look like a virus or other foreign invader. Thus, the immune system launches an attack against the peptides and may unknowingly attack its own tissues.
Leaky gut can lead to gluten sensitivity. These gluten peptides can also look like our own tissues. While the immune system is attacking the gluten, it may start attacking our own tissues as it is unable to tell the difference between self, gluten, or a virus. All this leads to a body that is chronically inflamed, poor health, and autoimmune disease.
Gluten is hard on the gut. It’s tough for everyone to fully breakdown and causes some amount of damage. While some people are able to fully digest this protein and repair the damage it caused, for others it leads to an immune response every time we eat it. An immune response is closely related to inflammation. When we consume gluten 3-5+ times each and every day, that can lead to chronic inflammation. (which we’ll get to later)
You may have heard of lactose intolerance, a common ailment associated with dairy consumption. This condition causes digestive distress in people unable to breakdown the sugar in milk products. However, a certain protein in milk may be responsible for many health problems and might be just as harmful as gluten.
GFCF Diet Parent Testimonial
“My son starts to stutter with dairy infractions. If he consumes it for a long period he loses his ability to talk. He gained speech only after implementing a strict GFCF diet.“–Nidhi
What is Casein?
Casein is one of the two proteins found in dairy products. (the other being whey protein) Everything that I have just described about gluten can also be applied to casein. Many people have either an allergy or sensitivity to dairy, it can cause leaky gut, and of course, it’s also highly inflammatory.
When gluten and casein are not fully broken down in the gut, the resulting partially digested molecules resemble that of opium, also known as morphine or heroin. These gluteomorphin and casomorphin peptides can trigger the same receptors in the brain as heroin and other opiate drugs. The result is a real addiction to these foods. It’s no wonder that our kids can’t focus or are stimming and bouncing off the walls shortly after snack time.
Of course, I’m not saying that eating a slice of pizza is as bad as shooting up heroin. That would be insane. I’m merely pointing out the addictive-like qualities of these foods. In fact, this is one of the reasons that experts recommend not giving up gluten and dairy at the same time. Doing so could trigger temporary yet severe withdrawal symptoms.
Soy & GMOs?
The final ingredient to avoid on the GFCFSF diet is soy. Like casein, soy has a similar structure to gluten, which means that it can cause the same issues and certain people can develop a sensitivity or allergy to it. Soy is also very hard on the gut, blocks nutrient absorption, and can lead to leaky gut and chronic inflammation. Additionally, soy has been linked to seizures, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Despite all the research pointing to its dangers, my biggest concern is that soy is a GMO crop (genetically modified organism). Nearly all soy on the market is GMO. This means that mother nature didn’t create this plant. Scientists in a lab did. They engineered this plant (and all GMOs) to be sprayed with the toxic herbicide RoundUp and survive. Farmers are now able to rid their field of weeds by carpet bombing them with this poison while their crop yields are not affected. The result is an ever increasing amount of glyphosate (RoundUp) being sprayed both on our food and in our environment.
*You can avoid GMO soy by purchasing organic. However, even organic soy has all the implications mentioned earlier.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in RoundUp, and it has been linked to a number of health conditions from birth defects and cancer to autism and Alzheimer’s. Putting aside the environmental catastrophes it has caused and all the research pointing to it’s devastating health effects, I’m only going to focus on one simple concept. Glyphosate is an antibiotic. Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor or scientist. I’m simply a Dad, but I believe this concept is what makes glyphosate so harmful.
The FACTS to be aware of:
- Glyphosate is an antibiotic.
- Glyphosate remains on the foods we eat.
- Bacteria play a major role in human health.
1. While some aspects of GMOs and the safety of glyphosate are still being debated by some, the fact that glyphosate is an antibiotic is clearly established. In fact, Monsanto even holds a patent for glyphosate as an antibiotic. The company maintains the claim that their product, RoundUp, is harmless to humans because it operates on a specific pathway that is not present in people, only microbes.
2. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets tolerances for pesticides and herbicides. A tolerance is the amount of a chemical that is allowed to remain on or in our food. While substantially lower than the US’s tolerance level, the European Union also set a limit for glyphosate residue. Therefore, we know that glyphosate (and other biocides) remain on the foods we eat.
3. Now, consider all the research into probiotics and the emphasis on maintaining a healthy population of gut bacteria. These beneficial microbes help break down the food we eat, produce nutrients for our body, and they assist our immune system by protecting us from foreign invaders. Glyphosate weakens or kills these microbes. More and more doctors are convinced that poor bacterial health is contributing to autism, ADHD, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disease, cancer, and a host of other issues.
Glyphosate is an antibiotic, and we eat that antibiotic every time we consume these foods. This disrupts the microbes that we rely upon for good health. It is the biggest reason to avoid soy and it’s why I would recommend you avoid ALL GMO foods as part of a “healing GFCF Diet”.
Something else to consider
Inside every human cell lies a powerful organelle known as mitochondria. This is the part of our cells that make energy for everything we do, so it’s no wonder that weak mitochondria, or mitochondrial dysfunction, is responsible for a myriad of health issues. Most scientist believe that our mitochondria were once free-living bacteria that adapted so well that it has now become a permanent part of our anatomy. The question is: If we know glyphosate to be an antibiotic, isn’t it reasonable to assume that it can actually affect our mitochondria as well?
Many kids with autism have mitochondrial dysfunction, so for them it’s even more important to avoid GMOs.
Monsanto introduced a new way to use RoundUp to “help” farmers harvest wheat easier. Just before harvesting their wheat, farmers now spray their fields with glyphosate. Why would they want to kill their wheat before harvesting? Because it dries out the grain making it easier and faster to collect. This process is called crop desiccation, and it’s used on many grains especially wheat, oats, and even flax. While you may avoid major GMO crops like corn & soy, your family may still be getting exposed to high amounts of glyphosate thanks to crop desiccation. For this reason, you want to buy only organic grains and grain flours.
Gluten, casein, soy, and glyphosate triggers an immune response (inflammation) of some kind. When we are eating these foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it leads to an inflammatory response throughout the day.
Consider the average diet. We have cereal with milk for breakfast, a ham & cheese sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner, so it’s no wonder our immune system is in hyperdrive. By changing our diets, we can start to calm down the immune system.
Some people are able to handle this immune response. For many of us, this continued inflammatory response leads to food sensitivities, leaky gut, and/or chronic inflammation.
According to Dr. Amy Myers, “chronic inflammation is one of the greatest health risks we face today. It is the underlying condition behind nearly every type of disease and is a major cause of autoimmune disease.” (The Autoimmune Solution)
Chronic Inflammation May Cause:
- Impaired ability to concentrate or focus
- Speech & language problems
- Cognitive problems
- Problem behaviors
- Mood and/or behavior disorders
- Frequent infections
- GI distress (diarrhea, constipation, bloating)
- Acne & eczema
- Food allergies/sensitivities
- Sleep issues
Chronic Inflammation Autism & ADHD
The autism population are often more sensitive to gluten, casein, and soy. Recent studies have revealed higher levels of antibodies against these types of proteins. This means the immune system is recognizing food particles as a threat and is attacking them. This response can exacerbate the symptoms of autism and lead to autoimmunity.
People with autism tend to have an immune system that is constantly on. The body should create inflammation in response to a short-term threat like a virus or broken bone. Once the damage is repaired or threat eliminated, the immune system powers down and inflammation subsides.
However, in the autism population that immune response is never turned off which of course leads to systemic inflammation. As Dr Myers suggested, this is the greatest threat to our health and is linked to many of the medical and cognitive symptoms we see in our kids with autism & ADHD.
I’ve made a few references to a healing GFCF diet. Eliminating gluten, casein, and soy are important factors, but we want to do everything we can to help our kids feel better. Therefore, there are a few additional ingredients to avoid or at least be mindful of the amount you allow your child to eat. I’ve mentioned one already, GMOs, but there are 4 more.
A good, healing GFCFSF diet also avoids sources of inflammation including artificial colors & flavors, preservatives, MSG, and limits sugar.
This is Too Hard!
As if you were not already feeling overwhelmed with GFCFSF, now I hit you with 5 more things to avoid. Rest easy. I’m going to help you through this. There are plenty of things you can feed your family, and I promise you will discover new healthy foods that everyone will enjoy. Remember, it will be a struggle at first, but you will find your way.
Before we talk about the things you CAN eat, I need to make sure you understand why it’s important to also be on the lookout for these suspect ingredients. All 5 of these food additives are linked to behavior problems in all kids not just those with autism or ADHD. If eating MSG or red dye #40, can cause hyperactivity in a healthy, neurotypical child, imagine what it can do to our more sensitive kids.
Hyperactivity is not the only issue. Aggression, anxiety, depression, and irritability are some of the behavioral effects of these food products. They have also been linked to disrupted sleep, asthma, food allergies, headaches, and even cancer. Again, at the very least, these food additives are sparking inflammation, and that is something we want to avoid.
What About Sugar?
Sugar is obviously a natural ingredient, and it’s impossible to completely avoid. I don’t want to dive too deep down this rabbit hole as there is much to say. For now, I just want you to be aware of the amount of sugar & carbs (complex sugars) in the foods you serve your family. If you can, opt for natural sources of sugar like fruits, maple syrup, or raw honey. High sugar intake can spark similar opiate reactions as gluten and casein, and it may cause blood sugar spikes and crashes that can lead to problem behaviors. Sugar may also feed bad microbes in the gut.
Agave is NOT a Health Food
Many people will replace table sugar with agave syrup believing that it is better for them. In actuality, agave will spike your blood sugar just as fast as high fructose corn syrup will.(if not more so) I suggest you avoid using agave syrup. Stick with maple syrup. It tastes better anyway!
Avoid the Gluten Free Trap
Many times packaged gluten free & dairy free products have tons of sugar added. They may also have some of the additives we want to avoid. Remember, just because it says “Natural” and/or “Gluten Free” does not mean that it is good for you or your family.
Putting It All Together:
A good GFCFSF diet seeks to ease the burden on the body and start healing. It takes away many sources of inflammation and helps the immune system to throttle down. With autism, the goal is to help the child feel better and thus be better prepared for progress through other therapies and treatments.
Ignore Friendly Advice:
You’ll likely encounter several naysayers when you tell them you going to try the GFCF diet. Friends and peers may roll their eyes or tell you that gluten free is just the latest fad. Your doctor may even tell you that diet has nothing to do with autism and will likely not help at all. Some may even go as far as tell you it’s dangerous. (which I personally find ridiculous)
You may even here from fellow autism parents that the GFCF diet does not work. However, I encourage you to give it a try for yourself. We don’t know what’s going on with those families. Perhaps, they were not 100% compliant, or had other underlying conditions that prevented them from seeing any progress.
I’ve personally had parents tell me it didn’t work for them only to discover they were not 100% GFCFSF. They cheated on weekends or the kids ate school lunch everyday.
Remember, we are going “ALL IN” with the GFCF Diet.
Keep in mind that almost everyone of us started out with doubts about the diet including myself. When my wife said we were going to try gluten free, I secretly rolled my eyes too. Once you start to see the changes in your own child or in yourself, that will be all the proof you need. We’ve been on the GFCF diet for 8 years now, and we will never go back to our old way of eating.
Want to Learn More?
The information here only scratches the surface when it comes to the health implications of the foods we eat and the science behind it. If you want more details, refer to the references at the end of this article or check out these books. I have read many books on this topic and they have helped this Dad better understand the importance of a quality diet.
Here are my favorites:
- Nourishing Hope for Autism
- Gut & Psychology Syndrome
- Grain Brain
- Brain Maker
- The Autoimmune Solution
GFCF Diet Parent Testimonial
“When we implemented GFCFSF & clean eating diet with our son at 18 months, he began looking at us (eye contact) and stopped hand flapping and head banging. Overall general health and behavior improved.” –Shera
Transitioning to a GFCF Diet
How to Go GFCF or GFCFSF
There is no right or wrong way to start working towards a 100% GFCFSF diet. Maybe you want to take the leap and go all in “cold turkey” style. Perhaps, you prefer to to find GFCFSF foods that you or your kids like before you start removing their favorite foods. There are many strategies of going about this, but remember you’re ultimately moving toward a healing GFCF diet.
Using gluten-free packaged or frozen foods in the beginning is fine, and often a needed lifeline in the early days. You want to always be moving towards whole foods avoiding or at least limiting the problem additives discussed earlier. However you decide to transition keep in mind that your goal should be a good, healing GFCFSF diet. You’re going to want to avoid relying on gluten-free junk food too heavily.
Going Cold Turkey
One strategy for going GFCFSF is the “cold turkey” approach. This is the fastest way to jump in and many parents prefer to just dive in head first. My wife and I took the cold turkey approach and it worked well for us. We picked a day and went for it. However, some doctors and nutritionists do not recommend that approach as it may present a slight risk of seizures.
Because of the opiate-like nature of these 3 proteins, removing them all at once may lead to a poor detox reaction similar to that of a heroin withdrawal. This is not a common reaction, but it’s something you should be aware of when choosing this strategy.
Slow & Steady Wins the Race
Another strategy is the “slow & steady” approach. Most experts will recommend this method due to its reduced potential for an adverse detox reaction. This method can get you to 100% GFCFSF within 6 weeks. With the slow & steady approach, you remove casein first. All sources of dairy are removed for a period of at least 2 weeks. Then, gluten is removed for 2 weeks followed by soy 2 weeks later.
Other Ideas to Transition to the GFCF Diet
- Find compliant snacks and meals the family will eat before removing any foods
Slowly start mixing GFCFSF foods with your current food. Mix almond milk with your cow’s milk, Replace half the wheat flour in your homemade cookie recipe with gluten free flour.
- Put new compliant GFCFSF foods in old familiar packaging. For example, coconut milk can be poured into the normal milk container, or gluten-free cereal can be poured into an empty Frosted Flakes box. *Make sure the containers are very clean first as the residual gluten and dairy on the containers could be enough to trigger inflammation*
- Start with one compliant meal time each week. For instance, in the first week, only dinners are GFCFSF. The following week you add compliant breakfasts and then GFCFSF lunches the week after.
Are You Ready to Get Started on the GFCF Diet
I’m sure you are eager to find out what on Earth you can start feeding your family now that we’ve eliminated so many foods. I have just a few recommendations for you before we dive into the food lists. I recently wrote a post with 5 Tips to Get You Started on the GFCF diet. I’m going to summarize those tips here, but I invite you to check out the full article for more.
5 Things to Do Before You Get Started on the GFCF Diet
#1 Commit to the GFCF Diet 100%:
It will take time to calm down the immune system and start noticing any improvements in your child. Sure, there are lucky parents that suddenly see their kid start talking or making eye contact, but for the most part, healing takes time. Commit to the diet for 6 months of 100% compliance. Make sure everyone knows you’re on a special diet, teachers, caregivers, grandparents…everyone. If there is a diet infraction, if grandma gives the kid a cookie, then start the clock over again. Remember, even one taste of gluten may be enough to spark that immune reaction. Don’t get too upset about it and don’t be too hard on yourself or your well-meaning relative. We’ve all had this happen. While it can be maddening, it’s not the end of the world. Just reset the clock.
#2 Make it a Family Affair:
Have the entire family adopt the diet. This way there is no food that can spark stress and a meltdown from your kiddo. Just don’t have noncompliant food in the house. You may also want to avoid going grocery shopping with your kids too. Trust me on this one. I did not follow this advice, and only my son ate GFCF. I very much regret it today. Several years later, our family is now paleo and we are all healthier for it.
#3 Be Prepared for Battle:
I’m sure you already feel like this might be impossible. I won’t lie to you and tell you it’s easy at first because it certainly is not. Getting new foods into your family will be hard enough, but you’ll also be dealing with increased tantrums and meltdowns when the foods they love (and may even be addicted too) are taken away. It will be a struggle, but try your best to keep a level head and remain positive. Stay committed, and you’ll be happy you did.
#4 Know When to Fight:
There’s going to be no shortage of battles, so make sure you choose yours wisely. Don’t fight over foods that will not really add any benefit or nutrients. For example, gluten free bread is mostly carbs and sugar. If they don’t like it, then don’t force it. Make your battle over a grass fed hamburger patty or a green shake instead, something that will provide valuable nutrients to help heal and nourish their bodies.
#5 Substitute Only Their Favorite Foods:
It may be worthwhile to identify your child’s 5 favorite foods and find a way to substitute them. For my son, he loved potato chips, so we simply subbed in organic corn chips. We used the corn chips as reinforcers for eating or drinking new foods and taking his supplements.
Figure out the things your kids cannot live without, and try to replace them. If they love pancakes, buy frozen GFCF pancakes. If they really like chocolate, give them Enjoy Life chocolate bars (but be aware of the sugar). The goal with substitutes is to make the transition easier. After the transition period, start looking for even healthier versions of their favorites like a piece of dairy free dark chocolate instead of the Enjoy Life brand.
What Should You Expect?
When you’re ready to get started on the diet, make sure you set realistic expectations. If your child has autism or if you are going on the GFCF diet for an autoimmune disease, it’s not going to cure these conditions in a few short months. You should feel better. You should also start noticing improvements in certain aspects of your child. It takes some time, but diet can have a profound impact on our health and these conditions. However, often the GFCF diet, is a first step along your path towards healing.
**Remember, whenever I refer to the diet and always referring GFCFSF. I am using the terms GFCF diet and GFCFSF diet interchangeably simply to help Google searchers find this guide.**
What is a Healing GFCFSF Diet
In the next section, I give you the foods that you can eat on the GFCFSF diet. I also make recommendations for you to avoid certain foods despite their GFCFSF status. While compliant with the diet, some of these foods, like vegetable oils, are not necessarily part of a healing diet.
You should not be concerned with following all of these recommendations all at once. In the beginning, just focus on eliminating all sources of gluten, dairy, and soy. Then, once you get comfortable, you can start to refine the diet and slowly work towards a good GFCF diet that will promote healing.
Whole Foods Based GFCF Diet
In my opinion, a healing GFCFSF diet is not only free of gluten, dairy, & soy, but also one that is whole foods based. This means that most of the food you eat comes from either whole foods you transform in your own kitchen or by using packaged products that have undergone limited processing. In other words, there’s only a few ingredients on the label and you recognize those ingredients as real food. Additionally, a healing GFCF diet is free of :
“The Harmful 6”
- Artificial colors/flavors
- MSG and other flavor enhancers
- Industrial seed oils (canola, vegetable oil, safflower, etc.)
- Sugar, rice & corn (or at least limited)
GFCF Diet Phase 1:
It may be helpful to think of your diet transition in terms of phases. Phase 1 only worries about becoming 100% GFCFSF. You can rely on packaged foods, dairy replacements, and other convenient foods to help you get there. After 3 months, you should start to move into Phase 2.
GFCF Diet Phase 2:
After you become comfortable with the diet and are 100% compliant, start eliminating the 6 other harmful ingredients listed above. During phase 2, you are starting to cook more from scratch and learning the ins and outs of gluten-free baking. Packaged foods are relied on from time to time, but you are really working towards needing them less and less.
You’re beginning to pay attention to food quality now, so only buy grass-fed meats, cage-free poultry & eggs, wild-caught fish, and you buy organic whenever possible. You start learning traditional preparation techniques for grains, beans, legumes, nuts & seeds. and the principles of a nourishing diet as taught by the Weston A Price Foundation and in the book Nourishing Traditions.
GFCF Diet Phase 3
At the end of phase 3, your family is on a whole-foods diet. In fact, you no longer consider it a diet. It’s your lifestyle now. You’ve figured out a way to make most meals and snacks mostly homemade despite your busy life. Your meats and eggs come mostly from a local farmer. Sugar is mainly eaten in natural forms like raw honey or fruits. The family is now getting more nutrient dense superfoods that are taking their health to the next level.
Refining the GFCF Diet to Fit Your Child
Once you get to phase 3 or a Healing GFCF Diet, it’s a good idea to take a look at your diet and see if it needs to be refined further. Many parents work closely with a MAPS doctor or integrative medical doctor in determining dietary needs. These docs will typically run a food sensitivity/allergy test that can reveal surprising food sensitivities. For example, healthy foods like spinach and apples have been issues for my son.
If your GFCFSF diet has not yielded big changes in health or behavior, that doesn’t mean you should give up. It means there may be food sensitivities or other underlying conditions that need to be addressed in addition.
Follow this link to find a good MAPS doctor in your area.
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What Can I Eat on a GFCF Diet
By now you understand the harmful impact food additives can have on our health, and you understand the basics behind a gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free diet. I’m sure the question you’ve been asking for a while now is “what CAN I feed my family.” Not to worry there’s a whole new world waiting for you. It’s may be a bit overwhelming at first, but before you know it, you’ll be a pro like me. Let’s jump into it.
GFCF Diet Parent Testimonial
“My son was 100% non-verbal, non-communicative, non-interactive at 3 years old. After 100’s of hours and over $10k for traditional speech, OT, and play therapy. We went GFCFSF and 3 days later he said his first 5 words! 10 words by the end of the week, and 100’s of words at the end of the summer. We got eye contact back, he was singing songs I never knew he “remembered” from therapy. We started it in June, very skeptically, and said it would be a “summer experiment” and that was 4 years ago!” -Liz
Want a Quick Reference Page?
I have created a handy one page list of the foods you can eat on the GFCF diet. If you would like a copy, simply enter your email at the end of this guide. (or click here) I’m happy to send you a copy. BONUS: I’ll send you a list of the ingredients to avoid as well!
Fruits & Vegetables
All fresh fruits & vegetables are naturally GFCFSF. When buying canned or dried, make sure to check the labels for additives like sugar and preservatives. Frozen vegetables are often free of those ingredients, but some frozen fruit may have added sugar.
Eating only organic produce is the best option, but not very cost effective. I would advise you to take a look at the EWG’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tests various fruits and veggies for residual pesticide/herbicide. They identify the foods that have high levels of agricultural chemicals. These chemicals can also spark inflammation, so we want to avoid them when possible.
The top 12 are called the “Dirty Dozen while the bottom 15 are the “Clean 15”. Save your money by buying conventionally grown Clean 15 produce. With the Dirty Dozen it’s best to only buy organic or avoid completely. Find the Dirty Dozen below, but I encourage you to visit www.EWG.org and see the full list.
Packaged Foods with Dirty Dozen Ingredients
You also need to be aware of the Dirty Dozen when shopping for foods made from these items. For example, apples and tomatoes are almost always on the list, so when buying ketchup, pasta sauce, apple juice, or apple sauce go organic. Anything derived from the Dirty Dozen should be organic or avoided altogether.
EWG’s Guide to Produce
|Clean 15||Dirty Dozen|
Sweet Peas (frozen)
*Potentially GMO (buy organic)
Sweet Bell Peppers
*Highest residual pesticide levels. Avoid these or buy organic
Starting a backyard garden is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. I have a friend with a fairly small backyard, and I’m amazed by the amount of free food she produces. The fruits and veggies that you grow yourself will be more nutrient dense and you can ensure they are grown without any biocides as well. Even better, it makes a great activity for the family.
When it comes to eggs & meats, (produce too) finding a local farmer will get you the best quality and likely the healthiest options. It’s pretty easy to find a local farmer in your area. The best way is simply to Google ______ “your town”_____ and farmer’s market to find local meat providers. For more on the importance of buying local you can read this article. You can also check out Eatwild.com At the very least, look for grass-fed beef, pastured raised chicken and pork.
When it comes to seafood, look for smaller fish and wild-caught. Farm-raised fish are grown using lots of antibiotics. The bigger the fish the higher amount of mercury they will have, so stick to the smaller varieties.
Grass-Fed Beef, Bison, & Lamb:
Local grass-fed animals are the best. If you cannot find a local farmer, buy grass-fed & grass-finished if possible. All cuts are GFCFSF as long as there are no other added ingredients. The fats(tallow/suet) from these grass-fed animals are very healthy, so do not shy away from fatty cuts of meat. I love adding beef tallow to my vegetables & sauces. It adds a great flavor and is stable under high heat which makes it great for cooking.
*Fats from animals NOT labeled grass-fed are NOT healthy fat sources. They’re full of inflammatory omega 6 fats.*
Poultry & Eggs:
Local, pasture raised is best and likely offers superior nutrition. Chickens and turkeys are fed GMO corn & soy, so look for organic and cage-free if you can’t find a local farmer.
Local, pasture raised is best. Again, all cuts are compliant with the GFCF diet, but check for added ingredients especially when it comes to everyone’s favorite pork product: bacon. Whenever buying bacon make sure to look for nitrate/nitrite free. Even local farmers use nitrates in their curing process. Nitrates cause inflammation and have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and other conditions.
Deli Meats/Hot Dogs/Sausage/Bacon:
These are more difficult to find a local provider, but some farmers do make these cured meats. However, you have to be cautious with the ingredients they use to be sure they are GFCFSF compliant and also nitrate/nitrite free. Applegate is a good brand to try, but I’d still use these sparingly. They are cured with better ingredients, but are not necessarily from healthy animals to begin with. I personally buy the organic, grass-fed, all beef hot dogs and the organic, grass-fed roast beef.
Unlike land animals, farm-raised is NOT something you want to look for. Farm-raised fish are raised on a diet full of GMOs and fed antibiotics, so you’ll want to opt for wild-caught. There’s also some concern with environmentally harmful fishing practices, so it may be best to look for a sustainably-caught label such as MSC certified on your seafood as well.
While fish is quite healthy, there is some mercury concern specifically those species higher in the food chain like swordfish & shark. The fatter the fish the healthier it is for our families. The very best fish to buy is sardines, but other good options are anchovies, herring, sprats and small mackerel.
*Be on the lookout for Genetically Modified Salmon
Here’s where it gets tricky. We want to avoid farm-raised fish, but farm-raised shellfish are okay. In fact, they are preferred. They’re more sustainable and do not pose the harmful risk to our health that farmed-fish have. Look for oysters, mollusks, clams, lobsters, etc.
Beans, Legumes, & Lentils
While beans, legumes, & lentils are a good source of plant-based protein, they are quite hard on the gut. You don’t want to eat these too often. Dry beans are best to purchase as you can ensure they are properly prepared (soaked in water and an acid like apple cider vinegar for at least 8 hours). This makes them much easier to digest and thus easier on the gut. However, many canned versions are GFCFSF, but be sure to check your labels as many of them will include at least a preservative and may even have a BPA-lined can.
Okay, let’s just pause for a second and take a breath. If you’ve made it this far through this guide, you’re likely feeling quite overwhelmed. Your mind is probably running a thousand miles a minute wondering what on Earth you’re going to feed your family. Before you go any further, just catch a breath. This next section is easily the hardest change for most of us, but it can be done, and eventually, it will be easy. Don’t be discouraged. While this seems like a lot now, it will soon become second nature for you.
Grains & Flours for the GFCF Diet
I think we can all agree that navigating the world of gluten-free flours and grains is the most daunting aspect of starting a GFCF diet. As adults, we’ve spent our lives eating gluten and we’ve become accustomed to it’s great taste! Our kids also have their favorite snacks and meals too, so to suddenly say “That’s it! No more gluten” can be a tough pill to swallow. Add to the fact that our kids, and us adults too, may even be addicted to some of these foods. Going gluten free will not be easy, but you can do it.
Anyone who read my 5 Confessions of S.A.D. Dad knows that I used to be a fast food junkie addicted to sugar-filled, processed treats. However, over the years I’ve made small progressive changes, honed my skills in the kitchen, and developed into a pretty decent cook. It’s been years since I hit up a drive-thru window for anything other than a black coffee. If I can make the change away from my food addictions, I know you can too.
Who Has the Time to Cook GFCF?
If you are concerned that you may not be a good enough cook or that you may not have the time, do not worry. When I first started I had very limited cooking skills. Today, I am quite comfortable in the kitchen and many of the dishes I make only require 10 minutes of prep.
It’s Intimidating at First
I remember back when we first started the GFCFSF diet. I was looking at the TACA resource page for flour substitutes. It totally overwhelmed me. There were about 15 different GF flour mixtures, and one parent was even talking about grinding her own beans to make bean flour. They recommended a different mix of flours for different baked items. There were suggestions for a cookie mix and a pastry mix and a pancake mix, etc.
I remember thinking, “I’m supposed to buy all these different flours!
That’s gonna be like $100 bucks in flour!”
Cost was and still is a major factor for us. We’re on a limited budget, so the thought of spending $100 on flour alone was quite distressing. Shortly after reading that TACA page, we went shopping at Whole Foods where I was hit with even more choices for gluten free flours most of which I’ve never even heard of. “What the heck is garfava flour anyway?” I thought to myself. Overwhelmed with choices, we ended up going with the GF all purpose mix from Bob’s Red Mill for the first several months on the GFCF diet.
The Gluten-Free Flours
This next section will help you navigate that precarious gluten-free flour aisle. It’s not necessary to have different flour mixes ready to go, and it’s certainly not necessary to spend tons of money on them either. I will discuss some of options you have on the GFCFSF diet. We have not tried them all, but I will tell you my experience with the ones we have. I’ll also give you my own “go-to” gluten-free blend.
This flour is more of a starch and can be used in place of cornstarch in any recipe. Arrowroot doesn’t have much of a flavor, but it also does not add much in terms of nutrition. It does help with texture, so it makes up ⅓ of my personal GF blend.
There are a variety of beans that are used in these flours. They include garbanzo (chickpea), navy, pinto, red, romano, and fava. In my opinion, they are best used for savory dishes, but many use them for sweets too. While they are readily available, I’d recommend not using bean flours as they tend to be quite hard on the gut.
Cassava flour is getting a lot of attention these days and is becoming the “go-to” flour for many. Nothing will come closer to the familiar texture of gluten than cassava. Personally, I did not like the taste, but my kids loved it. I tried it in savory dishes and in cookies. My family loved them all, but me, not so much. It has sort of a “dry” flavor. I believe I am in the minority though. A quick Google search will give you several reviews all touting the neutral taste of cassava. Again, gluten-free cooking is personal preference, so give cassava a try and see for yourself.
Many will tell you that hemp yields an earthy or nutty flavor. However, I’m telling you it’s just plain gross. It may have a fair amount of protein, but this was the only flour I ever had to throw away. I didn’t like it, and my family didn’t either. I even tried to only using small amounts and it was still bad. You’re welcome to try it yourself, but I think you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.
You can grind any nut into a flour, and there are several flours you’ll find at the store. I’ve personally only used almond and coconut, but you can also find chestnut widely available.
Almond flour tastes great, but it does give you an odd texture. Hard to describe, but it’s baked goods come out kind of “spongy” or “rubbery” when you use 100% almond flour. I like to add a little starch and coconut flour to balance the texture.
Coconut flour is the healthiest of all the flours. It’s high in good fat and fiber while low in sugar and carbs. If you don’t like coconuts, you may not like anything baked with it’s flour. The good news is that you only need a little, so typically you can’t even taste the coconut. This also makes it the cheapest option as a recipe may only require ¼ cup.
Coconut flour is like a sponge. It will quickly absorb any liquids, which is why you need a small amount. However, it will also absorb the moisture in your mouth, so if you use a lot of coconut flour in your dish, you’re going to end up with a dry, gummy texture as you swallow. If your kids eat as fast as my oldest with autism, then there is a choking hazard. The trick is to make sure they eat slowly or just give them half a cookie at a time.
Rice (all varieties)
Of course, in its whole form, rice can be used in stir fries or as a side dish. It’s probably the most widely used gluten free flour especially in packaged GF products. While rice flour has a neutral taste and is one of the cheaper flours, I would advise you not to rely on it too much. If you do use rice, or buy convenience foods with rice flour in them, it’s best to buy organic.
Rice is notorious for being contaminated by arsenic and other heavy metals, so I tend to avoid it. Remember, why you’re going GFCFSF. We’re trying to ease the burden on the body, so avoiding potential toxins is also important. I use quinoa or cauliflower when a dish calls for rice, and I only eat things with rice flour on special occasions.
Tapioca is another starch that can be used in place of cornstarch. I also use arrowroot and tapioca interchangeably in recipes. They both have a neutral taste and help with texture of baked goods.
My Go-To GFCFSF Blend:
Typically, I only have 3 flours on hand. Almond, coconut, & a starch (either tapioca or arrowroot whichever is cheaper). I mix ⅓ of each to make breads, biscuits, and cookies. They also make a good breading for homemade chicken nuggets and fish.
My son with autism is now on a more restricted diet based on his personal needs, so he’s on a low carb and low oxalate diet. For him, I use coconut flour exclusively. It’s not the best for pizza crust and the like, but he eats it fine. While it doesn’t produce the best pizza crust, you can still make tasty treats using only coconut flour. I make these cookies every week for my kids, and they’re really good.
These are just the gluten-free flours that I have experimented with. Feel free to try the others listed here. I hear sorghum is fantastic. If you’d like to read more on each of the flours you can check out this in-depth article on Whole Intentions.
Baking Soda/Powder (check label)
GF Vanilla Extract
Whole Vanilla Beans
Useful GFCFSF Baking Tips
Each GF flour will absorb moisture differently and will yield a different flavor and texture. When baking gluten free, it is usually best to mix different types of flours. This helps balance the flavors and textures and will produce a tastier result.
It may be less intimidating and cheaper to start with an all-purpose mix. Bob’s Red Mill even has a “paleo all purpose mix” too. You can try my Go-To blend or you can try one of the many blends you’ll find online. Honestly, finding the right mix is of personal preference, so don’t give up if you don’t care for the taste or texture of the first one you try. Again, keep experimenting and you will find the blend that is right for your family.
Gluten adds elasticity and acts as a binder in normal baking. When baking without it, some gluten free bakers like to add strange sounding ingredients like xanthan gum or agar agar. These different ingredients can help your baked goods hold together better. Personally, I’ve never used these in my cooking, but you’re welcome to give them a try.
We did use xanthan gum at first, but we quickly realized it gave everything wet-spongy texture. Additionally, xanthan and guar gum have both been shown to cause digestive distress. If you think your baking needs extra binding or elasticity, try using agar agar or gelatin first.
Always Double Check
Some things you may assume to be gluten-free are actually not like vanilla extract or baking powder. Most baking powders are now gluten free, but you should double check to be certain. Also, look for a brand that also says aluminum free as some baking powders have aluminum. (Rumford is a good brand)
The same applies to your spices and flavors such as cinnamon, allspice, ginger…etc. McCormick single spices are all GF as are many of the spice blends, but double check your labels on the blends. Whole vanilla beans or vanilla powder is typically GF, and they are better for any recipes you may be preparing raw (as the alcohol will not be cooked away).
Starting From Scratch
Even if you considered yourself an all star baker, you’re now back to being a rookie. Baking is not the same without gluten, so don’t expect your first several tries to be perfect. Just keep experimenting and you’ll find your way.
When baking gluten-free, there is one reality to accept. You will not be able to replicate the taste and texture of gluten-based products. My wife and I made the mistake of always trying to make things taste exactly like what our son was used to. That is the fastest way to failure with gluten free baking. Don’t shoot for replication. Aim for something that tastes good and has a texture you like.
There are a lot of options for you and some of them are tastier than others. If you do not like the taste of one try another. If you like the taste, but the texture is weird, add in some starch or another flour. Just keep honing your skills and experimenting until you find the right balance. For more great GF baking tips, check out this post by Adrienne at Whole New Mom.
- All Fresh Herbs & Spices
- Single Spices
- Spice Blends (some blends are not GF:Check labels)
- Coconut Aminos
- All Vinegars except malt(check labels for flavored vinegars)
All Fresh Herbs & Spices like basil, parsley, cilantro…etc are naturally GFCFSF, so you can always feel good using them. Fresh is always best, but it’s not the most practical. When you’re buying spices, try to stick with single spices instead of spice mixes. Mixes tend to have more additives. It used to be common practice for gluten to be used as an anticaking agent in these mixes. It’s rare today, but it is worth checking before buying that Italian seasoning or other blend. McCormick spices are reliably gluten-free and widely available.
Do You Love Soy Sauce?
Coconut Aminos is a good alternative to soy sauce. Just check the labels for added ingredients. Don’t confuse coconut aminos with Bragg’s liquid aminos as it still contains soy.
Malt vinegar is the only vinegar that should be of concern when on the GFCF diet. Most other vinegars will be compliant. However, check any flavored vinegars as they can sometimes contain gluten. Apple cider vinegar is the only one I ever use as it is actually quite healing. Look for organic ACV with the mother in a glass bottle. In this case, Bragg’s is a great brand.
- Coconut Oil
- MCT Oil
- Palm Oil/Shortening
- Flax Seed (quality brand, do not heat)
- Nut Oils (low temp cooking/raw)
- Seed Oils (best to avoid)
- Corn (best to avoid)
- Canola (best to avoid)
- Safflower (best to avoid)
- Rice Bran (best to avoid)
There are plenty of fats and cooking oils that are compliant with the GFCF diet. However, I would advise you to stick with healthy fats only. Yes, fat can be healthy. I’ve personally lost nearly 100 pounds eating a relatively high fat diet. It’s time to throw away that notion that eating fat will make you fat.
Fat: A Critical Nutrient
The body needs fats, and our kids need a lot of it. Their rapidly growing bodies need good construction materials. The brain is almost entirely composed of fat. Every cell in our body is protected by a double layer of fat. Hormones are also made from fat and we cannot absorb fat soluble vitamins without it.
You see, fat is not the problem. The issue is with the type of fat and where it came from. Did it come from a healthy, farm-raised animal or was that animal raised in horrid conditions and fed an unnatural diet? Similarly, cold pressed avocado oil is going to be much better than vegetable oil. That vegetable oil is likely to be made from GMO corn and soy and a nasty chemical solvent was used to extract the oil from those plants.
When it comes to animal fats, (tallow, lard, ghee) make sure that oil is coming from a healthy grass-fed animal. Toxins are stored in fat, so if that animal was raised in a factory farm, it’s fat will be quite inflammatory. Most animal products from the store are raised in terrible conditions on poor diets, so look for a grass fed label. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean grass fed. Even a cow raised on organic grains/corn will have too much omega 6 fats while a grass fed cow has omega 3 fats.
Stick to cold pressed, unrefined oils when buying the cooking oils from plant sources.
There are several oils typically used for cooking that you can still use and be on the GFCF diet. However, I recommend you avoid the following: corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, safflower, rice bran, sunflower, and other seed oils. Several of these oils can fall into the umbrella term of vegetable oil despite the fact that most of them are not made by vegetables. I personally steer clear of all these because they are highly inflammatory. The seeds for these oils have some of the highest levels of residual glyphosate. If you’d like to learn even more, there is a great article on Paleo Leap that dives deeper into these industrial seed oils. For even more, there’s a book that discusses the dangers of these types of oils called Deep Nutrition.
Another Reason to Limit Packaged Foods
Many packaged foods like cookies, chips, bars, etc. are made using these cheap oils. While I’m traveling or out and about, I do still eat some of these and I allow my kids to eat them as well. However, we never compromise on corn, soy, or vegetable oil. It’s your choice. Again, some of these oils are compliant in the GFCFSF diet, but not part of a healing protocol.
Cook with Saturated Fats
Saturated fats have been demonized for decades now. However, science is beginning to realize that they may have been wrong. Again, it’s the source of the fat. Healthy grass-fed cows make healing tallow/butter/ghee rich in Omega 3’s while most commercially raised cows produce inflammatory fats rich in Omega 6’s. It’s all about where that fat came from. NEVER, eat margarine as it’s highly processed and made from the vegetable oils we want to avoid.
When heating oils, I stick to saturated fats as they are more stable under high heat. On the stovetop, I cook with either coconut oil, MCT oil, palm shortening, or animal fats like ghee and beef tallow. (from grass-fed, pastured cows) These fats will not oxidize during cooking, and produce harmful compounds. We do not want to be building cell membranes out of damaged fats anyway, so stick with saturated fats for high heat.
I’m including MCT separately because many people have not heard of it before. It’s made from palm oil and coconut oil, so many people will mistakenly call it coconut oil. It is nothing like coconut oil. It is liquid at room temperature and does not have a hint of coconut flavor. MCT oil is flavorless as well making it a nice addition to any dish without altering its’ flavor. MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides and our bodies are able to convert it to energy quite easily.
MCT oil is more expensive. You’ll likely find this in the supplement section rather than the oil aisle at your health food store. Personally, I only use MCT in my bulletproof coffee & my son’s smoothies, but that is only for cost saving purposes. If money was not an issue, I would use MCT oil at every meal. It’s that good for you. Whenever I add it to my coffee, I can tell a noticeable difference in my energy level in the morning. I also give it credit for some of my weight loss success.
MCT oil will cause some pretty awful stomach cramping and diarrhea IF taken on an empty stomach. Start slowly with a teaspoon a serving and work your way up to 1-2 tablespoons. Now, that my body is used to MCT I can easily add 2 tablespoons to my meal with no side effects. Never take MCT on an empty stomach!
Remember this is the GFCF diet (gluten free casein free) not the GFDF (gluten-free dairy-free). We’re staying away from casein, so ghee might be a good source of healthy fats for your family. Ghee is clarified butter and nearly all the proteins are removed. Some people allergic to dairy can actually have ghee without an adverse reaction, but others still react. Use caution if there is a dairy allergy. There is a chance for trace amounts of protein, so I’d recommend waiting a few months on the GFCF diet before giving ghee a try.
Low Heat Cooking (or Raw)
The health benefits of olive oil are well known. Extra virgin olive oil will give you the most nutrients, antioxidants, and polyphenols. Many will say that olive oil is okay for cooking, but olive oil breaks down quite easily too. Have you ever bought a bottle of olive oil that was in a clear bottle? Probably not, right? That’s because it can break down when exposed to light. If they can break down just by being left in light, how can it hold up under heat? When I use olive oil for cooking, I keep it under 375, but there is some debate on whether or not it holds up. Make your own choice.
Macadamia Nut Oil (and other nut oils)
Many oils made from nuts can offer great nutritional benefits. However, they are unstable under heat, so drizzle them atop a meal or keep the temp very low. Macadamia oil is one of the healthiest oils you can buy and is a little more stable when cooking. However, it is not cheap. I’ve personally never tried macadamia nut oil because of the cost, but if cost is not an issue for you, give it a try!
My personal go to liquid oil is avocado oil. It has many health benefits and has a neutral taste making it perfect for my homemade mayo, or my oven baked breakfast bread. As with olive oil, I either keep it raw or under 375 in the oven.
When we first started the GFCFSF diet, we quickly went looking for casein free options to replace milk. My son actually liked drinking milk, so we made the mistake of trying to replace it. We didn’t realize that these milk replacements have no real nutritional value and they tend to be loaded with sugar.
At first, we went with rice milk as it was the least expensive and you can get a case of it at Costco for pretty cheap. A few months later, we switched to almond and coconut because I realized they were healthier options…. or so I thought.
Early on in our autism journey, we were not the informed consumer we are today. Frankly, we were naive and easily duped by the cleverly designed packages touting all their health benefits. They all will say things like: “More calcium than milk” or “Excellent source of vitamin D”. While the labels on these dairy-free milks are accurate, they don’t tell you that the vitamins used to fortify their milk products are cheap. Most of the added vitamins are not well absorbed by the human body rendering them quite useless.
Additionally, manufacturers include various additives to improve texture, viscosity, and flavor. Things like sugar, carrageenan, guar gum, xanthan gum, locust bean gum and the ubiquitous natural flavor. These ingredients do cause GI distress, mainly gas & bloating, for many people. While not as bad as GMOs or gluten, they’re not necessarily part of a healing GFCF diet.
The Good News:
There are several options for milk replacements that are part of a healing diet. The first is homemade. You can easily make nut milks and coconut milk at home with no questionable ingredients needed. You’ll find a couple basic recipes below.
If you’re not looking to DIY your milk, you can simply buy canned coconut milk (unsweetened of course). We buy this brand here. There is a small amount of guar gum, but that is the only other ingredient aside from water and coconut. Remember, coconut is a source of healthy fat, so buy the full fat unsweetened version. Canned coconut milk is quite thick, so you can thin it out by blending it with 3-4 cups of water.
Homemade Nut Milk:
- Soak 1 cup of prefered nuts in water overnight, then drain and discard the water.
- Add 3-4 cups of fresh water to your high-speed blender or food processor.
- Blend until smooth.
- Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth.
Homemade Coconut Milk:
- Add 2 cups of shredded coconut and 4 cups of water to your food processor or high speed blender.
- Blend until smooth.
- Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth.
How to use your homemade Dairy Free Milk
Your DIY milks are perfect for cooking, pouring over GFCFSF cereal, or adding to your morning coffee. However, I’ll be honest. You may find these homemade milks to be on the bland side. If you’re looking for something to drink you may want to add vanilla, cocoa or other flavors.
If you want to sweeten it up, use a natural sugar from honey or maple syrup. Another idea is to add dried fruit such as dates when you are first blending the nuts. This will give it some sweetness, but you’ll catch the bits of pulp from the dates when you strain it through your cheesecloth or nut milk bag.
Alternative Animal Milks
Some parents have reported positive results with milk from other animals such as goats. These milks still have casein in them, but it’s typically a different type of casein protein that is easier to digest. However, I would suggest you eliminate all animal milks for the first 6 months on the GFCF diet. Then, you can try to add these back in once the gut has healed a little and the immune system is less reactive.
Milk From a Camel???
Sheep’s milk and goat’s milk are two of the most popular and widely available. However, I have heard wonderful things about camel’s milk. Yes, that’s right you can buy milk from camels. It carries an impressive nutritional profile and has healing elements. The best part is that it tastes very similar to cow’s milk. However, be warned; it is not cheap. More information on camel’s milk can be found at Desert Farms.
What About Cheese:
There are several vegan cheese options at your local natural grocer, but make sure to find a soy free version. Honestly, I personally do not think they are worth the cost. They offer little in terms of nutrition, are highly processed, and don’t taste all that good anyway. Daiya cheese offers the closest tasting GFCFSF cheese, but it’s not part of a healing diet. We were thrilled when we discovered Daiya cheeses, but after further consideration we realized it was incredibly processed. It’s just not real food, and thus violates our “Just Eat Real Food” (JERF) philosophy.
GFCFSF Mac n Cheese
Many of our kids love mac n cheese. You can duplicate the texture of that cheese sauce using squash and oil. Ghee gives you a better taste, but any fat will give you a cheesy texture. Simply cook a squash, like zucchini or butternut, in the fat and puree. Blending in an egg can give the sauce some extra creaminess as well. Adding in a bit of nutritional yeast will also give you a familiar cheesy flavor too. For your noodles, you can use your favorite gluten-free boxed macaroni, or, for a truly healthy mac n cheese, use spaghetti squash or cauliflower rice.
Jaime from Gutsy by Nature has a great recipe for zucchini cheese. I haven’t tried it, but it is on my list for the future.
Dairy Free Recommendation
When you are first starting out with the GFCFSF diet, it will be helpful to rely on some of the store bought milks, Daiya cheeses, and other convenient packaged GFCFSF foods. However, once you get comfortable with the diet, begin working towards whole foods for the best result. Additionally, many nuts and grains are often heavily sprayed with agriculture chemicals, so it’s best to look for organic casein-free milk.
What About Calcium
Eating lots of leafy greens, almonds, and broccoli will ensure your family is getting sufficient calcium. If that seems unlikely for your kids, you may want to add a good calcium supplement, but avoid calcium carbonate as it’s not well absorbed.
What NOT to Eat on a GFCF Diet
Now that you have a better idea of the things you can eat on a GFCFSF diet, we should discuss the foods to avoid. There are obvious things to avoid like bread and milk, but these ingredients lurk in many of our packaged foods hidden under cover ID’s like “food starch”, “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” or “lactalbumin”.
In order to ensure you stay 100% compliant with the GFCF diet, you have to know all the ingredients that contain or are derived from gluten, dairy, & soy and their cover IDs. There are over 250 ingredients to watch out for. I’ve compiled a printer-friendly, alphabetized list that you can take with you to the grocery store the first few GFCF shopping trips. Simply enter your email at the end of this guide, and I will send you a copy. You may also click here to learn more for yourself.
Common Foods to Avoid on a GFCF Diet:
- Baked Goods: Breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, bagels, tortillas, cornbread, etc.
- Pastas & Noodles: raviolis, lasagna, macaroni, gnocchi, couscous, egg noodles, etc.
- Crackers: pretzels, Goldfish, graham crackers, whole grain crackers, etc.
- Breaded Foods: fried chicken, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, onion rings, etc.
- Breakfast Foods: cereals, granolas, oatmeal, pancakes, biscuits, muffins, and premade scrambled eggs, etc.
- Condiments: store-bought sauces, dressings, gravies, malt vinegar, ketchup, croutons, etc.
- Dairy: cheese, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, butter, cheesecake, etc.
- Soy: soy sauce, liquid aminos, tofu, edamame, miso, soybean oil, soy lecithin, etc.
- Misc: french fries, potato chips, lunch meats, hot dogs, meat substitutes, candy, chocolate, beer, etc.
- Preservatives, Artificial, Natural Flavors: there are hundreds of chemicals that make up food additives, many of them are derived from or contain gluten, casein, or dairy.
- Non- Food Items: Make up, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, stickers, play-doh, glue, medications, vitamins, etc. Check with manufacturer.
Over 250 Hidden Sources
It’s so important that you know all of the ingredients that could contain gluten, casein, & soy. There’s a lot of them (over 250). During the first few shopping trips, it may be necessary to take a list of ingredients to avoid with you to the store.
Not to worry, I’ve created an alphabetized, printer-friendly list for you. Simply enter your email at the end of this guide, and I will happily send you a copy. If you want to know the names of the ingredients to avoid without subscribing, simply click here.
Restaurants will add surprising ingredients to their food, so it’s always a good idea to discuss your special diet with your server at the least, but preferably the chef. Many sushi restaurants will add flour to the rice to make it “stickier”, and I’ve been to a few places that add butter to their hamburgers. While you think you’re making good choices, you could be inadvertently eating an offending food and sabotaging your diet.
Eating out always represents the potential for cross contamination. A restaurant may only use fresh potatoes for their french fries. However, if they fry them in the same oil as their chicken fingers or onion rings, then those fries will pickup some of the breading and thus no longer be gluten free.
This may seem like no big deal it’s only a miniscule amount of gluten. However, when we are talking gluten sensitivity or an immune reaction to gluten, this small amount is enough to spark inflammation and that’s what we are trying to avoid with this diet.
Cross contamination can easily occur at restaurants that don’t have specific precautions in place, or it can happen at the grocery store, specifically the bulk bins. If you’ve ever seen employees filling the flours, then you’ve seen them spill and all the powder flying around them as they fill the bin. Also, customers can mix up the scoops, so when you think you’re just getting almond meal, you may be getting some gluten too.
Cross contamination can also occur before the food makes it to the store or restaurant. Oatmeal and millet are two grains that are naturally gluten free, but because of where they are grown and how they are transported, they are often contaminated by wheat flour. This is why it’s so important to find certified gluten free oats & millet.
Additionally, if a GFCF packaged food is made in the same building as its’ counterpart, you may be getting traces of milk, wheat, & soy. Remember in the beginning even trace amounts are enough to keep your immune system activated. If possible, only buy packaged food without the warning “processed in a facility that also uses milk, wheat, soy…”
Make sure you are careful at home too. If you’re preparing 2 separate meals one GFCF and one not, you can easily mix up spoons or pans. Here’s another reason the entire family should adopt the diet, make the chance of cross contamination impossible.
How to Read Food Labels
Reading food labels may seem pretty straightforward, and it is for the most part. However, it can be tricky to make sure you aren’t exposed to any sources of gluten, dairy, or soy. The easiest thing to do is look through the list of ingredients and see if it has any of the banned ingredients or their derivatives. To receive the list of banned ingredients I have created for you, don’t forget to enter your email at the end of this guide. (or click here)
Remember we’re “All In” on the GFCF Diet, so you need to hone your label reading skills to ensure 100% compliance.
Look for obvious sources of gluten, casein, and soy first. Manufacturers will let you know if it contains one of the major allergens, typically below the ingredient list. The major allergens are wheat, dairy, soybeans, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish, and eggs. You might see a simple statement like “contains wheat” or “contains milk” after the list of ingredients. You may also see them labeled in the ingredients themselves followed by a statement in parenthesis. For instance, lactic acid can be dairy free or it can be made from milk. Within the list you might see: “lactic acid(from milk)” or it may say something more like: “lactic acid(non-dairy source).” This can help you determine it’s GFCFSF status.
Look for the “Gluten Free” Label
The gluten free industry has grown exponentially, so companies love to stamp that gluten free label on the front of their packaging. That’s a good start, but you need to make sure you dive in deeper to make sure it’s also casein and soy free. As you’re reading labels for the first time, be mindful of rice, corn, sugar, GMOs, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors. Remember, once you are comfortable with the GFCF diet, you want to avoid these sources of inflammation and move towards a healing and whole-foods based diet.
Some packaged foods have ingredients that may have not necessarily been derived from gluten, dairy, or soy. For example, caramel color manufactured in the U.S. is likely derived from corn, but in other parts of the world it may be made from wheat. The same is true for things like natural & artificial flavoring, food starch, etc.
If a package has one of these ingredients, but says gluten free then likely it was derived from corn and you can eat that food and still be GFCFSF compliant. However, remember we want to avoid GMOs too. Since 90% of corn is GMO, you should avoid these too.
Check and Recheck
The list of foods above are just a sampling of the common foods containing gluten, dairy, and soy. This is NOT a complete list of noncompliant foods. Always check labels to determine GFCFSF status. Contact the manufacturer, check the FAQs section on their website, or talk to the chef when eating out to be 100% certain there are no diet infractions.
You’ll also want to recheck ingredients periodically as manufacturers tweak recipes/ingredients all the time. A food you’ve been buying for months may suddenly change and add dairy or soybean oil. Always check and recheck labels.
One more thing
Ingredients are listed on labels by quantity. The first ingredient is the most used while only a little was used with the final ingredient on the list. When sugar (or some form of sugar: syrup, fruit juice, honey…) is one of the first ingredients, chances are it’s not going to be a healing food.
For more tips on becoming an expert label reader visit TACA’s article on the subject.
Gluten Free Doesn’t Mean Good For Me
Watch Out for Clever Marketing
Sadly, there is little regulations that protect us from clever marketers. Companies love to stamp “buzzwords” on their boxes to make them stand out from their competitors. These words really do not have any meaning at all. Marketing departments are very good at making their products appear healthy when in fact they’re probably full of ingredients I would advise you to avoid.
Some of the “Buzzwords” to watch out for:
- All Natural
- Whole Grain
- Sugar Free
- Fat Free
- Gluten Free
- Sweetened with Fruit
Most GFCFSF packaged products have lots of sugar and carbs which further contribute to inflammation and problem behaviors for our kids. Remember they are highly processed and processed food is not the foundation of a healthy diet.
Just because a product says gluten free or even GMO free doesn’t mean that you should be eating it regularly. The allergen-free industry has exploded, and there are now hundreds of GFCFSF products that help make our busy lives easier. However, most of these products should not be major components of our diet.
GFCF Diet Veterans Are Not Going to Like This
I’m going to be eaten alive by my veteran GFCFSF parents for this, but it needs to be said. Two brands that many parents rely too heavily upon are Daiya Cheese and Enjoy Life Foods. Both are always GFCF and GMO free. However, they should not be staples in your pantry. They’re not real foods. Remember: “JERF” (Just Eat Real Food).
The foods made by these brands and others like them were our saving grace in the early days. Without them, the transition would have been so much harder. Having said that, many parents, myself included, come to rely on them too much without realizing that they are actually quite bad for us.
They’re full of carbs and sugars, but also they’re made from highly processed ingredients and poor quality oils. Furthermore, many products include rice in some form. Recall from earlier rice is gluten free, but it is also easily contaminated by arsenic and mercury.
I’m not telling you to never eat these foods. It’s perfectly reasonable to grab a box of Enjoy Life Cookies so your kid can take them to school for his birthday or holiday party. Go ahead and grab a bag of Daiya cheese to make GFCF pizza night a success. Just limit these foods to when you really need them. They make great occasional treats not everyday staples of a healing diet.
Still Wondering What You Eat on a GFCF Diet?
I’ve given you a great deal of information here in this guide. I hope it has not scared you away. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what to eat and what to avoid and, you are now ready to start your own path towards health and healing.
If you’re still having trouble picturing life on a GFCFSF diet, here is a sample 7 day menu. I have also compiled over 100 recipes over on my Pinterest page to help you with your transition.
Sample Week’s Menu on the GFCF Diet
Breakfast on the GFCF Diet
- GF Pancakes (frozen or homemade)
- Scrambled Eggs
- Homemade Breakfast Bread
- Homemade Biscuits w/sausage
- Quinoa oatmeal
- Coconut Yogurt w/fruit
- Leftover Dinner
Lunches on the GFCF Diet
- Homemade Lunchable
- Applegate Hot Dog w/jica-chips
- GF Chicken Nuggets w/apple sauce
- Fresh veggies w/hummus
- Amy’s GFCFSF frozen burrito
- GF sandwich w/apple chips
- Leftover Dinner
Dinner on the GFCF Diet
- Burger patty w/organic fries
- Chicken wings w/cauli tots
- Quinoa Pasta
- Veggie Meatballs
- Fish sticks w/zoodles
- Sloppy Joes w/sweet potato fries
Snacks on the GFCF Diet
The GFCF diet aims to reduce the burden on the body by removing foods that can trigger inflammation. In our kids this immune response can manifest as sleep struggles, attention difficulties, hyperactivity, behavior problems, and gut issues like constipation, bloating, or diarrhea.
As we remove these harmful foods, our children’s guts will begin to heal and their struggles should improve. Remember, we’re always working towards a healing GFCFSF diet not just one that is free of gluten, casein, and soy.
GFCF Diet Parent Testimonial
“We were nothing short of amazed by the changes in our child after 2 weeks on the GFCF diet. Physically, Cameron’s asthma disappeared and he no longer required daily breathing treatments. Cameron slowly started to come out of his fog, his eczema cleared up and for the first time in three long years he began to feel pain again. It was a very odd feeling for us to celebrate the first time Cameron bumped his head and began to cry and say “I hit my head!” We were elated not only by the full sentence our son finally spoke but that he actually felt the pain appropriately.” –Lisa
In the coming weeks and months, I will begin to write many more articles on this topic to help make this major lifestyle shift easier for you. Some are already live on this site, and others are on their way soon.
More Great Articles on the GFCF Diet:
- Tips for Picky Eaters
- Cost Saving Strategies
- Starting the Autism Diet: The Day I Almost Cried at Whole Foods
- Healing Additions to a GFCF Diet (coming soon)
- Helpful Purchases: Must Have Kitchen Gadgets for Every Healthy Kitchen
- The Day I Almost Gave Up on the GFCF Diet (coming soon)
Make sure you subscribe at the end of this GFCFSF Diet Guide, so I can email you when these new posts are ready.
I wish I could say that switching to a GFCF Diet will be easy, but I can’t. It’s going to be hard work in the beginning, but if you stick with it 100%, it will be worth it. If you go “ALL-IN”, you’ll start to see positive changes. Maybe, you’ll even be one of the lucky ones who see remarkable results right away.
Remember, it will get easier. You’re going to find your way. If you are not one of the early responders to GFCFSF don’t lose hope. Diet is often the first step towards healing, but it is a critical first step. Stay committed. Keep learning. Get yourself and your family healthier, so everyone can become all they were meant to be.
This Guide Is Doctor Approved!
There is a lot of bad and incorrect information across the internet today. I certainly do not want to contribute to this problem or give out bad advice. While I am very proud of this GFCF diet guide, I am Simply a Dad sharing his knowledge and experience.
I wanted to make sure that everything I said and recommended here was accurate and safe. Therefore, I reached out to my friend and naturopathic doctor Nicola Ducharme.
Here is what Dr. Nicola had to say about this GFCF Diet guide:
“Dave has put together such a comprehensive guide to the gluten, dairy and soy-free diet. This diet is so helpful for kids with challenges ranging from ADHD, sensory issues, behavioral issues and autism-spectrum disorders. I also see this diet helping kids with chronic infectious processes including Epstein-barr virus and Lyme disease.
But it can be hard to implement, especially in the beginning.
Dave has been there. He explains enough about the science whys and hows for parents to see the importance of the diet, and be able to implement it, but in a way that is easy to understand for the layperson.
He provides many valuable tips and tricks, breaking it down into manageable steps. I love how he encourages parents and caregivers to adopt a healthy, healing diet – not just a gluten-free, casein-free diet. They’re not always the same thing.”
“This is such a valuable guide, I know it will be an invaluable resource for so many families.” -Nicola Ducharme N.D.
Do you still have questions on the GFCF Diet?
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