Treating Autism with Diet
In order for anyone to be the best they can be, one must feel good. In order to feel good, proper diet is paramount. My goal is to help my son with autism feel better, so he may be the very best Ethan he can be despite his diagnosis. Treating autism with diet is the most critical aspect of our 4D support plan I created for him. It ensures that he gets the proper nutrients and will set his body up for healing.
Let Food Be Thy Medicine
My son’s autism diet may seem like a very restrictive diet, and it is. It’s a diet free of what most people have as staples in their kitchens, and it goes far beyond the standard autism diet. However, this is a nutrient dense diet that will provide him with the materials he needs to nourish and heal his body.
The diet we are following will do many things like reduce inflammation, support his mitochondria, kick-start detox, and fight off infections. We are treating autism with diet and using food as our medicine just as Hippocrates said so long ago.
Treating Autism with Diet
Beyond the GFCF Diet
We have been gluten, casein, and soy free (GFCFSF) since we began our autism journey 8 years ago. Since then, we’ve added yeast free, corn free, grain free, legume free, and sugar free to that list as well. (or mostly paleo to make it simpler) These are all foods that contribute to inflammation in the body, feed bad microbes, and cause leaky gut.
In people with sensitive or over-active immune systems, they can wreak havoc in the body. Kids with autism have such sensitive immune systems. Increased inflammation can manifest itself in a variety of ways including crazy, manic-like behaviors, aggression, brain fog, and even increased OCD/anxiety symptoms to name a few.
Even Some Healthy Foods are Restricted
Treating autism with diet is a challenge because many healthy foods are even excluded. Ethan is unable to eat things like apples, olives, sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, almonds, and even spinach. Many foods that are very good for most of us can lead to more problems with our son and other kids like him.
While the bulk of the grocery store is off limits for Ethan, he is still getting far superior nutrition than most kids his age and even most adults for that matter. We pay close attention to food quality. We buy mostly organic produce and local farm-raised animal products.
To summarize in one sentence:
Our son is on a high-fat, low-carb, low-oxalate diet that is alkalizing and rich in vegetables and probiotic foods.
Treating Autism with Diet:
High Fat: Fat is Good
The human body needs good HEALTHY fats. Our brains, cells, nerves, hormones, and organs are all made of or need fat to function properly. The body needs a steady stream of construction materials, good healthy fats, in order to build new cells and make repairs.
When we give Ethan good fats from foods like eggs and butter, we’re also giving him another needed nutrient: cholesterol. Cholesterol aids the immune system, and is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
Before learning that certain fats were good, we actually had to give a cholesterol supplement to Ethan because his was too low. According to his doctor this may have been the cause behind his aggressive behaviors at the time. Cholesterol was once lumped in with fat as the enemy. However, people are beginning to see just how vitally important this nutrient is to the body.
Not All Fats Are Created Equally
We avoid most commercially available oils, shortenings, and other processed foods. We give Ethan at least 120 grams of good, healthy fat per day. Our favorite sources of fat include butter from grass-fed cows, beef tallow from our local farmer, avocados, coconut, and local free-range eggs. When getting fat from these sources, he is also getting plenty of minerals, antioxidants, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, & K.
A Note on Butter
If you’re new to any autism diet, I would suggest avoiding any source of dairy including butter. Ghee is a good option, but you may want to avoid that too for the first 3-6 months. If you’ve never started any sort of autism diet, check out my complete guide to starting the GFCF Diet. This is the diet that almost all of us veteran biomedical parents start with.
Why Low-carb & Low Sugar is important
If there is one thing everyone agrees with, it’s that sugar is bad. If you’ve been to a kid’s birthday party after cake is served, you know just what the term sugar rush means. Sugar causes inflammation, which leads to behavior problems and can disrupt biochemical processes in the body as well.
This is true of all sugar no matter if it is in the form of soda, juice, maple syrup, bananas, or even sweet potatoes. Eating carbs and sugars can also lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes that can also lead to tantrums, hyperactivity, poor sleep quality, and other behavior problems.
Starve the Beast
My biggest reason for limiting sugars and carbs, however, is because they feed bad bacteria and yeast in the gut. When Ethan was a little guy, he was sick often. Numerous and repeated rounds of antibiotics, steroids, and other meds destroyed the probiotic microbes in his gut.
Without the good guys to stop them, bad microbes began to settle in and set up camp. By the time we learned about good bacteria and started supplementing with good quality probiotics, the bad guys had already invaded. They were fully entrenched, and they remain there today. Although, they are beginning to lose some ground.
Bad Bugs Love Sugar
These guys feed on sugars in every form. So, in an effort to starve the enemy, we limit sugar and carbs in Ethan’s diet. I don’t set a specific limit on grams of sugar/carbs each day. Instead, I simply try and limit the servings of fruit and seeds Ethan eats to one per day.
Organic blueberries, organic strawberries, and lemons are essentially the only fruits that Ethan can eat. They are lower in sugar and reasonably low in oxalates (which I will get to in a moment). Ethan still does not eat any grains or grain like seeds, such as quinoa. Most of the carbs in his diet come from nutrient dense vegetables like butternut squash, onions, & cauliflower.
Create a Hostile Living Environment
As we are keeping the bad guys hungry and weakening them, we are also starting to change their living conditions. Pathogenic microbes thrive in an acidic environment, so we are working to make his system more alkaline (less acidic or base). The good guys love the higher pH, and they’ll be able to come in and replace or push out the weakened bad bugs.
Consider This Scenario:
Big, mean, ugly bad guys are holding up a bank. The first thing the police would do is shut down the AC and make the robbers uncomfortable. After several hours with no food and no AC, they become weaker. That’s when the swat team crashes through the windows and takes down the bad guys thus saving the day. (at least that’s how it works on TV) That’s essentially what we are doing with Ethan.
Treating Autism with Diet
He starts his day with a glass of lemon water with Celtic sea salt every morning. The lemon juice helps to flush the kidneys and alkalize (make less acidic) the body while the salt provides minerals, which also serve to increase the pH. Additionally, he takes shots of baking soda and apple cider vinegar (ACV) throughout the day.
Ethan has had many unbelievable reversals after taking a shot of ACV during a tantrum or anxiety attack. The turnaround is truly incredible. We also supplement his diet with magnesium, calcium, and trace minerals that further help to decrease the acidity.
5-10 Cups of Vegetables!!
We give Ethan an average of 5-10 cups of vegetables each and every day. Yes, 5-10 CUPS -not servings-. Why so many veggies? They’re good for you of course! The large amount of micronutrients in vegetables makes treating autism with diet possible.
They contain the building blocks the body needs in order to detoxify, reduce inflammation, and begin to heal itself. I prefer to support the body’s needs naturally through food rather than supplements, so I sneak in veggies wherever possible.
He drinks about 4 cups of broccoli juice each day with dinner. I also make him a kale smoothie every morning that is loaded with vitamins A, C, K, with some B vitamins and essential minerals as well.
I’ve also gotten really good at hiding veggies in every meal we eat. In fact, many times I no longer have to hide some of them. I’ve figured out how to make them taste good and now he usually asks for seconds, thirds, and he’ll even lick the bowl clean!
He drinks a kale smoothie or broccoli juice every time he eats as well. Not only do these veggies contribute vital nutrients they also have an alkalizing effect on the body. Thus, making it tougher for the bad bugs to thrive.
OXALATES: Making Good Food Bad
I can’t mention fruits and vegetables without touching on oxalates. Oxalates, or oxalic acid, are compounds that form in plants to protect them from over-consumption by animals, insects, and even fungi.
In high amounts or in those sensitive to it, oxalic acid can be toxic. They’re most known for the contribution to kidney stones, but they can cause a whole mess of problems like muscle weakness and burning in the ears, nose, and/or eyes.
I’ll be honest. This is an issue I never really thought about until this year. I’ve heard the term thrown around by other autism parents over the years, but I didn’t consider them to be an issue for us.
Eye Popping Behavior
However, this past summer, Ethan began popping his eyelids very hard and quite often. He popped them so hard you could hear them in another room. This is when his doctor mentioned oxalates to us. We got them tested, and his oxalic acid levels were over 3X the normal range. WOW! We are now very aware of oxalates in his diet and avoid high-oxalate foods like spinach, beets, carrots, nuts, seeds, grains, blackberries, figs, and grapefruit.
Rebuilding a Healthy Gut Population with Probiotic Foods
Everyone now knows about the importance of probiotics and a healthy balance of good gut bugs, so I will not go into that. However, many people do not understand, how vulnerable their gut bacteria are. One course of antibiotics can alter the microbiome forever.
History of Antibiotics
At age 3, our son had one course of antibiotics every month for almost a year! Additionally, he was on steroids and other drugs during that crucial development time as well. Actually, when Ethan was only 5 days old, he was placed on IV antibiotics for 3 days because he had a “low temperature” (which turned out to be nothing) Needless to say my lil guy’s gut biome (and his immune system) was obliterated at a very, very early age.
It is quite difficult to reestablish a good balance to your gut bacteria. We’ve been giving him good quality (and expensive) probiotic capsules for years and have yet to see a change. Just recently, we’ve switched from probiotic capsules to probiotic foods, a.k.a. fermented foods.
Treating Autism with Diet:
If you’re not familiar with fermented foods, these are foods with living bacteria and other microbes in them. The most common probiotic foods are sauerkraut and yogurt. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. Yogurt is fermented dairy. (although commercial yogurt largely has too much sugar, artificial flavors, and the bacteria are pretty much wiped out during processing.)
I make 10-20 jars of fermented foods every week. I started with sauerkraut. It tasted really good and was easy to hide in foods, but man, it is a big pain to prepare and it makes a HUGE mess. I’ve switched to veggies I can chop into spears and just stuff in jars.
My favorite ferments include ginger spice carrots, spicy daikon radishes, jalapenos, and homemade pickles (although not technically pickles as there is no vinegar). I have even started to ferment granny smith apples, strawberries, and blueberries. Fermenting the fruits reduces the sugar content and adds probiotics. Additionally, I make 24-hour yogurt and brew my own Kombucha too.
Treating Autism with Diet
Fermented Foods are Superior
After years of taking a good probiotic multiple times a day, we’ve never seen an improvement in the makeup of his gut biome. (as shown in lab tests) As such, I’ve personally lost faith in oral probiotic supplements.
Homemade fermented foods can provide a vastly superior amount of probiotics than even a good quality probiotic supplement. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, 1-2 capsules of his probiotic supplement, sold on his site, contained 100 billion CFUs. (which is actually really good, but…) Dr. Mercola then measured what was in his cultured veggies. He discovered that 2 ounces of fermented foods contained 10 trillion CFUs! That’s more than an entire bottle of probiotics.
Treating autism with diet is a huge component of our 4D plan. Without the proper diet, the other D’s (Detox, DeBug, DeStress) will not happen. Since starting this diet 15 months ago, we’ve seen problem behaviors decline. We’ve reduced the eye-popping dramatically, and fear and anxiety are under control.
Make sure you take a look at all the elements in our protocol. Follow the links below.
Our 4-D Autism Treatment Plan
Have You Tried Any Type of Autism Diet for Your Kid:
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