Fruits For Autism has discovered that many children on the autistic spectrum are deficient in Vitamin B12. This deficiency prevents crucial communication between brain cells, hindering speech and development. The mission of Fruits for Autism is to assist individuals with autism spectrum disorders to live more independent lives by providing resources, enhancing awareness, and improving the quality of life. Here you will find the best fruits for autism listed in order of importance.
The Optimal Food List for Autism (& What to Avoid)
An optimal diet is balanced and full of nutrients. This can sometimes be challenging for autistic individuals since many have digestive and feeding-related issues.
People with autism are often deficit in certain nutrients, so a food list for autism will include foods with these nutrients. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, eggs, and lean meats are good items to add to your food list.
Some foods may cause gastrointestinal issues in autistic children. In some cases, implementing a specialized diet, such as a gluten-free/casein-free or ketogenic diet, may work well.
It is important to work with your pediatrician and potentially a nutritionist to expand your child’s diet.
Eating Optimal Foods: Autistic Children & Problems With Food
Children with autism often have inadequate nutrition, partly due to food avoidances and aversions.
Poor nutrition increases the risk of later chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease. Children who grow up with poor diets are more likely to be obese, which is associated with several chronic illnesses.
Children with autism are more likely to have low calcium and protein, which can reduce brain development, bone growth, and muscle strength. These issues may be correlated with problems with cognition, balance, physical strength, and other aspects of physical development.
Feeding issues can be a major problem for autistic children, and the consequences can be serious if the child ends up with nutritional deficiencies. Parents can help by employing various strategies to get their children to eat a more diverse diet. Doctors and therapists are often involved in this process.
Autism & Dietary Struggles
Why is autism often tied to dietary struggles?
People on the autism spectrum have a developmental condition that manifests in a range of behavioral differences and challenges. These can sometimes become evident as feeding problems. An autistic person’s issues with food may manifest as:
- Rituals around eating.
- Pocketing food in their cheeks or sucking on food instead of chewing it.
- Strongly preferring certain foods.
- Avoiding certain foods.
People with autism are also at higher risk for gastrointestinal problems. Autistic children may also avoid certain foods or develop strong texture or temperature aversions because of sensory issues.
In frustration, parents of autistic children may limit their child’s foods to only those they know will be accepted. However, this is not a sustainable model to develop healthy eating and nutrition habits.
As you work with your child’s pediatrician and a nutritionist, you can begin to expand your child’s diet. Over time, you and your child’s treatment team can develop a list of optimal foods that your child enjoys as well as a list of foods to avoid that often result in digestive issues.
Diets to Support Positive Behaviors & Healthy Eating
Many parents with autistic children turn to specialized diets in an effort to support their child’s well-being.
Several studies have shown that children with autism tend to shy away from healthier foods, like vegetables and fresh fruits, in favor of more processed starches and snack foods. They may also struggle to get enough protein, as the texture of several foods containing protein may be unappealing.
To encourage change in these behaviors, parents often try certain approaches to feeding problems. These are the three most common diets for autism:
- Autism MEAL Plan: This is not just a nutritional plan. Parents can train in this behavioral approach so they can best help their children. Behavior therapies are often among the most effective approach to addressing feeding problems in people with autism. The autism MEAL plan focuses on changing behaviors toward certain foods.This is still a relatively new approach to helping children with autism get their nutritional needs met. Some studies offered parents training in autism MEAL plans for eight weeks and found that the behavioral approach eased caregiver stress around mealtimes a great deal. However, it was noted that children with autism did not have behavioral improvements around meals or food selectivity.Further research is still needed to understand if applying this specific behavioral approach can help children long term or if there is limited benefit to the approach.
- Gluten-free/casein-free diet (GFCF): Many parents put their children on the GFCF diet, especially parents of autistic children. Since both gluten, a wheat protein, and casein, a dairy protein, can make digestive problems in autistic people worse, removing these from a child’s diet can seem to make sense, but there is insufficient research evidence to support this idea.The gluten-free/casein-free diet may improve behaviors around food for a while, but it can be difficult to make sure your child gets enough protein, whole grains, and amino acids, which are often part of bread and dairy in Western diets. It’s important to find other food options to meet these needs.
- Modified ketogenic diet: This low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, high-fat diet can help children with autism get needed protein for brain and muscle development while removing potential sources of digestive discomfort like wheat. A focus on certain types of protein can even help you remove dairy from your child’s diet if cheese or milk causes them digestive distress.Since this diet is tied to higher nutrient intake while removing certain irritants, it might be more effective for autistic children than other diets. It is important to be careful of the amount of fat that is consumed, as this can contribute to heart disease and obesity, especially if your child struggles to eat other healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
Is There an Optimal Food List for Autistic Children?
Due to food preferences or obsessions, some children may have too much of one or two of these nutrients. Food avoidances mean that many autistic children don’t have enough of these vitamins and minerals.
To help your child get the right balance of these important nutrients, try adding these foods to their diet with the help of their treatment team:
- Beans like navy beans, pinto beans, and black beans
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Soy milk
- Almonds and almond milk
- Dried figs and apricots
- Cruciferous vegetables like kale and broccoli
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Dark chocolate, as an occasional sweet treat
- Lean beef, turkey, and chicken
- Green peas
- Melons like cantaloupe
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Sweet red pepper
- Citrus like oranges and grapefruit
- Beet greens
- Butternut squash
- Onions and garlic
Many of these foods offer multiple nutrients, so combining them in different ways through meal planning can help your child get high-quality nutrients, avoid foods that cause discomfort, and slowly add new experiences to your child’s eating habits.
Begin planning meals that contain several fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins, so there is a variety of options. Sprinkle in new foods with tried-and-true options you know your child will like.
More Diet Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Should children with autism spectrum disorder avoid certain foods? Jasly Koo, Dietitian, from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, shares her views.
MULTIVITAMIN AND MINERAL SUPPLEMENTS
are appropriate when dietary intake is insufficient to meet recommended dietary intakes
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Exclusion of food additives for autism spectrum disorder
There is little good quality research available on the effects of food additives on children with autism spectrum disorder. Food additives that have been suggested to affect these children include artificial food colourings, aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and benzoate additives.
If parents of children with autism spectrum disorder are keen to trial the exclusion of food additives, they can do so as there is little effect on the nutritional quality of the diet and is in line with general healthy eating guidelines. However, they should weigh the benefits of following such a diet against limiting their child’s range of food choices further, as children with autism spectrum disorder already tend to self-limit their ranges of food consumed.
Exclusion of phenolic compounds and salicylates for autism spectrum disorder
The exclusion of these compounds is based on the hypothesis that consumption of these foods can inhibit the body’s usual detoxification pathways leading to raised levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
Foods commonly excluded are:
- yeast extract
- some food colourings
- fruits such as apples, avocados, blueberries, kiwi fruit, grapes, plums, strawberries,
- vegetables such as cauliflower, cucumber, mushrooms, radish, eggplant, spinach, tomato, broccoli
- nuts such as peanuts, pistachios, almonds
What is the impact of excluding phenolic compounds and salicylates on autism spectrum disorder?
More research is required on the effectiveness of the diet. Without suitable alternatives to replace foods high in phenolic compounds and salicylates, children with autism spectrum disorder may compromise on energy or nutrient intake. Moreover, salicylates are found naturally in fruits and vegetables, and restricting these can lead to constipation. Hence, these exclusions are not recommended.
Supplements for autism spectrum disorder
Proponents of using high doses of individual vitamins and minerals hypothesise that this is necessary due to metabolic and biochemical abnormalities. Most recommended dosages exceed the safe upper limit for children and even adults, and little is known about the long-term effects of high doses of supplements in children.
- Multivitamin and mineral supplementation: Vitamins and minerals which are popularly advocated include vitamins A, B and C, folate, magnesium and zinc. There is insufficient evidence to support the recommendation of specific vitamins and minerals for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. However, usage is appropriate when dietary intake is insufficient to meet recommended dietary intakes.
- Fish oil and other fat supplements: It has been suggested that omega-3 deficits or imbalances in omega 3 to omega 6 fat ratio is linked to the difficulties associated with autism spectrum disorder. There is little evidence to support the use of omega-3 supplementation to improve the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
5 Foods That Can Make Autism Worse
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is diagnosed in 1 in 54 children, according to the CDC. The condition is associated with an array of challenges, including abnormal social skills, developmental delays, communication problems, and behavioral issues.
According to research, over 70% of children with autism have at least one co-existing physical or mental health condition, and 40% have two or more of them. Among children with autism:
- 30-61% have ADHD
- 11-40% have anxiety disorders
- 7% have depression
- Over 50% have chronic sleep problems
- 32% are overweight (2 to 5 year-olds)
- 16% are obese (2 to 5 year-olds)
In addition, kids with autism are 8 times more likely to have gastrointestinal issues compared to those who don’t have the condition. And among adults with ASD, 26% have depression and 4-35% have schizophrenia (compared to 1.1% of the general population).
All of these challenges and symptoms can range from mild to severe. And food can have an impact on severity.
AUTISM AND THE BRAIN
Having seen more than 1,000 patients with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at Amen Clinics, one of the first lessons we learned is that the ASD condition is not caused by one specific thing in the brain; there are actually 8-10 different factors that influence abnormal brain function.
We see ASD brains through SPECT imaging that are wildly overactive – often due to an inflammatory process. For others, we see brains with dramatic under-activity, which may be due to a toxin or some type of insult or injury to the brain.
This is one of the reasons why it is so important to look at brain function when coming up with a treatment plan for ASD. Throwing medication-tipped darts in the dark can hurt people. But there is one thing that ALL people with ASD should do regardless of whether their brains are overactive or under-active…eliminate anything that can hurt their brain.
THE FOOD YOU EAT MATTERS
It is important to realize that the food you eat is either medicine or it is poison. It is either helping your brain, body, and mind or hurting them. Here are the top 5 foods to avoid as they can make ASD and co-occurring condition symptoms worse.
When casein (one of the proteins in dairy) mixes with stomach acid, it produces something called an exorphin. Exorphins bind to the opioid receptor sites and can result in a myriad of troubles – brain fog, spaciness, inability to concentrate, and a numbness to pain, just to name a few.
Dairy is also problematic because it is considered one of the most pro-inflammatory foods in the Standard American Diet. According to a growing body of evidence, including a 2018 study in Pharmaceuticals, inflammation is strongly associated with autism and is also commonly linked to immune system dysfunction. This study shows that neuro-inflammation and neuro-immune abnormalities are key factors in the development and maintenance of ASD.
Avoiding anything that promotes inflammation is critical for anyone with autism. In our experience, when people with ASD removed dairy from their diet, they began talking more, their hyperactivity was reduced, and bowel problems were resolved.
Research shows that gluten—a mixture of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye—can increase systemic inflammation when ingested. In fact, your body can create antibodies to gluten which can fire up, or inflame, your brain. Gluten also decreases good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system, which is associated with an increased likelihood of feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed. The gut-brain connection in autism is real, according to findings in a 2019 study.
Gluten seems to particularly negatively affect the functioning of the cerebellum. Located at the back bottom of the brain, the cerebellum is involved with motor and thought coordination and is essential for processing complex information. Through the brain imaging work at Amen Clinics, we have discovered that those with ASD already often have decreased functioning of their cerebellum—consuming gluten can just make it much worse.
Although the research on gluten-free diets is mixed, many parents of children with autism report seeing improvements in symptoms when they eliminate gluten from their child’s meals.
In the U.S., per capita consumption of corn products has risen from 28.4 pounds per year in 2000 to a whopping 35.2 pounds per year in 2019, according to Statista. Since 1972, corn has been the top pesticide-using crop in the nation, based on findings from the USDA. A growing body of research, including a 2013 study in the journal Entropy, suggests a potential link between exposure to the herbicide glyphosate and the risk of autism.
Additionally, corn has the most unhealthy fatty-acid profile (high in omega-6 fatty acids that promote inflammation, compared to omega-3 fatty acids that are anti-inflammatory) of any grain. Yes, you read that right, GRAIN. Corn is NOT a vegetable. Corn has been found to be a breeding ground for fungi, with a 2015 study identifying 46 fungal isolates derived from maize grains. There is simply nothing truly beneficial and many potentially harmful things that can come from eating corn.
Not only is sugar pro-inflammatory, but it also increases erratic brain cell firing and it is very addictive. In addition, research appearing in Frontiers in Endocrinology found that people with ASD, like those with type 2 diabetes, have impaired glucose tolerance and excessive levels of insulin (a condition known as hyperinsulinemia). Because of this, consuming sugar may magnify improper insulin signaling.
Research in Plos One also shows that children with autism who also suffer from gastrointestinal distress have poor metabolism of sugars. In these children, scientists found deficiencies in the levels of enzymes and transporters involved in the digestion of sugars.
Avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates and increasing lean protein consumption can dramatically improve concentration and judgment, and decrease impulsiveness.
5. ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS
A 2019 study suggests that the spike in autism may be connected to the preservatives found in processed foods. Other research points to a possible link between autism symptoms and artificial ingredients in our food supply. Avoid all additives, preservatives, dyes and artificial colors, artificial flavorings, and artificial sweeteners. Although these things are not really “foods”, they are unfortunately in so many food products that we wanted to list them here.
If you or a loved one has ASD, paying close attention to the foods being consumed is particularly important. For our patients with autism, we often recommend an elimination diet—eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, and other categories of potentially allergenic foods for one month. Then add these back one at a time and be alert for reactions to them, which would indicate that your child should permanently avoid that food.
Along with diet, other areas should also be investigated to uncover and address the challenges of ASD.
Autism, as well as co-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD, can’t wait. The earlier a child gets treatment for ASD, the more effective it will be. At Amen Clinics, we brain-body approach to treatment that includes nutrition and other lifestyle factors that contribute to symptoms.