Improving the symptoms of autism and other developmental disorders through diet is a popular method among parents. Scientific research is not conclusive on how effective a diet such as GFCF, or gluten-free/casein-free, is. However, a number of parents have said the GFCF diet has changed their lives. The GFCF diet consists of two basic eliminations: wheat and dairy.
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Most children drink milk. However, on the GFCF diet, cow's milk in any form is not allowed. Finding a milk substitute that your child likes can be a challenge. Many varieties of alternative milk sources exist, such as rice milk, almond milk, soy milk and hemp milk that can be found at your local grocery store. Be sure the container states the product is casein-free, not just dairy-free. Some products may state they are dairy-free but still contain the casein protein as a thickener.
Commercial breads contain the gluten protein from wheat flour. However, there are brands you can find at your local supermarket that are gluten-free. These breads are made from rice or tapioca flour. The taste and texture are different from regular bread. The different flour used to make gluten-free brands gives the bread density. If you have trouble finding a bread that your child enjoys, try making your own. Gluten-free bread recipes are plentiful online.
Cheese is a common favorite of children and eliminating it from your child's diet can be difficult. Alternative cheese products are mostly soy-based and have a similar taste and texture to your child's regular cheese. Check the ingredient list before purchasing any alternative cheese, as some brands that are labeled "dairy-free" may still contain the casein protein.
Meat that is minimally processed and unflavored is generally considered gluten-free. Prepackaged or frozen meat may contain spices that are not gluten-free, so it's important to check the list of ingredients. Also watch out for meat that is breaded, such as chicken nuggets, because these products do contain gluten.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are usually safe choices for gluten/casein-free foods. Frozen vegetables can be as well, as long as they are not packaged in sauces or flavorings, especially butter flavor.
One in 1,000 children are affected by autism, according to the National Institutes of Health, though exact numbers and classification of autism are still murky. One of possible therapies advocated to help autism include the gluten-free, casein-free diet, called GFCF. Although there are no definitive studies on the GFCF diet effects, many parents of autistic children claim it successfully helps reduce symptoms of autism.
Foods Containing Gluten
Contrary to popular belief, wheat is not the only food that contains gluten. Gluten is a protein present in rye, barley and wheat. The autism advocacy group TACA recommends reading food labels very carefully to avoid gluten intake. They also recommend avoiding the ingredients millet and oats because they are manufactured in close proximity to gluten and can become contaminated. Because gluten contains valuable vitamins and fiber, a gluten free diet may require close monitoring by a nutritionist and doctor to ensure adequate nutrition.
Foods Containing Casein
Like gluten, casein is a protein found in many food products. All dairy products contain casein including cheese, yogurt, cow, goat and lamb's milk, as well as human breast milk. Removing casein from a diet should be implemented with care as it can cause a deficit in valuable nutrients, such as calcium and Vitamin C.
Soy sauce, edamame, frozen veggie burgers and soy oil are just some items that contain soy. Additionally, many foods list guar gum or bulking agent as ingredients, and items like this are hidden sources of soy, according to TACA. TACA recommends strictly removing soy from diets for autistic individuals because soy manufactured in America is often genetically modified and may be an food allergen. The careful and vigilant reading of food labels is highly recommended to restrict soy from your diet. Although no definitive studies show soy restriction helps autism symptoms, TACA states that parents who have implemented this and the GFCF diet have seen improvements in their autistic children.