Going Gluten-Free/Casein-Free

Posted by Jamie Merenciano

Going Gluten-Free/Casein-Free

In recent years, buzz has been building around gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet for kids with autism. Clinical trials on GFCF are showing promising results making it something worth trying, not to mention the many success stories you can read online.

So what is gluten-free/casein-free diet and why is everyone eager to switch their kids’ diet?

Gluten-free/casein-free diet is also known as GFCF diet. Gluten-free, simply put, is removing gluten or grain protein in one’s diet. Foods and drinks containing wheat, barley, rye, oats or anything made from these grains are avoided. Gluten-free diet is often, if not always, combined with casein-free diet. Casein is the chief protein in milk and the essential ingredient in making cheese. Casein-free means removing dairy products in one’s diet, that means no milk, cheese or yogurt.

Though there’s still a long way to go in terms of research and clinical testing, GFCF proponents suggest that children with autism have high sensitivity to foods containing gluten or casein. Children with autism, according to the theory, process peptides and proteins in foods containing gluten and casein differently than other people do. Hypothetically, this difference in processing may exacerbate autistic symptoms. Some believe that the brain treats these proteins like false opiate-like chemicals. The reaction to these chemicals, they say, leads a child to act in a certain way. The idea behind the use of the diet is to reduce symptoms and improve social and cognitive behaviors and speech.

Convinced? Ready to try? Here are some tips to consider before and after making the switch.

  • Consult with your child’s doctor first. It’s always best to consult with your child’s doctor to give you an idea of the pros and cons of going GFCF. And as with any major shift in your child’s routine, your doctor can help you in the transition.
  • Consult with a nutritionist or dietician. If there’s anyone other than your doctor who can help you figure out the best GFCF diet plan for your kid, it’s a nutritionist. Since GFCF is a strict elimination diet, making sure that your child still gets all the necessary nutrients is important. This is where consulting a nutritionist comes in handy.
  • Keep a food diary. Before and after the shift, keeping a food diary will be very helpful. List down what he eats and take note if certain food types trigger some symptoms or reactions. That way you can discuss it with your nutritionist and make adjustments to your child’s diet plan.
  • Keep in mind: It’s not one size fits all. What works for other kids may or may not work on your child so be patient.
  • It can be difficult at first. Kids can be picky eaters. Kids with autism? Pickier. So make sure you help your kid during the transition. Remember it’s a process of eliminating certain food types and introducing other food types that they may not be used to so make sure you’re prepared for your kid’s possible reaction - meltdowns included. You can try and shift gradually by slowly introducing the substitute food into their diet. Slowly but surely is the key.
  • Your success is all up to you. Keep in mind your goals. Figure out your baseline and list down all the improvements you are aiming to achieve. Once you start with the GFCF diet, take note of the changes you will notice and see if you’re hitting your goals. Remember: this is not one size fits all so it may or it may not work for your child.
  • Intervention is still the key. Just because you’ve been promised amazing results doesn’t mean you’ll drop your kid’s regular therapy. A change in diet can possibly help your kid but it’s not the ultimate answer to your child’s needs.
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