How Dietary Changes Influence Behavior For People With Autism

  • By Ashley Bechtloff Springible Contributor
  • Reading Time About 4 minutes
  • PostedSeptember 8, 2017
  • Category

More than ever before, people are modifying their diets. Whether it’s stripping down the ingredients to be plant-based or eliminating entire food groups, more people are finding positive changes in their health when they tweak what they eat.

There is an ongoing debate in the autism community over whether changing the diet of a person with autism has any effect on that person’s behavior. Some people say they have seen major improvements in their child’s behavior after modifying a diet. However, scientific research has yet to prove this theory true.

Dr. Jerrold J Kartzinel

So we asked Generation Rescue (GR) to discuss this topic in-depth, and they connected us with Dr. Jerrold J Kartzinel. He is GR’s Science Advisory Co-chair, Board Certified in Pediatrics, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

We hope you find our conversation with Dr. Kartzinel both insightful and educational.

Q |What types of foods are suggested to be eliminated from a child with autism’s diet, and why?

A | I almost always recommend removing foods containing gluten and dairy. In addition, I try to decrease the amount of sugar consumed by the child.

Q |What complications do these foods cause? 

A | I have found that these foods can cause a lot of behaviors that include tantrums, poor sleep, hyperactivity, diminished language, and poor eye contact. 

Q |What sort of research is there that supports modified diets for children with autism?

A | Overall, much of the research performed to date has NOT shown to positive improvements in autistic behaviors with dietary modifications.  The research has been flawed, had too few test subjects, or did not follow the test subjects long enough.

Q |Can you share a success story from a child whose diet was modified? 

A | I would estimate nearly 80% of my practice clearly benefits from the gluten free, dairy free, and low sugar diet. So much so, the parents continue to keep these children on the diet 100% (no cheating!).

Q |What are the best types of foods parents should add to their child’s diet and why?

A | Many of the children I see self-limit their diet. So, adding new foods may be quite a challenge. I like to make sure that they have a protein source (like meat, eggs), a healthy fat source, fruits, and vegetables. If this is not possible to do, I supplement their diet with protein powder, multi-vitamins, multi-minerals, and omega oils.

Q |If a child is diagnosed with autism, what are the first steps a parent should take to modify their diet? 

A | Their first step is to read! The next step is to get some help and that can easily come from Generation Rescue. Then, with the understanding of what dairy and dairy products are, they can work to eliminate them from the child’s diet. Next up: Gluten

Q |How early should parents start to modify their child’s diet?

A | As soon as possible! Again, the goal here, IF possible, is to remove food containing gluten, dairy, and decrease the sugar content.  So, we are looking at a diet with meats, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables as our goal.  Nothing packaged, boxed, processed.  We are desperately trying to recover brain function, and we cannot do this with French fries, cookies, and gummies!

Q |What types of food substitutions can be used for the foods that are being eliminated from the diet? (For example, agave or maple syrup instead of sugar). 

A | I really work on introducing healthy foods and not finding sugar replacements. We struggle in the United States with consuming too many sweet foods, and I would like to have our next generation break out of that mold.

Q |What resources can parents use to help guide them to modify their child’s diet?

A | It can be tough to find the right multivitamins and supplements to add to your child’s diet – especially if they are self-selective and not eating a variety of foods. We have taken the work out of finding excellent sources of supplements and have developed a product line. Mending Naturally offers numerous articles about steps you can take to help your child improve.

Looking for a similar article? Read our interview with Generation Rescue!

Generation Rescue: Providing Hope for Navigating Autism