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Gluten, Casein, and Autism: Finding the Perfect Diet

While a lot has been made of gluten-free diets and more people are aware than ever of the realities of gluten-based allergies, there is still an ongoing understanding of just what effects gluten, and to a lesser extent, Casein, have on the behavior of a child with autism. While many parents do get allergy testing to see if their children has a Gluten or Casein allergy, most are wary of including either of these in their children’s diet regardless as they report a marked difference in their children’s behavior once these elements are removed.


Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye and Casein is generally found in milk and dairy. While this is still an area that requires a good deal of study, many parents have started enacting a gluten-free/casein-free regimen in their child’s diet, also known as the GFCF diet. Often, children with autism prefer bland foods such as bread, so taking such foods out of one’s diet can be rather challenging.


But why do parents believe a GFCF diet can improve the behavior of their children? While there are no significant studies to prove otherwise, many parents believe that children with autism process foods with peptides and proteins in foods with gluten and casein process them differently that children without autism, perhaps even worsening autistic symptoms. Thus, by removing these elements from a child’s diet can reduce general symptoms and improve speech and communication.


While the science behind this belief is still developing, researchers have discovered an abnormal level of peptides in individuals with autism. Thus by removing the peptides found in gluten and casein, researchers believe that there are significant behavioral benefits in eliminating these elements from one’s diet.


Although many believe there to be a significant behavioral link between the removal of gluten and casein in children with autism, eliminating both proteins can prove rather difficult. After all, gluten is a protein found in in the seeds of grain, barley, and wheat—which are found in a massive number of foods—and casein is a protein inherent in dairy foods. Casein is particularly difficult to avoid because it is also found in soy and imitation dairy products and is a crucial source of calcium and vitamin D, while gluten is a crucial source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Thus, when embarking on a GFCF diet, parents should make sure that their children are receiving these crucial vitamins and minerals from other sources, along with fortified foods.


So what does a GFCF diet look like? Firstly, there a number of GFCF-free food sites that sell prepared meals perfectly tailed to a GFCF-free diet. Secondly, it is always wise to consult a licensed dietician who can guide you through the process of removing gluten and casein from your diet. Finally, if you decide to follow the diet, be sure to be aware of all of the hidden sources of gluten. Gluten can be found in everything from fried foods to cosmetics, so make sure you’re aware of all of the potential sources and be sure to eliminate them from your child’s diet.


While the benefits of a GFCF diet are still being better understood, it is clear that many parents are reporting a significant change in their children’s behavior and it is at least worth trying.