Brain development food for autistic child can significantly improve autism symptoms- that much we know now.
Research regarding brain development food for autistic children has come a long way since Dr. Bernard Rimland of the Institute for Individual Behavior Research pioneered it. We now have enough tangible proof to show that diet can improve autistic symptoms by more than half, and greatly improve a child’s quality of life.
How, you ask?
Well, by understanding the autism spectrum and the challenges involved. While we still don’t know exactly what causes autism, the implications are clear and hence possible to solve.
- Autism and Diet Research
- Diet for Autism and ADHD
- What Foods to Avoid With Autism?
- Best Brain Development Food for Autistic Child
- Best Breakfast Foods for Autism
- Best Finger Foods for Autistic Child
Autism and Diet Research
In an ideal world, all children should be on a whole, organic diet for optimum growth. But this is challenging for autistic children because of several reasons;
One, they deal with oral sensitivity issues that make eating certain foods unpleasant. Autistic children are, therefore, picky eaters and tend to prefer comfort foods, which have wheat, sugar, and milk from a young age.
And two, they do not like change and are very rigid and systematic. So, if you had started them on comfort foods early on just to keep the tantrums and hunger down, it would be next to impossible to change this. That doesn’t mean it can’t be, though.
The results of an averagely unhealthy diet eventually show up in form of;
- Low immunity. Parents of autistic children report that their kids are in the hospital a lot due to simple infections, especially ENT-related, because they have very low levels of vital minerals and vitamins.
- Gastrointestinal issues get worse in a child who is already naturally susceptible to imbalances in the gut microbiome, food sensitivities, and low digestive enzymes. These stomach discomforts are believed to be the cause of an autistic child’s irritability, tantrums, and inability to focus.
But that’s not all. Children with autistic spectrum disorder also experience;
- Imbalanced blood sugar. There’s a close correlation between high sugar levels and ADHD/hyperactivity in autistic children. What’s worse, a study conducted on 265 hyperactive kids found that more than Â¾ of them had abnormal glucose tolerance. The regular intake of refined sugars and carbs increases hyperactivity, poor focus and hamper brain function.
- Deficiencies in Essential fats. Our brain is 60% fat, and it needs saturated and polyunsaturated fats for optimum growth. Research from Stirling University found that autistic individuals have a severe deficiency in vital fats caused by an enzymatic defect that gets rid of fats from the brain faster than it should. Supplementing EPA slows down the activity of this enzyme, leading to improved mood, sleep patterns, focus, and behavior.
- Food allergies resulting from impaired gut barrier integrity and poor digestion power. Foods like dairy and wheat contain proteins that are hard to digest, and fragments of these undigested proteins leak into the bloodstream and into the brain causing allergies and other reactions.
- Severe Vitamin A and D deficiency.
- Dehydration, hindering optimal brain performance
Diet for Autism and ADHD
Now, having understood what is going on in an autistic individual’s body and brain, we can formulate an appropriate diet to combat these challenges. As you have seen, itâ€™s not simply about adding certain nutritious foods, it’s also about eliminating those that aggravate the problem.
Here’s the full plan based on many studies;
1. Add Whole Foods
I say add because it will be difficult to switch their diet overnight. Instead, start adding more organic fruits, veggies and grains to their diet.
For instance, you can make yummy smoothies with fruits, greens and seeds or natural fruit juice, instead of giving the child sweet drinks. Replace the milk and cereal slowly with a smoothie or porridge. Blended fruit juice also encourages more intake of water because itâ€™s sweet and healthy.
For grains, opt for energy bars made of trail mix, chocolate, seeds, dry fruits and other healthy items. Go for rye bread instead of wheat. The point here is to slowly replace the bad things they currently eat with the good stuff.
2. Work on Balancing Gut Ecology
Half of the issues autistic individuals experience can be solved by balancing the gut. Work closely with a doctor to supplement digestive enzymes, age-appropriate probiotics and probiotic-rich foods.
Unfortunately, the child will most likely reject foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. Go for non-dairy yogurt and kefir if that happens and combine this with probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Eliminating wheat, processed sugars and dairy and giving the child more vegetables and grains will play a big role in healing the gut as well. The fiber will aid in digestion and help the healing process. I would also recommend reducing antibiotics if possible.
3. Increase Vitamins and Magnesium
Along with balancing the gut, we want to feed the child some superfoods to combat malnutrition. Several studies show that autistic children have insufficient folic acid, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and Vitamins A, D, C, B6, B12 and K.
Thankfully, a rainbow diet can efficiently help with this.
- Prioritize dark, leafy greens and cruciferous veggies for vitamins and chlorophyll, which helps detoxify the liver.
- Add a rainbow of organic fruits to the daily diet. Fruits are rich in vitamins and antioxidants to reduce inflammation. Berries for example, are a power fruit variety that will fight inflammation and are loaded with vitamin C. Guavas are also a great addition as they are loaded with all sorts of vitamins.
- For magnesium, green veggies, seeds, nuts and whole grains will help.
- For Vitamin A (Retinol), the best would be organ meat (liver, kidney, and heart), cod liver oil and fish. Retinol can also be synthesized from reddish vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes, but that requires ample levels of iron and zinc.
- The best option for Vitamin D is morning or evening sunlight, but supplements are encouraged. Try walking outside in the morning to get some much-needed sun exposure and also a workout. Autistic children live an otherwise sedentary life, and a walk can really help.
While a power food diet is great, you can see a doctor to get the nutrient levels measured. It’s clear that autistic children may still require some supplementation of zinc, calcium and Vitamin B12 despite a wholesome diet.
4. Balance Blood Sugar
This is likely the hardest part of this process, but it’s doable. The plan is to significantly reduce the consumption of sugar and processed foods/drinks because they cause blood sugar to rise and see-saw.
Replace the empty calories with more whole grains, vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds, and low-sugar fruits. For drinks, plain water or blended juice will do instead of sugary drinks. Eventually, wean away the blended juice and stick to water.
4. Add Omega Essential Fats
The available clinical trials regarding omega-3 supplements on autistic children have been really positive. However, we do encourage starting with a diet change instead of supplements.
For starters, add oily fish like salmon, kipper, sardines and mackerel to the child’s diet. Give a spoonful of fish oil or a vegan alternative on days the child is not eating fish.
Flax and chia seeds also contain omega-3 fats. You can grind the seeds and sprinkle them on cereal or add them to smoothies. That said, initially omega 3 supplements will make a difference much faster. Itâ€™s also necessary if the child is on a vegan diet because seeds do not contain enough EPA.
What Foods to Avoid With Autism?
We have touched on eliminating wheat and dairy severally but let’s go back to food allergies for a bit. There is strong evidence that eliminating wheat and dairy results in fewer gastro-intestinal issues (the gut wall heals and digestion improves), balanced blood sugar, better focus and less irritability.
Because gluten and casein proteins found in those two foods are hard to digest fully. Autistic children have low levels of digestive enzymes, zinc and Vitamin B6 essential for proper acid production.
So besides overworking the digestive system and causing a leaky gut, undigested fragments of those proteins (also known as peptides) leak into the brain, causing many of the symptoms we see in autism.
A study by the Autism Research Unit at Sunderland University found increased levels of peptides in the blood and urine of autistic children.
Other food items you may want to avoid giving autistic children include;
- Artificial food coloring
- Red peppers
- Soya and corn because most contain pesticides.
A Note on Food Elimination;
Food elimination of things like gluten and dairy should be gradual. If you just stop offering them suddenly, the symptoms can get worse. What’s more, the child will notice and resist the change.
Doctors recommend you start with one thing and replace it gradually. For example, replace milk on cereal with non-dairy milk and slowly start taking cereal out of the equation. Once milk is completely out, you can start working on wheat products one by one and replacing them with better alternatives.
Best Brain Development Food for Autistic Child
In summary, what does food for autism recovery look like?
- Cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage and broccoli
- Green leafy veggies like spinach
- Red and orange vegetables like beetroot, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butter squash.
- Mushroom for antioxidants, selenium and Vitamin B6
- Green peas, green beans, avocados, edamame, celery
- Potatoes and pumpkins
- Fatty seafood is the best option. Go for Mackerel, sardines, tilapia, kipper and salmon. Avoid mercury-rich seafood like tuna.
- Beef, pork, turkey, and chicken are all fair game.
- Organ meat such as liver, kidney and heart are rich in minerals, especially iron.
3. Organic fruits
- Mango, apples, plums
- Pineapples and papaya
- Berries of all kinds
- Cantaloupe and dragon fruit
- Dried figs and apricots
- Citrus fruits such as oranges and tangerines (some autistic individuals are allergic to citrus fruits, so they may be part of the elimination foods)
4. Whole grains
- Beans such as black beans, pinto beans, navy beans
- Lentils and Green grams
- Fortified whole breakfast cereal (check the ingredients for sugar and additives)
- Oatmeal and Weetabix
- Brown or white rice, quinoa
5. Nuts and Seeds
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Almonds and almond milk
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds roasted
- Cashew nuts
While eggs are a great source of protein and minerals, many children are also allergic to them. You may, however, add them to an older child’s diet who’s not allergic.
For milk, you can go with camel milk if they don’t like plant-based milk. It tastes like dairy but without the casein protein.
Water should also be a big part of what a child consumes daily. Try to get them to down a small glass of water every hour. If they dislike the taste, make a big batch of fruit juice by blending mangos and pineapples or melon together to drink throughout the day.
Remember, though, the idea is to wean off fruit juice for water, so make sure they take water at some point.
Best Breakfast Foods for Autism
This list was directly inspired by a dear friend whose child was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 2. It is what has worked for her and many others despite the initial resistance from the child.
Porridge is a great cereal alternative. It’s smoother and more delicious. Instead of buying ready flour from the store, she prepares a combination of beans, peanuts, oats, dried pumpkin and seeds and then grinds them to make flour.
This ensures no added chemicals, sugar or gluten. Rice flour (brown or white), sorghum flour, sweet potato flour, and tapioca starch are also great alternatives.
Another great alternative is a thick smoothie so that you can serve it in a bowl. Add berries, almond milk, mango, peanut butter, spinach and ground seeds together and blend thoroughly. Autistic children do not appreciate rough things, so ensure the smoothie is smooth.
3. Eggs and veggies
A nice fried egg with a side of brown toast or boiled sweet potatoes and a glass of real fruit juice is perfect. It’s also an awesome idea to add some veggies (well-cut spinach, mushrooms or green pepper), to the egg while beating on a bowl and fry them together.
4. Oatmeal/ Weetabix
Oats, except steel-cut oats, are smooth and yummy when cooked with water or almond/coconut milk. When serving, cut small pieces of banana or berries into the oatmeal to add flavor and make the bowl look nice. You can also throw in a piece of chocolate. Eat this as a family often because it is also the best breakfast for adults.
5. Chia mix
Mix chia seeds, almond milk and a spoon of honey in a jar and stir. Refrigerate overnight and top with berries in the morning before serving.
Best Finger Foods for Autistic Child
- Almond flour crackers with almond butter.
- Turkey jerky stick with fruit leather.
- Protein bars.
- Peanut butter-filled pretzels.
- Ants on a log, made from almond butter, raisins, and cut celery or carrot
- Sliced apples or carrots dipped in peanut butter or hummus
Camel milk is better for autistic individuals because it does not contain the A1 casein protein or the allergenic milk protein Î²-lactoglobulin (BLG found in cow milk. It is also high in immune proteins, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties to support the immune system and gut health.
Autistic kids tend to prefer bland, pale foods, which is why they don’t like vegetables and fruits. They generally resist strong textures, colors, and flavors, greatly limiting how many types of food they can eat. However, you can still find ways to include fruits, veggies, and meats into their diet with creativity and patience.