As parents, we all want the best for our children, so it's important to make educated decisions about the foods that we allow our children to eat. In an ideal world, children would choose fruits and veggies over sugary snacks, but unfortunately, that is not the world we live in–and who can blame them? Even as parents, I’m sure most of us can relate to choosing a cookie over an apple every now and then. With that being said, it’s up to parents to find a balance between what they want and what they need, but it can be a difficult task, especially if you have a child with autism. That is why we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share information about nutritious foods for children, while also highlighting the top foods to avoid with autism.
Before we get into the best and worst foods for autism, let’s take a step back and just do a quick overview of what autism is, and what it may look like in young children. NIMH defines Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, as a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior in children and adults. It can be diagnosed at any age, but it is categorized as a developmental disorder because signs typically appear in early childhood.
Symptoms of ASD can begin as early as 1 to 2 years of age and are typically observed after parents notice a delay in certain developmental milestones. Although not all symptoms are present in every ASD diagnosis, below are some common signs of autism in children:
- Picky eating
- Social communication/interaction behaviors
- Lack of eye contact
- Stereotypic behavior:
- Marching in place
- Rocking back and forth
- Hand and arm flapping
- Toe walking
- Finger tapping
- Repetitive finger movements
- Repeated words or phrases
- Spinning objects
- Lining objects up
- Lack of enjoyment from objects or activities being pointed out by others
- Intense and hyper-focused interests
- Having difficulty reading facial expressions or social cues
- Repetitive/Restrictive Behaviors
- Sensory issues to loud sounds, bright lights, etc.
Top 5 Foods To Avoid With Autism
Some foods can cause gastrointestinal issues in an autistic child and that is why certain foods should be avoided if you are a parent to a child with autism. As with any balanced diet, it is critical for parents to choose foods that are rich in vitamins and essential nutrients for healthy development. But here are the foods to avoid with autism:
- Sugary Foods: Although moderation is key in all children, it may be a good idea to avoid high-sugar foods if your child already shows signs of hyperactivity.
- Dairy Products: Dairy may cause inflammation in some people, which can essentially impair immune function. Parents who have eliminated dairy from their children’s diet have noticed a significant improvement in their child’s ASD symptoms. (If you are looking for a milk substitute, skip the soy, as it has also been linked to inflammation in children with autism and opt for unsweetened almond milk instead).
- Gluten: Research shows that gluten—a mixture of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye—can increase systemic inflammation when ingested. Gluten may also decrease the good bacteria in the gut, which may increase the risk of your child feeling anxious or stressed.
- Corn: Corn is another of the top 5 foods that is associated with intolerance and inflammation. Removing it from the diet can show gut improvements.
- Artificial Ingredients: Avoid foods with artificial dyes, artificial flavors, additives, and preservatives, as some studies have shown potential links between autism and ingredients found in processed foods.
Best Foods For Autism
So now that you know what foods to avoid with autism, let’s review some of the best foods and snacks for your child.
- Fruits and vegetables: These are good sources of fiber and vitamins, so they're a great way to get your kid started on a healthy diet. Fruits like apples and bananas are high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure, while green leafy vegetables like spinach provide folate (a B vitamin) and vitamin K that can provide other essential nutrients.
- Beans: Beans are rich in many important minerals, including magnesium and iron—and beans also contain a high amount of fiber.
- Fish: Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which have been shown to be beneficial for children with ASD. They also contain vitamin D, selenium, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, vitamin E… all things that can help improve your child's overall health by supporting brain function! If your child doesn’t like fish, you can also find an Omega 3 DHA Supplement to get the same benefits.
For parents of children with Autism, you know that having the resources and tools for your child is essential, and knowing what types of foods to eliminate from your child’s diet may help to improve ASD symptoms. If you are finding it difficult to ensure that your child is getting the essential nutrients that would typically come from food, nutritional supplements may be the best option.
At Simple Spectrum, we have two great supplements that were formulated to address any dietary deficiencies by providing the nutrients they need for healthier neurological development and function.
- Nutritional Support Supplement: This supplement was designed to support the nutritional needs of the developing nervous system in children by addressing potential dietary deficiencies.
- Omega-3 DHA Supplement: This supplement was designed for cognitive support for the developing brain and nervous system. Clinical research suggests that DHA is critically important for numerous bodily functions, especially inflammation.