The Importance of Balanced Diet for Autism

Sometimes back we published a post on the Correlation between Autism & Nutrition which, though not viral, became hugely popular. Many of our readers wanted to know more and among the most common question was: How far can good nutrition go in terms of curing Autism, or at least reversing the common Autism symptoms.

Can good nutrition cure autism
Can good nutrition cure autism?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds us that March is National Nutrition Month. It’s a return to healthy eating basics. The Academy celebrates it with the food and nutrition experts. They are registered dieticians and nutritionists who also care for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What we know about Autism and Diet:

Autism can be present on many levels. Though conventional medicine has defined Autism as a broad spectrum of disorders, the latest version of DSM 5 segments autism into 3 major categories depending on the support level required by the individual. Parents dealing with children having autism are well aware of the challenges that some of the known characteristics of Autism might bring along.

But healthy eating doesn’t necessarily have to be so. It’s true that a child with disability has a diet pattern that’s been stepped up than a usual, normal diet, but let’s call that a healthy, balanced diet instead; balanced the way it’s needed to be. It can make a whole world of difference. It escalates their ability to learn the ways of managing emotional outbursts and information processing. Restricted diets only make for difficulty sitting through mealtimes. Besides, restricted diets might also miss out on nutrients needed the most, like calcium, iron and glutamine.

Food Pyramid - A Balanced diet for Autism
Food Pyramid – A Balanced diet for Autism

The Problems that Parents Face…

The first among all nutrition strategies is staying prepared for finicky eating (Read a real life post from one of our readers on the troubles she faces because of the picky eating habits of her Autistic child). Many children find overcoming the barriers created due to excessive sensitivity to tastes, odours and colours – even textures, at times.

NOTE: This is the biggest reported hurdle towards achieving balanced diet. Soft, slippery foods make them break Hell, which is a problem you will face making them to try new foods. Not just any particular food; sometimes, ASD children detest an entire food group! And there goes the nutrition.

Such sensory issues related to Autism are easy to handle if you can find the right strategy to tackle them from the kitchen table. Ask your children to choose a new food from the supermarket for experimentation. It’s a good idea to show your kids over the Internet about the origins of the food(s) he or she chooses and ways to prepare it. This is getting your child get familiar with the food(s) and introducing him/her into a more flexible eating without applying parental pressure.

picky eating may be due to sensory issues than a matter of taste
Picky eating may be due to sensory issues than a matter of taste

Make meals predictable and turn mealtimes into a routine. Busy kitchens and bright lights stress out kids with Autism; even the layout of the room. Find out what applies lesser stress on your child and change things accordingly. Allow the child to pick his/her favourite food to include in every meal. Or, it could be his/her preferred seat at the table.

Guidance for special diets is a must. Gluten and casein-free diet may reduce symptoms of Autism; at least, many parents have claimed so. However, further research is needed to be sure if it’s effective on certain children or just on a few. more research is needed. Studies, so far, gave varied results; some suddenly doing better following a dietary change and some that don’t.

NOTE: The need of a balanced vs restrictive diet has been debated a lot among quadrants of the scientific society. You will find a contrasting view in this post on Gluten Free Casein Free Diet for Autism where the author advocates the use of such diet to counter autistic symptoms. It is important to note, however, that currently there is no confirmed scientific evidence that GFCF Diet actually works.

A word of Caution..

Unless a restrictive diet is a carefully planned one, your child’s nutritional needs cannot be met. Consulting a registered dietician and nutritionist is vital before making any drastic changes to your child’s existing diet. You may also get in touch with other parents who have had success with food interventions. A proper healthcare needs support as a crucial component, especially when it concerns children with special needs.

Need professional help with Diet or Nutrition in your local area? Find a Local Autism Nutrition Provider near you.

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