The subject of gluten and its relation to child behavior, problem solving skills, general health, and links to diseases like Aperger’s and Autism make it a hotbed for debate. Just “googling” the term gluten free brings you a million+ results about the dos and don’ts of a gluten free and often casein, or dairy free diet. The two have even been combined into one term in a lot of cases, called the GFCF diet. As the mother of a 7 month old little boy, I keep a pretty good watch for symptoms of the Autism spectrum, as my genetic history is predisposed to some of the markers. I myself have been tested for some of the markers, thankfully most of my symptoms related to shyness, not blatant social issues, so I escaped the dreaded Autistic label, but there are kids out there who have gone from being totally introverted, screaming at the slightest stressor, to calm, vocal, and even “normal” (FYI: THERES NO SUCH THING), all because of a change in their diet. 

The cause of the strong reactions to stressors while consuming a gluten and casein based diet, usually high in processed foods, breads, and dairy products is because when the body processes gluten, it triggers an opiate-like (read: hallucinogenic) reaction in the brain. The constant firing of this trigger upsets the brain’s reaction to any number of stimuli, and can lead to emotional, physical, and mental issues in a fully healthy non-spectrum adult, much less an autistic child. Removing the trigger regulates the brain functioning, improving attitude, energy levels, health, and even outlook.

Gluten Free:

If your child has been diagnosed with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, or is acting out, talking in class, has an inability to focus, or just won’t sit still, try changing their diet to a GFCF diet. Now I know what you’re thinking. “All my kid eats is bread, cheese, cookies, pretzels, etc… won’t they starve?” the answer is no. There are hundreds of items that contain no gluten or casein whatsoever, such as:

Chicken, Turkey, Poultry, Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb, Fish, Shellfish, Eggs, Corn, Potatoes, Yams, Sweet Potatoes, Rice, Quinoa, Millet, Buckwheat, Beans, Lentils, Polenta, Fruits, and Veggies. You can use rice flour, corn flour, brown rice flour, cornstarch, and soy, to substitute for wheat flour.

The idea behind the diet is not to starve your kid, but to replace the bad with good. Often times a gluten-free diet is much healthier than the average child’s diet, because you aren’t allowed to eat a lot of the processed foods that come ready made, such as Chef Boyardee, frozen pizzas, cookies and cakes. With the new healthy decision making in the grocery store, you will improve not only your family’s health, but your child’s well-being in a large number of different areas, thereby reducing stress on you! It’s a win win!

Casein (Dairy) Free:

MOO! There is debate about the casein protein found in dairy also causing a large number of emotional and mental disorder symptoms among kids and adults, which is why a lot of people go gluten free and dairy free at the same time. Believe it or not, humans are not supposed to drink cow’s milk. We are supposed to drink human milk, or breastmilk. Seeing that breastmilk  has yet to be commercially harvested, (thank goodness) we supplement with cows milk, which often times creates an inability to process the lactose and milk sugars found in the cows milk, ie lactose intolerance, which is no fun for anyone, kid or adult. More than half of the human population has trouble digesting milk and items that contain dairy. Removing this item from your diet can improve energy levels, tummy regularity, and even make you happier!

Vitamin Free?

Of course, we drink milk for the calcium. But there are a number of veggies that make up for the loss if you add them to your recipes on a consistent basis. Spinach, kale, chard, collard greens, broccoli, almost every dark green leavy vegetable offers a great source of calcium, and no tummy troubles. If it’s still a problem, consider a multivitamin, but look for one that says gluten-free.

Where to Shop:

Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market are great for organic, vegan, all-natural, GFCF, and dairy free items. Only 2% of items found at Trader Joes are considered less than 100% natural, and if you ever find a label on a product at Whole Foods that says less than natural or artificial you are encouraged to report it to the manager. By now you know my spiel on reading labels. The best way to live healthy is to know exactly what you are eating.

Words to avoid when reading your labels: wheat, flour, oats, barley, rye, spelt, malt, triticum, durum, bulgur, kamut, fu, couscous, semolina, hyrolyzed vegetable protein, hyrolyzed plant protein, modified food starch, natural flavoring, non-distilled vinegar, Color No. ? dyes and Lakes, preservative, milk, dairy, whey, curd, caseinate, cream, butter, lactose, maragarine, cheese, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, caramel, lactic acid, lactic starter culture, soy sauce.  

6 Responses to “Gluten Free Diet for Kids”

  • I had no idea! Great info, Ms. Rebecca. I thought all this gluten-free diet talk was about the calories or carbs. I wonder if changing my diet now, as an adult, would have the same benefits.

    • Technically, since you’re removing a large amount of bread and bad carbs from your diet by cutting wheat, you can lose weight, but you replace it with different types of flours, so unless you cut the bread and stuff completely, than idk, the GFCF is very effective for mood and attitude control though. I’m tempted to try it myself.

  • Kris says:

    Hi Jillian. Just in the same way some people without autism benefit from a GF/CF diet, some people with autism do as well. But not all. Research (and their has been much evidence based research done) has given us no conclusive data on the effectiveness of this diet as a treatment for “inability to focus, or not sitting still in class”, among other behavioral issues. My autistic son has absolutely no discernible changes to his behavior on a GF/CF diet – and we tried for months.
    As his diet was self-limited anyway, he refused to eat many of the new foods as well, and we eventually reintroduced some of the old foods to stop the weight loss.

    A diet full of processed foods, additives, colors, preservatives and sweets in not healthy for any child, and plays havoc on behavior.
    The removal of those highly reactive foods from the diet, can have more of an impact on the behavior – along with some specific and high quality supplements, such as zinc, magnesium, vitamin b complex and cod liver oil.

    Don’t get my wrong, gluten is a very inflammatory substance of it’s own accord, and the role of brain inflammation in autistic symptoms is only recently being considered. And some people respond very well to a GF diet.

    The thing to remember is that if you have met one person with autism you have met one person. No one thing will help everybody, with or without autism.

    Thanks for sharing this blog, it provides great opportunity for discussion, and information for parents and others out there who need to be informed.

    • Kris,
      Thank you for reading, and you’re right, it doesn’t work for some kids, I did not intend for this post to be a “cure-all” just a suggestion, so if I misconstrued that in any way I apologize. Definitely makes you think, and I’m sorry that it was not effective for your son. Againn thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! 🙂

  • erase me now says:

    I’m so happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that is at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc.

  • Mama Cat says:

    Thanks for pointing me to this post again. It didn’t “stick” with me the first time, but now I’m at a different place and with different knowledge. For example an internet test (yes, roll your eyes) showed that I was high on the autism spectrum, which didn’t surprise me. and now that I’m aware of all the things gluten can do to those who are allergic or sensitive too it, I’ve been paying more attention to my diet and my days. I’ve gone a few days gluten free, had a great day today, then rebelliously had a pasta dish for dinner. My mood mood a nosedive. I’ve yet to see what it does to my tummy (the original motivator for looking into gluten-free).

    To Kris – A friend has an autistic nephew, and what helped him (the nephew) was to eliminate anything from his diet that came in a can. Something about the alloys in the metal — I don’t know the specifics but it’s another thing to look into.