Does Autism Affect Diet?
Yes – almost all children on the spectrum have dietary requirements that need attention. Due to the nature of ASD, autistic people can be fussy eaters with varying eating habits and particular food choices. Additionally, certain foods may also cause problems, or the lack thereof can cause deficiencies, thus, limiting the choices available to them even more.
How To Identify Food Habits In Autistic Individuals?
Autistic people may react a certain way when it comes to food that they may not like, making it challenging for parents. This may be evident if your child:
- Has a repetitive behavior around eating
- Gathers their food in their cheeks and sucks on it rather than chewing it
- Strongly prefers some foods over others
- Avoids certain foods completely
What Sort Of Food- Related Problems Do Autistic People Have?
People on the spectrum are more prone to having or developing the following problems:
- Digestive Issues
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Vitamin Deficiencies (Calcium, Iron, Fiber, Vit A/C/D/B12)
Is This Harmful For My Child?
Whilst eating habits can be difficult to change, they can be improved overtime, so that they do not exacerbate certain prevailing issues.
Is There An Optimal Diet?
Ideally, a nutrient-rich diet is most beneficial, however, due to digestive issues, autistic individuals cannot process all foods. While are no rules about what to eat specifically, it all boils down to what suits your child and what does not. For example, trying out a gluten-free or keto diet can help individuals with gastrointestinal problems.
What Foods Are Recommended?
Since autistic people are usually in need of more nutrients, healthier foods including meat, fruits, vegetable, beans, eggs etc. may be a healthier choice. Some nutrients – rich foods are listed below:
- Chia Seeds
- Unprocessed Meat, Turkey, and Chicken
- Green Peas
Foods to Avoid?
Some of the foods may cause stomach problems or discomfort in your child. These include:
- Dairy products including milk
- Wheat and Gluten Products
- Foods with a high-sugar content
- Processed meats
- Artificially – flavored foods
A protein found in dairy products – “casein” can combine with stomach acids, creating negative reactions in the body that can become problematic for people on the spectrum, such as lack of focus, brain fog etc. Additionally, dairy also contributes to inflammation in autistic people.
Sugar can be very addictive in addition to its inflammatory nature. Autistic individuals with type 2 diabetes are at greater risk of consuming sugar, whilst those with gastrointestinal problems cannot easily digest sugar-rich foods.
Research shows that corn contains a high level of fatty acids that trigger inflammation and cause weight gain.
Gluten is often found in wheat, barley and rye and is proven to increases systemic inflammation when consumed. It also decreases healthy bacteria in the body, arousing feelings of anxiety, stress or even depression and adversely affects the cerebellum (part of the brain).
Artificially – Flavored Foods
Processed foods including preservatives, dyes, artificial flavorings, and sweeteners have been found to worsen autism in individuals and are best if avoided.
How To Help People On the Spectrum Improve Their Eating Habits?
Parents at home can help their child develop a healthier eating lifestyle by adopting certain strategies. Some ways to go about this are:
- Identify Medical Problems and Consult A Doctor
- Stay Positive
- Explore New Foods
- Focus On Food Texture
- Cook Together
- Add Variety
- Reward Them Sometimes
Identify Medical Problems and Consult A Doctor
If your child is turning away at the sight of certain foods, it could be a signal that they cause them discomfort, which they may not be able to readily convey. Consulting a doctor can help to identify any serious medical conditions linked with food and how to go about them.
Autistic individuals may take a longer time to get in the habit of things or to process new things, hence, be patient and don’t give up!
Explore New Foods
People on the spectrum are reluctant to try new things, so help them familiarize themselves with new foods using their senses of sight, touch, and smell. Then, you can slowly get them to taste things and even mix them up with other new foods!
Focus On Food Texture
Autism involves high sensitivity to textures. This means that foods that do not feel good to chew on or swallow might deter some individuals. Therefore, try to get creative with the way you cook up things.
Cooking together is a great way to play around with food and nibble on kit at the same time. This can help you to introduce your child to new things and lighten the mood.
When putting food on the table, add a range of vegetable or meats for your child to choose from. While this might be tricky to do sometimes, it is a better way to adopt than to force them to eat.
Reward Them Sometimes
To ensure your child stays in the habit of trying new things that are good for them reward their efforts sometimes. A piece of dark chocolate occasionally may be a healthy option.
Trying out new foods with your kids can get a bit tricky, however, planning a healthy diet and making your child’s food experience fun can be of great help!