For parents, finding a diet for kids with autism can be extremely difficult, as they find a balance between nutrition and what they will eat.
Many children quickly become fussy eaters and crave foods not beneficial to their health. However, for an autistic child, these issues can be heighted due to sensory issues and many other factors.
In recent years, many researchers have linked certain foods as being able to help autism and alleviate some symptoms that come with it.
Although there is no set ‘best diet for autism’, there are some diet plans that can allow for huge improvements in a child’s wellbeing.
To give a starting point, Acoup have compiled some of the best foods that are good for autism, and that you should try and include as much as possible.
The first to consider in a meal plan for an autistic child is a diet that includes Omega 3 acids. Researchers have recently suggested can assist with calming symptoms related with ADHA, depression, autism, and anxiety.
Aiding with the creation of hormones responsible for regulating blood clotting and inflammation, the acid is great for heart health, as well as mental health.
Omega 3s can be introduced into your child’s diet in a number of ways. The first and most commonly thought of is fish, although it may be something that your child has an aversion to.
The next would be in vegetable oils and nuts, as well as leafy vegetables and in some animal fat if the animal was grass-fed.
You can also include the likes of flaxseed oil in recipes, grind up nuts into baking, or cook with more vegetable oils, to ensure your child is still receiving omega 3s in different ways.
The next to think about when it comes to nutrition for autism is Vitamin B12, which many scientists believe can help with cognitive abilities as well as social skills.
There are treatments around the world for autism which include B12 injections, however this vitamin is something that you can easily include in you or your child’s diet instead.
Again, this is something that can be found in both meat and fish, especially beef. A top tip is to choose cuts of meat with a lower fat content, and cook it by grilling or roasting, as this preserves a higher concentration of the B12 vitamin.
Milk and dairy products like milk or cheese are also high in B12 and even in organically grown root vegetables, so make sure to include them in some way if you can.
In recent years, researchers have investigated an apparent link between autism and a zinc deficiency. However, you should be careful when looking to increase zinc in your diet, as an excess amount can lead to anaemia as it prevents you from absorbing copper.
But ensuring your child has the correct amount of zinc in their diet can really help with some of the symptoms associated with autism.
If you’re looking to do this, red meat is often the most commonly thought of when it comes to being rich in zinc and nutrients.
In addition, legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans all also contain high levels of zinc, which might be more likely to be consumed by your child in a recipe or dish.
Again, nuts are mentioned as having a good level of zinc, especially cashews, almonds, and pine nuts. As well as being mixed in with other things and ingredients, they can make an easy and nutritious snack so it’s worth including in your autism diet plan.
Speaking of snacks, dark chocolate has a reasonable zinc content, so if you’re child prefers sweet things, try a few pieces with them, or melt it down and mix with milk chocolate to disguise it.
Finally, eggs are also one to think of if you are looking to improve zinc levels. Although only containing a moderate amount, they can be included in many recipes, with simple dishes such as an omelette or scrambled egg often a popular choice.
It is often the case that children with autism can experience some gut or stomach upset, or a hypersensitivity to certain foods.
To help alleviate some of these symptoms, researchers also recommend a high fibre diet, so aim to see your child having some whole meal options, as well as fruit, beans, and pulses.
How can I make these changes?
It’s important to note that when it comes to the best nutrition for autism, introducing diet changes or new foods is far easier than done.
Mealtimes and food can be a huge cause of anxiety and stress both for the child and their parents, and often it can feel easier to just stick with what you know.
However, recently the BDA also released a series of tips and guidance on how to have a calmer mealtime for autistic children, which will be essential if you plan on introducing the new nutrient rich foods mentioned above.
1. Ensure a consistent routine around mealtime, which will provide reassurance and normality.
2. Use any special interests the child has to engage them at mealtimes and distract them from any potential new foods or changes.
3. Limit loud noises or strong smells to avoid the experience being overwhelming to their sensory needs.
4. Only make these changes or new introductions slowly, as each small alteration will prove much more of a success than a sudden and drastic move to new foods.
5. Make these new foods more visible and discuss them, let your child help prepare them etc, so they become a more familiar sight. (reference: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/autism-diet.html#:~:text=High%20fibre%20foods%20including%20wholegrain,those%20who%20are%20not%20autistic )