What is the GFGC Diet and How Can It Help with Autism Spectrum Disorders?

The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet (GFCF Diet) is currently used as a dietary intervention treatment for children and adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, PDD-NOS, Celiac Disease and Gluten & Dairy Allergies or Intolerance. The GFCF Diet eliminates the intake of the naturally-occurring proteins gluten (found naturally in wheat, barley, spelt, triticale, kamut, rye and possibly oats) and casein (found in milk).

You can find studies that show evidence that the diet is often helpful in lessening autistic symptoms such as impulsive behaviors, lack of focus, and even speech problems. Conversely, the diet also has many critics who say there is no real scientific evidence that the diet works, however, many parents of young children with autism swear by it.

Certainly wheat and dairy are a part of almost everything we serve & eat in the United States and keeping a child away from things such as ice cream, pizza, milk, and most snack foods and cereals is not always easy. The diet does not simply involve removing bread and milk from a child’s diet because gluten can be found even in products that can be absorbed through the skin such as Playdoh, adhesive stickers, hygiene products, etc. The key is to read every label thoroughly.

Nutritionists advise that you can start the diet slowly, by eliminating foods and beverages that contain wheat & casein and then replace them with GFCF items one at a time or opt to go cold turkey and begin a strict regimen of GFCF right off the bat. Children can eat a wide variety of meat, chicken, eggs, fruits and vegetables while on this diet. Most local supermarkets (Giant Eagle in the Pittsburgh area) now stock many gluten free and casein free items due to dietary needs of people with Celiac Disease or food allergies. If your local supermarket does not carry certain foods, there are several online stores you can order from such as : http://www.gluten-free.net

Many autism support groups are recommending that parents give the GFCF diet a try for a 3 month period. It may not benefit all children, but those that it does benefit have been shown to make great improvements and some parents report changes in behavior right away after starting the new diet. If you search the internet you can find parents making statements such as:

“…what a lifesaver it is to us since our autistic 3 year old began the GFCF diet! We are seeing AMAZING results–after only 6 months, our little one who never had met an IEP goal, has now met all his speech and occupational goals and we have to do another meeting with his therapists! Wow! 😀 Thanks so much!”

You can find many web sites dedicated to the GFCF Diet, along with many recipes to try at home. Also, many books have been written recently on the GFCF Diet including:

Diet Intervention and Autism by Marilyn Le Breton and A User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperberger Syndrome and ADHD by Luke Jackson.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story on the GFCF Diet in 2008: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08080/866456-34.stm

Tamara Guo, M. Ed. Developmental Specialist