Nutritional Therapy in ADHD & Autism Spectrum Disorders

There are six main dietary plans that are usually used as interventions in ADHD and ASDs. It is possible that just one of the six plans will be sufficient but it is far more likely that you will need to combine two or more of the diets (or parts thereof).

The Six Dietary Plans:

1. Blood sugar balancing diet

The most frequent cause of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) is a poor diet, especially one that is high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, which consist of sugar or starch, travel through the digestive system very quickly, and can cause a blood sugar spike, which is then followed by a slump. This slump (hypoglycaemia) can lead to symptoms like confusion, poor concentration, depression, cravings for certain foods.  Therefore, the blood sugar balancing diet is based primarily around foods that travel slowly through the digestive process, such as high protein foods and high-fibre foods as well as avoiding high sugar and high starch foods.

2. Gluten-Free, Casein-Free, Soy Free (GFCFSF)

The GFCFSF diet has become the single most popular intervention for ASDs and ADHD.  It requires that the child strictly avoids any foods that may contain gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, oats, barley, triticale, kamut), casein (a protein found in dairy products) and soy.  Symptoms that often improve on the GFCFSF diet are bowel disorders, mood disorders, insomnia, eczema, poor language skills, to name a few.

3. IgE, IgG and Intolerances

Food reactions include 1) IgE allergies, 2) IgG sensitivities and 3) intolerances. These three types of reactions are very common in children with ADHD and ASDs.  The six most reactive foods are wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, corn and soy. There are a number of tests that can be carried out to ascertain which foods are causing the most problems. However, aside from IgE allergies, many IgG sensitivities and intolerances are linked to dybiosis (high levels of bad bacteria in the gut) as well as intestinal permeability. Whilst removing the offending food may help, it is also necessary to work hard on healing the gut.

4. Anti-yeast diet

Yeast overgrowth is extremely common in children with ADHD and ASDs. Symptoms vary but bloating, thrush, recurrent fungal infections, fatigue, poor cognitive function as well as joint pain are all signs. It generally requires a three-pronged approach of diet, supplements and anti-fungal medication to overcome yeast overgrowth. The anti-yeast diet generally  means that all foods containing yeast (liked baked goods) as well as those foods that stimulate the growth of yeast (like sugar) have to be avoided.

5. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

SCD is based around stringent restriction of carbohydrates that are believed to aggravate existing bacterial infection and to contribute to inflammation in the gut. The SCD eliminates all disaccharides (two-sugar molecules) and all polysaccharides (starches). Only monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose) such as fruits, honey, and most non-starchy vegetables are allowed. This means that all sugars (except monosaccharides) and starches are out, including but not limited to, table sugar, maple syrup, rice, pastas, breads, potatoes, certain beans, rice milk, and cornstarch. Animal proteins, nuts, eggs and some plant proteins are allowed. SCD is one of the newer approaches to nutritional therapy for autism which many parents have found to be incredibly useful.

6. Low Oxalate Diet

This diet consists solely of reducing or eliminating a food component called an oxalate due to the belief that some children with ADHD or ASDs have difficulty metabolising them. Yeast overgrowth, commonly associated with antibiotic usage, might lead to increased oxalate production. Foods especially high in oxalates include spinach, beets, chocolate, peanuts, wheat bran, tea, cashews, pecans, almonds, berries, and many others. Oxalates are not found in meat or fish at significant concentrations.