Anyone who has been following Amrita’s story for a while now knows that Amrita Health Foods was initially founded because the CEO, Arshad Bahl, was trying to find plant-based snacks that his son would eat. His son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, and Arshad’s research led him to believe that improving his son’s gut health would improve his other symptoms of autism as well. And it worked: Today, Arshad’s son is integrated into a normal classroom and is thriving both academically and socially. So how did it happen? What, exactly, is the connection between food and autism?
Food-related conditions often go hand in hand with autism spectrum disorders. According to AutismSpeaks, GI issues are eight times more likely in kids with autism than in kids without autism. Arshad’s son was one of the many children affected by both of these conditions. Gastrointestinal issues make it difficult for kids with autism to focus on their other therapies because the GI condition takes so much out of them. Think about when you’re not feeling well. How easy is it for you to focus on work? It’s the same thing.
To reach these kids, it’s first necessary to address their gut health. By making them feel better, these kids have an easier time focusing on and benefiting from their other therapies. But it’s not just kids with both autism and gastrointestinal issues who are affected. Studies show that specialized diets are one of the most effective therapies for autism recovery, especially diets that eliminate gluten or caseins. These substances affect the opioid conductors in the brain, which can increase or even causesymptoms of autism. By eliminating these and other harmful foods from their child’s diets, many parents report a drastic reduction in symptoms.
It’s one thing to understand the connection between food and autism and another thing to put that understanding into practice. How do you use food as a therapy, especially if your child is a finicky eater? The key is first to know what foods you want your child to eat versus what foods you want your child to avoid. Then, make a plan to introduce new foods to them in a safe way.
Next week, we’ll be doing an entire blog post on what a low-inflammation diet looks like. In the meantime, here’s a quick summary of what your child shout eat versus what they should avoid if you’re trying to improve their gut health.
Basically, kids should be eating a plant-based diet free of gluten, caseins, dairy, and major food allergens. Off the menu? In addition to major allergens, it’s best to avoid meats, processed foods, and fried foods.
If your kids are like most kids, the foods you want them to avoid currently make up a large percentage of the foods they’re willing to eat. Many kids with autism have sensory issues, which can make introducing healthy foods to them a challenge. So how do you combat that?
Last week, we published a blog post on getting kids to choose healthy snacks over junky snacks. Many of those tips will still apply to your child with autism. However, one thing we didn’t mention in that blog post is the concept of bridge foods. Bridge foods can be particularly helpful for kids with autism.
What are bridge foods? Basically, you take what your kids are eating now and build a bridge to healthier foods. For example, say one of your kid’s favorite foods is French fries. A better alternative to French fries would be mashed sweet potatoes or carrot sticks, but it would be pretty hard to get your kid on board with either of those choices. Instead, you offer them sweet potato fries. Sweet potato fries are similar to regular fries in look, texture, and taste, but they offer more of the nutrients of sweet potatoes. This is your bridge food. When your kid is on board with sweet potato fries, then you try the next step—mashed sweet potatoes. Once they’re on board with those, you try mashed carrots, which look and feel similar to mashed sweet potatoes. And then you moved to cooked baby carrots, and finally to carrot sticks.
Suddenly, your child who would only eat French fries has a whole selection of healthy vegetables available that you can offer at different meals. You can see how using bridge foods in this way can be a huge game changer for parents of children with autism.
Looking for specific foods to try? Our website has tons of recipes for low-inflammation foods, many of which Arshad successfully used with his son.
Patience is key, however. Studies show that kids have to be exposed to new foods up to fifteen times before they’ll tolerate it. When you’re using bridge foods, that’s fifteen times at the sweet potato fry stage, and another fifteen times at the mashed sweet potato stage. Because it takes so long, it can sometimes feel like a losing battle. Persistence is key to getting your child past the picky-eater phase of autism recovery.
It’s important to remember that there is no known cure for autism. For one thing, there are many scientists are still learning about autism. For another, autism is a spectrum disorder, and no two children with autism experience the same set of symptoms or challenges.
Instead, we like to talk about recovery from symptoms of autism. Switching your child to a plant-based diet free of allergens is an important step to take to help them recover from certain symptoms of autism. As your child’s gut health improves, they’re better able to focus on their other therapies. As they find success in their therapies, they’re better able to integrate with their peers and lead successful lives.
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While you should always work with your child’s doctor to find the best path for relieving your child’s symptoms of autism, there are also numerous resources online to help you educate yourself about what options are out there. Here are just a few reputable resources: