Top Lunchbox Picks for Back to School from a Nutritionist and Mom

I have to admit that as a nutritionist and a mom, I’m a bit obsessed with lunchboxes and finding the perfect non-toxic lunch containers for my daughter (and myself).  I own and have tried many.  While all of my choices at home are BPA-, phthalate- and lead-free, I’m still not thrilled with plastic options.  I’m uncomfortable that they may find out that they are not as non-toxic as they think they are.  I try to avoid as much plastic as I can for this and many other reasons.

As such all of the products and lunchboxes here are BPA-, phthalate-, lead-free, and the food and beverage containers are also plastic-free. Planetbox is our family favorite. It has held up for years. It’s easy for little fingers to open. It has individual sections and there are no containers or lids to lose.

Here are some of the best choices for non-toxic options. Let us know your favorite!

Full Lunchbox System

PlanetBox

Stainless lunchbox system with carrying case and place for water bottle. Be careful as not all of the compartments are water-tight although you can get waterproof containers that fit inside for yogurt, apple sauce, or anything liquid.  This is by far my favorite lunchbox system. My daughter has had this same lunchbox going on the third school year. Three years for a lunchbox is amazing! It’s very durable. There are thin ice packs to go with it and a carrying case.

Inside Lunchbox Containers

Lunchbots small (stainless steel)

Lunchbots medium (stainless steel)

Lunchbots large (stainless steel)

ECOlunchbox (stainless steel)

 

Water Bottles

Lifefactory

Finally a glass water bottle that doesn’t break, and no more metal tasting water!  Glass water bottles with a silicone sleeve. 9 oz bottles fit well into most lunch boxes.  Even better, these are Life Factory’s baby bottles with a solid cap so they can be reused after baby is older or purchased new if you’re just discovering them.  They also have 12, 16 and 22 oz sizes with straw, sport, and screw on tops.

Hydro Flask

If you can’t take glass to school or you want your beverage to stay insulated (from either the cold or the heat), this series of water bottles is one of my very favorites. We own several, including: one with a flip lid for hot beverages like coffee, and a couple with screw tops for water.

Reusable Sandwich Bags and Clingwrap (Plastic-free)

LunchSkins – These reusable storage bags are dishwasher-safe and resealable. They come in different sizes and are easy to open and close. They have a grease-proof and moisture-proof lining that helps keeps food fresh.

Abbego – Like a peel or rind, this wrap protects and breathes. It extends the life of foods by shielding it from air, light & moisture, while letting off-gas escape. And each ingredient comes from the earth!

What food to put in your lunch box

And, what about what to pack inside those lunchboxes? A special diet doesn’t have to mean boring or mean sandwiches everyday!

Here are some creative alternatives that can be adapted for any diet:

Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be another chore for you or boring! I know it can be tricky not feeling like you are stuck in a rut with the same things over and over again. With a little planning and creativity, your child can have delicious, allergen-friendly lunches every day of the school year. In fact, if you want a downloadable resource, I also have a list of 50 lunch box ideas for you.

Amazon Disclaimer:

Julie Matthews and Nourishing Hope is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

FTC Disclaimer:

Some links may be affiliate links. We may get paid if you buy something or take an action after clicking one of these.

50 Gluten Dairy Grain Free Lunch Box Ideas How to Pack Lunch on a Special Diet

Download our handout on GFCF and Grain-Free Lunches

There are a lot of children on special diets. In our Nourishing Hope community the following diets are very helpful for kids with ADHD, Autism, and Neurodevelopmental Delays…

  • GFCF Diet
  • Paleo Diet
  • Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
  • GAPS diet

But for parents new to special diets, some of the most common questions I get when I suggest a gluten-free/casein-free or Paleo diet are,

“What is my child going to eat?”

“How do I pack lunch on a special diet?”

One of the challenges of school lunch is that we parents are not there to supervise and make sure/encourage they eat all of their lunch.

Many of you know it can be tricky. They will eat the same meal at home but then when they are at school the might not. On the other hand, if we give them the foods they love that are not as healthy “just to get them to eat” they avoid all of the healthy stuff and only eat the junk.

Being the mother of an elementary school child, I have been experimenting for a couple of years on what’s best to put in my daughter’s lunch box that is healthy and delicious.

And I’ve settled on a strategy that works best for us…

A Paleo lunch box

For example, if I feed my daughter a sandwich sometimes she will eat just the bread and not the meat/protein. If I put crackers or a sweet treat, she may eat them but not the vegetable and protein.

There are a couple ways we handle this, most often I do not make a sandwich (unless it’s a tuna or salmon salad sandwich which she tends to love and eat the protein).

I also avoid including the treats, which requires her to eat the healthy choices available. If I do include a treat, I tell her she needs to eat the meat and vegetable or I won’t serve the treat on the next special occasion.

This combination of nutrition and parenting techniques works well for her.

What I do most often choose from several categories of food (protein, vegetable, fruit) and put a Paleo style lunch together. This way we avoid the bread, starches, and sugars and focus on the healthy food.

Download our Lunch Box handout… post it on your refrigerator… add your own options and ideas… And get packing!

Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Diet for Autism

autism diet

Choosing to implement a gluten-free and dairy-free diet for you or your child with autism can be beneficial in many ways. Reports from parents after implementing a gluten-free and dairy-free diet include improvements in areas such as cognition, receptive and expressive language, development, skin conditions, as well as reduction in behaviors, improved sleep, decreased ear infections and digestive symptoms, and more.

If you have heard there is no science behind a gluten-free and dairy-free diet for autism, it’s just not true.

Maybe you’ve wondered why you haven’t heard about an autism diet and the science if there’s something to it. Well, this article is for you.

Thousands of anecdotal reports from parents plus the existing scientific data shows that following this diet can help children with autism. Understanding the impact of an autism diet plan is especially important in determining if this option is right for your child.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is another term for the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale, and products made from them. Gluten plays a crucial role in helping different foods maintain their shape due to it acting as “glue” that holds everything together. You can find gluten in various foods, such as soups, pasta, baked goods, cereals, processed meats, dressings, and sauces.

Exposure to gluten can also come from what is called “cross-contamination.” This is when a gluten-free food is prepared, heated, fried, or placed with foods that contain gluten. Common sources of cross-contamination include French fries that are fried in the same fryer with gluten containing foods like breaded chicken or fish patties, as well as toasters, cutting boards, even knives.

Have a separate toaster, cutting board, and knives for gluten-free cooking/prep and thoroughly wash all surfaces. The more sensitive the individual is, the more they will react to these cross-contamination situations.

Thoroughly researching the different foods that contain gluten and possible risks of cross-contamination is important before implementing a gluten-free diet for autism.

Dairy / Casein

The topic of dairy can be confusing so let’s start with the basics. Dairy is a term that refers to all animal milk and milk products, and is made up of different components. For example, lactose is the milk sugar; whereas, casein is a type of protein in milk.

Just as with gluten, you can have cross-contamination with dairy, so use the same cross-contamination precautions regarding cutting boards, counters, etc.

If something is made from dairy, unless it says casein-free be careful to ensure that it does not contain it. Often the terms dairy-free and casein-free are used interchangeably. When reading labels, we often assume dairy-free means casein-free (which theoretically it “should” be), however, some companies label their products as “dairy-free” when really they are lactose free, so always read the ingredients to be sure.

Also, a product can be casein-free but still contain lactose or even dairy fat.  The challenge with casein-free foods is that there can be trace amounts, or there can be other components in the dairy that can cause problems, such as the milk sugar (lactose) or another protein. Many times people have a harder time processing the casein protein rather than the sugar or fat from dairy, but at least in the beginning, removing all components of dairy gives you a good look at whether there are reactions.

And in addition to the differences between the various components of milk itself, there are differences between different types of milk. A2 beta casein milk and camel milk, for example, but for the purpose of a dairy-free/casein-free diet (especially at the beginning) there is no animal milk of any kind included.

Autism and Diet

The signs of autism in children can be wide-ranging, such as avoiding eye contact, delayed language skills, sensitivity to sound, repetitive behaviors, and obsessive interests. Additionally, children with autism often have physical symptoms, such as gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, constipation, sleep challenges, and rashes. And while these symptoms are not considered part of their autism diagnosis according to the DSM V, there is plenty of research showing that children with autism struggle with these symptoms as well.

Following a therapeutic diet plan based on the unique needs of the child can potentially reduce, or in some cases even alleviate, both the autism symptoms as well as the physical ones. The body and brain are connected, and as you heal the body you improve health, learning, mood, and behavior.

After we talk about the basics of what a gluten-free and dairy-free diet is, I’d like to share the science of WHY an autism diet like this works.

Tips to Consider for an Autism Diet Plan

While a gluten-free casein-free diet is not the only “autism diet” out there, it is the most popular. So for the purpose of this article I will call this diet the “autism diet.” However, I’d like you to know that my nutrition philosophy is about personalized nutrition (what I call BioIndividual Nutrition), where there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, the diet and nutrition plan is tailored to the individual needs of the person.

However, since there are so many negative reactions associated with gluten and dairy, and because people see such beneficial results, it’s the first therapeutic diet I most often suggest to people when getting started.

Here are a few tips to consider if you are thinking about implementing an autism diet plan:

Safe and Effective

Dietary intervention can be something families can implement immediately. Parents are largely in control of what their child eats daily and can have a big influence on the progress that can be made from a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.

Improving your child’s food intake: Removing the harmful stuff and things devoid of nutrients and adding nourishing food over time has no down side. Nutritional intervention is a safe and effective strategy.

In fact, here is a video from Dr. James Adams, PhD on nutritional intervention and our published study.

 

Identify Gluten and Dairy Products in Your Child’s Diet

This elimination diet removes all gluten and casein protein from your child’s diet and that isn’t always an easy task. But with a little planning and follow through you can do it. Thoroughly reviewing your child’s diet is the first step in determining which foods to eliminate and which ones to leave alone.

However, gluten is also found in non-food products, such as Play-Doh, hygiene products, and it’s also in the adhesive on stickers and stamps. So be sure to think about the various ways your child may come in contact with products that may contain gluten.

How to Start a Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Diet

Most people choose from two different approaches for implementing a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. For example, you can choose to “dive in head first,” or you may prefer to follow a gluten-free diet first before progressing to dairy-free foods or vice versa. Either one of these approaches can work, as it’s up to you to determine the best option for your child and family.

I urge parents to be realistic in the time it will take to get familiar with all of the sources of gluten and/or dairy. Changing the way your child eats often means changing the way you cook so make sure you give yourself ample time to become familiar with all of those sneaky gluten or dairy ingredients. In fact, in the GFCF diet implementation process I teach parents in my step-by-step nutrition program, the first half of the steps are things to help you get prepared before you even begin the diet.

While it may seem daunting at first, it does get easier over time, especially with the right support.

Don’t Forget Soy-Free

Gluten and casein proteins are very inflammatory to the gut, they are two of the most common food allergies/intolerances, and they form opioid compounds when not fully digested.

Soy also has these characteristics. So when implementing a gluten-free and casein-free diet, I almost always recommend removing soy as well. Technically speaking, the diet I recommend is a GFCFSF diet, However, because wheat and dairy are the main staples in the modern western diet and because it’s pretty easy to avoid soy, for simplicity I tend to refer to it as a GFCF Diet – though it’s really GFCFSF – gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free.

What Can Your Child Eat While On An Autism Diet Plan?

Following a gluten-free and dairy-free diet gives your child the flexibility to choose from various foods, such as chicken, red meat, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts/seeds, beans, rice, potatoes, and anything that doesn’t contain casein or gluten. As you begin, you’ll start to notice there are many naturally gluten-free and dairy-free foods already in you or your child’s diet.

Reading food labels carefully is vital to avoid accidentally giving your child foods with gluten or casein proteins, as these ingredients are sometimes “hidden” in packaged products.

Potential Benefits of Following a Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Diet

Implementing an autism diet plan can potentially offer a wide range of benefits for your child. As mentioned above, improvements can be varied and include receptive and expressive language, enhanced cognition, better sleep cycles, less hyperactivity, improvements in constipation, and a decrease in disruptive behaviors. Consistently following an autism diet plan can offer immense benefits for your child.

The Science Behind a Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Diet

Understanding the science behind an autism diet plan is important.

Many well-meaning friends, family members, therapists, and even health practitioners, may try to steer you away from this approach. Most often it’s from lack of knowledge, so the more knowledge you have the more you can advocate for your child and stay motivated in the face of any negativity. It will also help you speak more knowledgeable with your healthcare professional so you can know when they have an important medical point or when they are being dismissive because of their own lack of scientific understanding.

As we discuss the science behind gluten and dairy, in addition to the multitude of effects gluten and casein can have on the brain directly, also pay particular attention to inflammation–both in the gut and brain. Inflammation is at the root of most diseases and disorders. Inflammation of the brain is found in autism, as well as other neurological conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, and more. It can cause many of the symptoms of autism. Additionally in the gut, inflammation affects our ability to digest our food properly and prevents us from absorbing the nutrients we need for our brain to function.

7 Science-Based Reasons Gluten and Casein Negatively Affect Autism (and the Research Behind It)

1. Opiates from Gluten and Casein in Autism

Did you know that certain long-chain peptides are very similar in structure to natural opioid-binding peptides? Gluten and casein are two such proteins. In fact, gluteomorphin, also known as gliadorphin, is the name of the opiate peptide formed during the (partial) digestion of gluten and casomorphin is the opiate peptide of dairy.

These peptides can enter the bloodstream for a few reasons. One of the first reasons is that the body needs adequate enzymes to break down these proteins and specifically an enzyme called DPP-IV. Children with autism have been shown to have lower DPP-IV activity. [1]

Another way these peptides can get into the bloodstream has to do with something that is called “leaky gut.” Leaky gut is a condition where the intestines become permeable, allowing things from the gut into the bloodstream, and leaky gut is common in autism. [2] When that happens, these peptides can bind to opiate receptors in the brain and create a whole range of issues such as high pain tolerance and even feeling foggy or disconnected. It can also create addictive-like behaviors to foods with these compounds. Many parents report that their child prefers to eat mainly foods with gluten, or dairy, or both. And this is also why when removing these from the diet, there can be symptoms like withdrawal. And some families report that their child’s restrictive eating improves once the gluten and dairy are out of their child’s system!

Here is more research on the opioids in foods and how they affect autism symptoms:

  • Gluten and casein cause opioids excreted in urine, which affect behavior in autism. This study states, “A gut-to-brain axis is both possible and probable” [3]
  • Epidemiological studies have linked the consumption of A1 beta-casein with neurological disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia [4]
  • Exorphins (gluten-morphins and casomorphins) are found in the urine of people with autism [5]
  • Gliadorphins and casomorphins can affect the neurotransmitter system in the central nervous system (CNS) and result in the social impairment seen in autism [6]

Opioids cause inflammation in the gut and brain. They also affect the brain directly, causing many symptoms including pain, irritability, anxiety, foggy thinking, and other symptoms common in autism, as well as addiction to gluten and dairy foods.

2. Zonulin and Its Role in Leaky Gut in Autism

Another advantage of implementing this diet is that gluten is known to trigger zonulin. Zonulin is a protein that modulates the permeability of the GI tract, and causes it to “unzip” or open, also known as,”leaky gut.” Studies show zonulin has been linked to gut permeability in autism, [7, 8] as well as many chronic inflammatory disorders (including autoimmune, metabolic, digestive, cancer, and neuroinflammatory). [9]

An increase in gut permeability can cause heightened reactions to other food components in the intestinal tract for children with autism. This can result in constipation, diarrhea, inflammation, food allergies/intolerances, or trouble concentrating. Since the gut and brain are connected, when the gut is unhealthy, the brain can’t function optimally.

We know individuals with autism have a higher prevalence of gastrointestinal (GI) issues. In fact, here is a blog I wrote about this almost a decade ago. And in a study by Dr. James Adams, the severity of gastrointestinal symptoms has been linked to the severity of autism symptoms. [10]

The above study on zonulin from 2021 [8] showed that serum zonulin was significantly higher in children with severe autism than controls. This suggests the missing link from Dr. Adams on the correlation between GI severity and autism severity may possibly be related to increased intestinal permeability.

Kids following a gluten-free diet have a much lower intestinal permeability than those who consume gluten.

3. Inflammation to Gluten and Dairy in Autism

IgG antibodies to foods create inflammation in the body and in the gastrointestinal tract. In autism, researchers found high titer IgG antibodies to gliadin (gluten) in 87% of individuals with autism (as well as 86% of of those with schizophrenia) and high IgG antibodies to casein in 90% of people with autism (and 93% of schizophrenic patients). [11]

In another study, elevated inflammatory markers (cytokines) to gluten were found in people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) who had GI symptoms. [12]

Inflammation as a result of gluten and dairy can create issues in the gut and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, and pain. And in turn, this can cause systemic inflammation that affects the brain, as well as the negative effects caused by not breaking down our nutrients properly to get the nutrition our brain and body need.

4. Mast Cell Activation in Autism

Mast cell activation and high histamine levels are common in autism, and research suggests this activation leads to inflammation in the brain (and locally in the gut) and is a possible cause in the development of autism. [13]

Food allergies, as well as gluten and casein intolerance [14], can cause histamine release. High histamine  in turn can contribute to gastrointestinal disorders [15] and high acid levels in the stomach and GERD. And conversely histamine can increase food allergies.

Gastrointestinal disorders and high histamine in autism lead to increased symptoms and severity of ASD.

5. Increased risk of Celiac in ASD

Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten, where the body attacks the lining of the digestive system, causing severe digestive symptoms, as well as additional health conditions. While much of what we see in autism is non-celiac gluten intolerance, there is also an increased risk of celiac disease in autism.

Research shows that people with ASD are more likely to carry the HLA gene with the HLA-DRB1 *11-DQB1*07 structure, which increases the risks of celiac disease. [16]

6. Gluten, Casein, and the Glutamate Connection

Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter and some children (and adults) with autism are more sensitive, and their brains are more responsive to the effects of glutamate. That can result in more hyperactivity, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, migraines, seizures, and many more symptoms. Recent studies also show that elevated glutamate is often found in people with autism. [17]

Gluten is 25% glutamate by weight, and casein is 20%. Hence, gluten and casein in a diet can increase glutamate levels. And in sensitive people or those with high levels of glutamate such as those with autism, these foods can exacerbate neurological symptoms, including irritability, stress, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Glutamate can also cause inflammation in the brain and gastrointestinal system. [18]

Limiting the intake of gluten and casein in a diet can help reduce symptoms related to autism.

7. Dairy and Cerebral Folate Deficiency

Some children with autism have a condition known as Cerebral Folate Deficiency. In this condition, folate is not able to be transported properly into the brain because of autoantibodies to the folate receptor, and there are not adequate levels of folate in the brain. This can lead to irritability and sleep problems, low muscle tone, slow head growth, loss of bodily movement, speech complications, and seizures.

One study showed that 75.3% of children with autism had folate receptor autoantibodies. [19]

Studies show that soluble folate-binding proteins in milk can cross react with folate receptors, increasing autoantibodies to folate receptors making this problem even worse for kids with autism by further decreasing folate to the brain. Conversely, studies show a dairy-free diet can reduce folate receptor autoimmunity in cerebral folate deficiency syndrome. [20] 

A milk-free diet decreases folate receptor antibodies and autoimmunity.

Scientific Studies Showing Improved Symptoms and Positive Results from Gluten-Free Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet

Above I’ve shared the underlying factors that cause gluten and dairy to be a problem for people with autism. Below I share the growing scientific literature on the efficacy and benefits of a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.

91% of Children with Autism Improved Behavior, Speech, and/or GI on GFCFSF

Research suggests that ASD may be accompanied by inflammatory immune responses, and that this may predispose people with autism to be more sensitive to the protein in wheat, dairy, and soy. Sensitization to these dietary proteins then leads to inflammation of the digestive system and exacerbates negative behaviors.

This exciting study resulted in 91% of the children showing clinical improvement that was observed by therapists/teachers/parents following implementation of a casein-free, gluten-free, and/or soy-free (cf/gf/sf) diet. Improvements were seen in GI symptoms, speech, autistic behavior, less hyperactivity, better focusing, and improved night time sleep. [21]

4.5x Developmental Age and 6.7 pts IQ from Diet and Nutrition Intervention in Autism

This is a study I am particularly proud of because I was a part of it! Our study showed a 4.5x increase in developmental age as well as a 6.7 pts increase in non-verbal IQ. The study involved individuals aged 3-58 years old implementing a dietary intervention of a healthy gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free diet; along with a multivitamin/mineral formula, essential fatty acid supplement, digestive enzymes, and a couple of additional nutritional interventions studied over one year. You can see my full write up on the study here.

In addition to improvements in development and IQ, major areas of improvement where seen across the board in included a reduction in autism symptoms and GI symptoms, improvement in language, focus, anxiety, and more. [22]

Reduced Autism Behaviors, Increased Social and Communication Skills with GFCF Diet

This report reviewed existing scientific literature and found consistently positive results with a GFCF diet for autism. The literature included papers where groups of children were studied, as well as individual case studies.

Researchers found there was an overall reduction of autism behaviors, increased social skills, and communicative skills.

They also noted that autism traits reappeared after the diet had been broken. [23]

Development Was Significantly Better For the ASD Group On a GFCF Diet

The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of a gluten and casein-free diet for children with autism and on urinary opioid peptides associated with gluten, gliadin, and casein. The study found that the children who were on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet had better development than the controls. [24]

Given the prevalence of impaired social interaction, communication, and imaginative skills in autism, this study shows how powerful dietary changes can be!

Significant Improvement in Autism and ADHD Symptoms in Children with ASD on the GFCF Diet

This study was a two-stage, 24-month, randomised, controlled trial with 72 Danish children (aged 4 years to 10 years 11 months) assigned to diet (A) or non-diet (B) groups. Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS) were used to assess core autism behaviours, Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales (VABS) to ascertain developmental level, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – IV scale (ADHD-IV) to determine inattention and hyperactivity. At 12 months, there was a significant improvement to the diet group scores on all autism, behavior, and ADHD scales measured. Because of the improvement in group A, group B was also assigned to the diet midway through the trial! The results suggest that dietary intervention may positively affect developmental outcomes for children diagnosed with ASD. [25]

GFCF and Keto Diets Improve Autism Symptoms

One study compared the GFCF diet to the Ketogenic diet for autism. Both diet groups had significant improvement in autism symptoms. There were some differences–one diet showed better results in behavior, while the other diet group had better scores for cognitive awareness and sociability. If you want to see more on this study, you can check out my GFCF vs. Keto write up. In summary, the results of this study showed that they are both good diets to improve symptoms of autism, depending on the individual needs of the person. And this study highlights another example of how the GFCF diet can benefit individuals with autism. [26]

Closing Thoughts

Following a gluten-free and casein-free diet can help alleviate autism symptoms.

Creating an autism diet plan in advance can help you implement a GFCF diet smoothly and successfully.

Making these adjustments to your child’s diet can improve their symptoms of autism while also offering additional health benefits.

In fact, parents in my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program complete surveys at the end of the program. In the families that participated, 88% had improvement in their autism symptoms. Additionally, a majority had improvements in picky eating, cognition, play skills, expressive language, comprehension, attention/focus, aggression, GI symptoms, sociability, and more. This step-by-step program helps families implement a healthy GFCFSF diet along with additional personalized dietary strategies and nutritional supplementation

The encouraging news is that dietary intervention for autism can be an effective way to make dramatic improvements in your child’s health, learning, and behavior! The GFCF diet is a great intervention on your road to nourishing hope.

Download my GFCF Guide to learn more on implementing a gluten free and dairy free diet, or join us and other families just like you in our step-by-step nutrition program for parents and individuals.

Results of GFDF diet

Salicylate Sensitivity and Summer 2021

If you were hoping that summertime – a time with no school, fresh air, sunshine, and exercise – would help your child feel better and improve their behavior…. but it hasn’t, then salicylates might be your challenge.

Salicylates in Food

Salicylates are naturally-occurring food chemicals in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods like herbs, spices, nuts, etc. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Dr. Ben Feingold observed that artificial additives and high salicylate foods caused hyperactivity and other symptoms in some children. Biochemically, salicylates are a type of “phenolic acid” or “phenol.” Phenols need to be broken down in the body, i.e. “detoxified,” which occurs through a process called sulfation.

For children with salicylate sensitivity, summer can be particularly challenging because so many of the abundant summertime fruits are very high in salicylates, a high salicylate food list include:

  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Most melons including watermelon
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Plums
  • Apples
  • Red bell pepper
  • Cucumbers and pickles
  • Tomato sauce 
  • Zucchini (with peel on)
  • Cinnamon and spices
  • Almonds
  • Honey

Many of these foods are delicious and plentiful, children eat quite a bit more during summer than any other time. The resulting increase in salicylate consumption can cause a child’s body to become overloaded, and cause physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.

Salicylate Symptoms

Symptoms vary by individual, but some of the most common salicylate sensitivity symptoms are:

  • Red cheeks and ears (not from the heat)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Defiant behavior
  • Aggression toward self or others
  • Bedwetting and day-wetting accidents
  • Sleeping challenges

If you’d like more information on how these foods can cause behavior challenges, along with the foods to avoid and those to eat, see my post on salicylates and behavior challenges.

Chlorine in Swimming Pools

Chlorine from the swimming pool is another summertime stressor. Your child doesn’t even need to drink the water, just soaking in a chlorinated pool will cause it to absorb into the body.

Chlorine is processed by the same sulfation pathway as salicylates in fruits. Sulfation requires proper methylation and transulfuration, as well as adequate sulfate (sulfur) and many other needed nutrients.

Each of these stressors (the fruit and chlorine) will deplete the sulfate and detoxification pool further, making each that much more difficult to handle. After working with many children with autism in my nutrition practice, I’ve found that most react poorly to chlorine from swimming pools. Add this fruit consumption to chlorine from swimming pools, and a child can fairly easily hit “overload.” Crying, meltdowns, increase in stimming, and hyperactivity can result.

Food Additives

Junk food with artificial food additives are more plentiful during summer. Artificial additives such as artificial colors (red 40, blue 1 and yellow 5), flavors (such as artificial strawberry flavor and vanillin) and preservatives (BHA, BHT and TBHQ) are strong phenols–and require the same biochemical processes.

If you don’t consume these, good for you. You shouldn’t.

In the average American family, however, blue-colored sports drinks on hot days, cotton candy from the beach boardwalk or fair, shaved ice or blended slushies from the amusement park are all too common occurrences (sadly). Alone they are known to cause hyperactivity, combined with these other stressors and they can be particularly problematic. Learn about food additives to avoid.

Summer 2021 High Salicylate Food Substitutes

I hope this summer is better than ever. Here are some ideas to get you off to a good start.  The following foods high in salicylates and for lower salicylate substitutions.   

Please note: it might not be that you or your child can’t have ANY high salicylate summer fruits and veggies, it might just mean you have to pay attention to the amount and limit it (along with avoiding all artificial additives. Also peeling certain fruits and vegetables can lower salicylate levels.

Instead of This ======> Try This

Instead of blue sports drink ======> try a natural electrolyte drink like this organic coconut water 

Instead of artificial flavored and colored candy ======> try a natural one like Yum Earth, they have a variety of natural candy options

Instead of shaved ice ======> try to get your own shaved ice machine and use organic pear or another natural juice to flavor

Instead of popsicles with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors  ======> try and make your own with these silicon popsicle molds or try Ruby Rockets (they have veggies in them)

Instead of ice pops with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors ======> try and make your own with these reusable ice pop molds

Instead of high salicylate fruit ======> try pear or mango

Instead of cucumber ======> try peeled cucumber

Instead of zucchini ======> try peeled zucchini

Instead of lots of salicylate fruits ======> try a small serving

What Can You Do?

  1. Avoid food additives. Firstly, if your child eats artificial additives, cut them all out.
  2. Identify salicylate intolerance: If you want to determine if your child may have an intolerance to salicylates, start by simply observing your child within the hour after they eat, and before bedtime—making correlations with high salicylate consumption. The best way to determine salicylate intolerance is to avoid high salicylate foods for a period of time and observe any improvements, and then add them back and see if you notice a reaction. You can also try digestive enzymes such as No-Fenol by Houston Enzymes to help the body process polyphenolic compounds.
  3. Try a low salicylate diet trial. There are two diets that I like that address this: The Feingold Diet and The Failsafe Diet. The Feingold Diet is a smaller list of salicylates to avoid—it includes many of the big offenders (but misses some) and is easier to do. The Failsafe diet is much more comprehensive, but more complex and restricts more foods.
  4. Determine swimming pool solutions. The best part about having your own swimming pool you can choose a less toxic sanitizing option. While I’m not a expert at this, you can Google and research: salt water chlorination, ionizers, ozonators, and more. At public pools, these other options are not usually available, though you can ask around about any public pools that might use them (as some do).
  5. Consider epsom salt topically for support. You can also try Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths or magnesium sulfate cream before or after a swim in the pool—the sulfate absorbs and helps supply sulfate for sulfation/detoxification. This can help a child process the chlorine better, hopefully, creating less (or no) reaction. An Epsom salt bath or Epsom salt cream can also help reduce salicylate reactions too. You can apply cream before or after swimming. Not everyone likes or can take a bath. Showering after swimming and then applying Epsom salt cream can provide similar support to a bath.

In our Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids nutrition program for parents I cover everything you need to know about addressing salicylate reactions and improving your child’s behavior, focus, and mood.

Enjoy your summer and the time with your family! And keep nourishing hope.

Share your family’s experience with salicylates and summertime in our comment section below.

Amazon Disclaimer: Julie Matthews and Nourishing Hope is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

FTC Disclaimer: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, Nourishing Hope may earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost you. I do not recommend products and services lightly and would not recommend anything here that I haven’t or wouldn’t use myself.

Could Food Be Causing Your Child’s Aggression?

Aggression is a difficult and sometimes devastating symptom that occurs in children for varied reasons—some known and some unknown.

The correlation between food and behavior intrigued me 20 years ago, and sparked my career as a nutrition researcher and clinician.

And aggression is one of the areas parents are most concerned with, when their child has it. I feel for all of them – the children when they can express it later on often feel terrible about it and trapped by this uncontrollable response. And parents worry so much about what this might mean for their child’s future.

It’s a difficult area to study for many reasons, especially for children and adults with autism that cannot speak. Causes and triggers of aggression are difficult for any child to understand and describe (autism or not).

So when can aggression be caused by food and/or improved by dietary choices?

Pain (often gastrointestinal) can cause people to injure themselves or others. We know this because parents and doctors report that when serious GI disorders are addressed, aggression has been known to disappear. Supporting the gut with a special diet can be very beneficial.

Additionally, an imbalance of neurotransmitters or hormones can cause aggression, this can be caused by many things including puberty or microbial pathogens but can also be caused by food reactions, or nutrient deficiencies.

Potential causes of aggression we’ll cover in depth include:

  • Gluten, dairy, soy and food allergies
  • Sugar
  • Phenols and salicylates
  • Amines and glutamate
  • Nutrient deficiencies 

Certainly, aggression can happen from the frustration or anger associated with a child being denied food.  For the purpose of this article though, we will focus on foods that can trigger/cause aggression from consumption.

Gluten, Dairy and Food Allergens

 

There is much support for the notion that gluten and dairy can lead to aggression – including published articles and case studies, and a myriad of online anecdotes.

Gluten and dairy can cause aggression in several ways. While not all of the mechanisms have been identified as yet, I do have some theories. If you are eating these foods and your body is creating opiates, opiates themselves can cause mood changes.  Additionally, opiates peak and drop, these “withdrawals” from these opiate-compounds can cause irritability and aggression.  Also, pain from these foods could cause aggression. Regardless of the underlying mechanism in each case, aggression can improve with a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free diet.

Other food allergens can also cause aggression. Doris Rapp, M.D., explains in her book, Is this Your Child, how aggression can be a symptom of food allergy and describes a variety of child case studies where a food allergen (specific to that individual) caused aggressive behavior (1).  It could be wheat, dairy, corn, soy, oranges, or other foods.  In these cases, they are associated with allergy or intolerance in the individual.

A gluten-free, casein-free (dairy-free), soy-free, and allergen-free diet (specific to the individual’s BioIndividual Nutrition needs) is often a great place to start with dietary changes.

Sugar

Have you been to a toddler’s birthday party and watch (almost in unison) as the kids come down from the “sugar high” and the crying ensues? When they consume excess sugar, one result is poor behavior, mood changes, and yes, even aggression!

Maybe you have experienced this yourself, indulging in a sugary treat only to become short tempered or irritable after. Our children (especially those who are nonverbal and cannot explain what they are feeling) can react even more drastically. 

Sugar itself can cause aggression. Research shows that high sugar intake and high fructose corn syrup increases the risk of aggression, as well as ADHD (2). 

Also, the after effects of sugar can cause low blood sugar levels which have also been shown to cause aggression. (3)

So sugar can cause aggression by two mechanisms, the sugar itself and the aftermath of the low blood sugar levels it can cause. 

Reducing refined sugars can be a simple way to support stable blood sugar and mood. I have many resources on my site related to lower-sugar treat options and even recipes with lower sugar or using alternative sweeteners like dates, stevia, or honey.

Phenols and Salicylates

In my one-on-one nutrition practice, I’ve found that phenols, salicylates, and amines are the foods that are (by far) the greatest instigators of aggressive behavior.

Artificial food additives such as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are phenol compounds that can trigger irritability, sleeping problems, ADHD, hyperactivity and aggression.  Food additives are a well-known cause of aggression—Dr. Ben Feingold and others have been studying this and publishing papers for decades. Dr. Feingold stated in his paper, “Dietary Management of Juvenile Delinquency” that he had 60-70% success with an additive-free diet “for control of behavior.”

In addition to “artificial phenols” there are “natural phenols” in the form called salicylates.  Salicylates have a phenolic structure, or aromatic chemical ring, that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, and other plant foods.  These foods are rich in wonderful nutrients, but if your body has trouble “detoxifying” the salicylates, they can be a big problem for a child causing significant aggression, hyperactivity, and many other symptoms.

High Salicylate Foods

  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Melons
  • Tomato sauce and ketchup
  • Oranges
  • Honey
  • Almonds
  • Herbs and Spices: Cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, rosemary and more

One of my client’s children, a boy 10 years old, had daily aggression toward his family and therapists.  It would happen dozens of times per day, seemingly out of the blue.  People were getting hurt and it was a scary situation for everyone involved.  I suspected salicylates as the culprit, and after a dietary trial removing them, his aggression virtually disappeared—it went from 50 times per day to one time a month (and likely that was an accidental exposure)!

Amines and Glutamates

Amines are a different natural food chemical that is processed by the same detoxification pathway, and therefore, often create similar reactions, and people with salicylate sensitivity are more likely to have amine or glutamate intolerance.  Amines and glutamates are found in fermented foods including sauerkraut and yogurt, salami, smoked meats and fish, bacon, canned fish, and broths.  Sometimes I find it is amines, not salicylates, that is the main culprit.

Glutamate, also comes in the additive-form of MSG (monosodium glutamate).  One client I worked with was a teenager—he was very aggressive and only wanted to eat certain things.  When I looked to see what they all had in common, it was MSG as an ingredient. For him, removing both MSG and a food sensitivity made a huge improvement and his aggression diminished dramatically.

For children with aggression, I always explore the possible role of salicylates, amines, and glutamates for causing or contributing to the reaction, as I have seen many times in my practice that removing these foods reduces aggression for those that don’t tolerate them.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Before we wrap up this conversation about food and aggression, let’s discuss how not only food reactions can cause aggression, but nutrient deficiencies as well.

Nutrients are important for building neurotransmitters, as well as hundreds, if not, thousands of functions in the body and brain. And certain deficiencies have been associated with aggression.

Serotonin is the feel good brain chemical that when in low supply not only can cause depression but aggression as well. The amino acid tryptophan converts to serotonin, and low levels of tryptophan are associated with aggression in rat-mouse studies (4). 

Also, vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium, and iron are all important for the production of serotonin – and all of these vitamins and minerals have been showing in studies to cause aggression when low.

Lithium is another important mineral. A well known study showed how areas with little to no lithium in their drinking water had significantly higher rates of violent crime than those with more adequate levels. (5) contains lithium (in low doses) is beneficial. And I’ve heard Dr. James Greenblatt speak on the benefits of low dose lithium at the Integrative Medicine for Mental Health conference and the benefits are quite amazing. (6)

There are more nutrients as well that can be helpful with aggression such as vitamins B1, B3, B5, niacin, and vitamin C. 

A healthy nutrient dense diet and a multivitamin/mineral formula can help supply the nutrients we need for many everyday functions, including more stable mood. 

World of Difference

Aggression can have so many various causes, and food is not the cause for everyone. However, what is clear is that if foods are triggering aggression for a child, removal of those foods can make a world of difference in decreasing aggression, and huge improvements in the quality of everyone’s life.

Further Resources

For more on common reactions and symptoms from these foods, when and how to implement these special diets, lists of foods containing salicylates, amines, and glutamates,  and how to create a personalized nutrition plan for your child, check out my nutrition program for parents, Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids.  

 

Rutabagas – The Hidden Gem for Most Special Diets

The Rutabaga, also known as a swede, Swedish turnip (though distinctly different than a turnip), and neep (in Scotland). 

Rutabagas are root vegetables and a member of the cruciferous or brassica family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale.

Rutabagas have similar wonderful nutritional properties to the rest of the cruciferous family including being rich in sulfur compounds good for detoxification and many other functions including cancer fighting benefits. They are high in vitamin C, and also contain potassium, magnesium, calcium, and niacin. Rutabagas are also high in fiber to aid healthy bowel movements and provide fuel for beneficial bacteria to support a healthy microbiome. 

Rutabagas vs. Turnips

It’s easy to confuse rutabagas and turnips at first glance. Both are root vegetables and both can have a purplish colored top half (although, not all rutabagas have purple tops). 

However, there are some differences that make them fairly easy to distinguish when you know what to look for. 

Turnips have white flesh inside and are white and purple on the outside. They are smaller than rutabagas.

Rutabagas have a creamy, yellow flesh inside and a more yellow/brown outside with possibly some purple on top. Rutabagas are typically larger than turnips.

They have a similar nutty and slightly sweet taste; however, turnips are more spicy (similar to a radish), and rutabagas are sweeter with less moisture content making them easier and better to make fries and “starchier” style dishes, which are not high in starch like potatoes.

Never Eaten Rutabaga?

Rutabagas (swedes) are a cool weather crop, and are popular in colder climates, such as: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Europe and Canada. In fact, many cultures in these regions have traditional dishes made from this common crop.

Rutabagas are not very popular in the United States. You have probably seen them in your grocery store. However, my experience with clients is that few families have ever eaten them.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a new addition to your meal plan!

On a special diet? Chances are rutabagas have a place!

Compliant With Most Special Diets

 One of my secret weapons for my nutrition clients, Rutabagas are compliant with most special diets.

Rutabagas are allowed on the following special diets:

  • Low salicylate
  • Low oxalate
  • Low FODMAPs
  • Low amine 
  • Low glutamate
  • Specific Carbohydrate Diet
  • GAPS Diet 
  • Paleo 
  • AIP Paleo 

Keto is the only diet where they are not the best. Technically they are “allowed” on keto, but because they are a bit high in carbs, only a very small portion size would be permitted.

Of course, like every new food, add it slowly to confirm it’s tolerated by you or your child. Everyone is unique and has personalized, BioIndividual Nutrition needs. And eat it in moderation.

Rutabaga Recipe Ideas

I like to use rutabagas anywhere I would normally use potatoes.

  • Rutabaga fries
  • Mashed rutabagas
  • Rutabaga chips
  • Roasted rutabagas
  • Rutabaga topped casseroles

My family’s favorite is Rutabaga Fries.

Check out our Rutabaga Fries recipe here.

    BioIndividual Nutrition and Therapeutic Diets

    Personalizing Your Diet and Nutrition Approach

    Once you’ve made changes in your child’s diet (or even your own) and seen some improvements, now it’s time to customize your approach, optimizing the food your child eats to suit their unique needs. There are many special or therapeutic diets; however, it can be confusing to know what to do next and which to choose.

    Functional medicine doctors, nutritionists and researchers are realizing that a personalized nutrition approach leads to the best results for the individual and will be the way nutrition is practiced, now and into the future.

    In fact, I was excited to see a recent position paper by The American Nutrition Association entitled “Toward the Definition of Personalized Nutrition: A Proposal by The American Nutrition Association”1 explained the importance of utilizing Personalized Nutrition (PN) to support clients and patients optimally.

    “PN [Personalized nutrition] is a field with great potential to address chronic disease and optimize human health and performance.”

    For 20 years, I’ve been helping children with autism and ADHD and their families as a Certified Nutrition Consultant and published researcher. I created Nourishing Hope to help children with autism and ADHD improve their health, learning, and behavior through improved diet and nutrition choices. Through my years in nutrition practice, I recognized that children respond differently to varied foods and diets. And because there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet, I developed the BioIndividual Nutrition® approach, a way of personalizing diet and nutrition to the individual’s unique biochemistry and needs.

    And because BioIndividual Nutrition is addressing the underlying factors, it can help a child with autism or ADHD, or an adult with IBS or autoimmune challenges.

    The latest nutrition science shows that many children (and adults) with neurological conditions including ADHD and autism suffer reactions relating to food compounds such as: salicylates, phenols, histamine, oxalates, glutamate, and FODMAPS.

    I have studied and researched the most effective therapeutic diets to help you really drill down and make the right choices for your child. In my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids nutrition program for parents we go through a process of questionnaires, food elimination and inclusion to fine tune your child’s nutritional intake and tailor their diet to their specific needs. And if you are a nutrition or health practitioner, you can learn more about my professional training.

    Here’s more on these special diets…

    Low Salicylate Diet

     

    Salicylate or salicylic acid is the substance in aspirin, isolated from white willow bark. It is also found in many other foods. When it cannot be broken down properly, it can cause significant symptoms in children and adults.

    Salicylates are natural substances created by plants, a type of phenol, used as a defense mechanism against organisms eating the plant.1 But these natural food chemicals can also negatively affect humans. particularly those that can’t process them well. Phenols require a biochemical process called sulfation. People with ADHD, autism, IBS, and depression tend to have low sulfation.

    They are in many fruits, vegetables, and spices. Even worse: phenols are often artificially added to foods – artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, and artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT, TBHQ are all phenols that many people struggle to metabolize adequately, due to insufficient phenol sulfotransferase (PST) enzymes to aid the sulfuration pathway.2

    Phenols can then act as a neurotoxin and cause hyperactivity, irritability, aggression, inattentiveness, headaches, sleeping challenges, as well as being an inflammatory agent leading to skin rashes and red cheeks and ears.

    Low Amine and Histamine Diets

     

    Amines are in foods that involve fermentation or protein breakdown, and can be found in both fresh produce (bananas, avocados, and tomatoes) and processed foods (cheese, chocolate, fish products, and yeast extracts). Histamines are the most well known type of amines, as everyone knows someone who suffers from hayfever and needs to take antihistamines regularly. But your client can also consume histamines in yourtheir food, leading to long term inflammation, skin irritation, diarrhea, and headaches.3

    Amines can cause any of the physical and behavioral symptoms of salicylates above, as well as migraines, dizziness, nausea, acid reflux, irritated or itchy skin, trouble falling asleep, facial flushing, and gastrointestinal cramps.

    Food Allergens and Sensitivities

     

    Most common food sensitivities are:

    • Gluten
    • Casein
    • Soy
    • Corn
    • Eggs
    • Citrus
    • Nuts
    • Peanuts
    • Seafood
    • Chocolate
    • Sugar

    They can cause: gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, diarrhea, constipation, hyperactivity, nausea, headaches, runny nose, pain, anxiety, and depression.

    Elimination Diet

     

    An elimination diet is a short-term process that helps you identify food sensitivities.

    Theoretically, any diet that “eliminates” foods for the purpose of reducing an adverse reaction can be called an “elimination diet.” Occasionally, the salicylate diets above are referred to as elimination diets; however, most frequently (and the definition we’ll be using in this guide) elimination diets address immune system reactions such as food sensitivities, such as an IgG antibody response, food allergy, or other inflammatory response.

    By removing certain foods, you can look for the reduction of symptoms to see if you are on the right track. Often an elimination diet has a “provocation” phase where foods are reintroduced a few weeks later. Here you can check for the return or flare up of certain symptoms associated with food intolerance The elimination stage lasts 2-3 weeks, and then the reintroduction phase can last a further 3 weeks. This Elimination Diet testing phase is not a forever diet. However, once food reactions are determined, depending on the reaction and reason, some foods may need to be avoided for the long term.

    Rotation Diet

     

    The rotation diet is similar to the elimination diet, in that you remove different foods from your client’s diet in order to figure out if they’re causing a reaction. In the case of a rotation diet, you rotate different food groups over a period of two to four days – so on a four day rotation diet if you eat chicken on the first day, you can’t eat it again until four days later. Some individuals with food sensitivities or mild allergies adopt a rotation diet long-term to prevent food reactions, as the short-term break from the foods can reduce the inflammatory response and allow them to be better tolerated.. Commiting to a long term rotation diet can be challenging, but many peopleclients enjoy the flexibility of being able to eat favorite foods sometimes.

    Grain-Free Diets

     

    Why reduce grains and starches?
    Grains and starches can be difficult to digest for some people, such as those with microbiome imbalance and gastrointestinal disorders, and can cause irritation – and even inflammation – of the gut, impacting the gut microbiome.7

    And gastrointestinal issues are very common in neurological conditions including autism.8 Some people have reduced numbers of carbohydrate digesting enzymes or an imbalanced microbiome. Reducing starch and grain intake gives the gut a chance to heal.

    There are many diets that avoid grains and starches. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet and the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet, explained below, focus on removing grains and polysaccharide starches from the diet, because their focus is on healing the body through the gut. The remainder of the grain-free diets can help the gut as well, but their principles are different and they have different goals.

    Grain-Free Diets include:

    • Specific carbohydrate Diet
    • GAPS
    • Paleo
    • Autoimmune Paleo
    • Ketogenic Diet

    Specific Carbohydrate Diet

     

    The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is designed to restrict disaccharides (double-sugars) and polysaccharides (starches), however, natural monosaccharides, such as honey, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables are allowed. SCD was developed on the basis that some individuals struggle to digest carbs, due to damaged mucosa in the small intestine.9 An inability to digest double sugars – which are eaten by gut bacteria and yeast – causes microbial overgrowth, and restricts enzymes from breaking down carbohydrates further. This contributes to more damage in the gut. Avoiding eating double sugars and starches should bypass this, and help to heal the gut.

    It is often used to help those with gastrointestinal symptoms like chronic diarrhea and intestinal pain.

    Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet

     

    The Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet is based on the diet principles on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet above, with a few tweaks. The GAPS diet is named for the link between the gut and brain, and more emphasis is placed on bone broths and eating fermented foods to help heal the gut microbiome. This diet was created for people with gastrointestinal problems that are causing neurological symptoms; such as, autism and ADHD.

    Paleolithic Diet

     

    Known as the caveman diet, The Paleolithic (or paleo) diet has been designed to mimic the diet of our ancestors, before we began to farm and process our food. As the paleo diet is hunter-gatherer in style, the emphasis is on: wild fish, grass fed beef, free-range chickens and eggs – along with vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, and nuts.

    Since this diet avoids grains it is used to counteract gastrointestinal issues, and was first introduced for this purpose by gastroenterologist, Walter L. Voegtlin in 1975. Paleo has become popular with a wider audience due to the emphasis on wholefoods, and avoiding processed food, but most importantly those who follow the diet have a wider, more diverse microbiome, which can reduce gastrointestinal symptoms.10

    The Paleo diet restricts: grains, legumes, dairy, and refined sugar.

    Autoimmune Paleo Diet

     

    A stricter form of the Paleo Diet, often used to counteract the symptoms of autoimmune disorders, the diet further restricts foods that can cause inflammation in some individuals.11

    This diet removes the foods on Paleo and others, including: grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, alcohol, coffee, food additives, processed foods, and nightshades.

    A grain-free diet can often help when you’ve tried a gluten-free diet but it’s not enough to relieve your clients digestive symptoms. Many of my clients with autism have made a dramatic shift physically, cognitively, and behaviorally from an SCD, GAPS or Paleo diet.

    Ketogenic Diet

     

    The ketogenic diet is similar to the paleo diet, in that it avoids several foods very high in carbohydrates such as grains and starches. However, this diet is radically different in it’s macronutrient ratios and purpose. The ketogenic diet is a very high fat, very low carbohydrate diet that uses fat (not carbohydrates) for energy. Designed to reduce seizures in children with epilepsy, it has a number of neurological benefits, and can improve behavior in children with autism.12

    Because it is a restrictive diet, it is important to work with your doctor, and have an understanding of supplementation. The keto diet places an emphasis on healthy fats, adequate protein, and vegetables, but restricts most fruits.

    The ketogenic diet restricts most carbohydrates including: grains, fruits, sugar, honey, starches, beans.

    The ketogenic diet can make a huge difference for clients with certain metabolic conditions, seizures, and neurological disorders.

    Low Oxalate Diet

     

    Oxalate is an antinutrient found in plants, where they have a number of functions, one of which is to deter animals from eating their leaves. Normally, your gut microbiome deals with oxalates, but an imbalance in your gut bacteria can lead to higher oxalate levels. High oxalate levels can be a problem, as they can lead to malnutrition, and, through leaky gut, can scatter around the body causing inflammation.

    Oxalates can cause mineral deficiencies, dysbiosis, and mitochondrial dysfunction. High oxalate has even been linked to autism13 and chronic disease.

    The low oxalate diet is designed to restrict the intake of high oxalate foods, with the understanding that there is no way to eradicate oxalates from the diet completely. Instead, the diet concentrates on limiting exposure where possible, with some flexibility. Low oxalate is a helpful tool to use alongside diets like GFCF or SCD to fine-tune your diet when needed.

    Oxalates are very high in: spinach, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, certain fruits, sweet potatoes, beets, chocolate.

    Oxalates can cause pain, inflammation, sore joints, pain when urinating, fatigue, brain fog, slow growth, gastrointestinal issues, and microbiome imbalance.

    Oxalates are one of the nutrition concepts I find has the most myths and misconceptions out there in the mainstream nutrition conversation. If you are a practitioner, Download 16 Oxalate Myths and discover what I’ve been teaching my BioIndividual Nutrition students and clients in my last 12 years of working with the low oxalate diet.

    Low FODMAPs Diet

     

    FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols – which are short chain carbohydrates and alcohol sugars that the body finds hard to digest. Instead, when you consume FODMAPs, they travel to the gut and are a food source for your gut microbiome. Unfortunately, when gut bacteria eat FODMAPs they can produce hydrogen or methane gas – causing gastrointestinal discomfort in sensitive people. FODMAPs can also trigger diarrhea by bringing liquid into the gut. FODMAPs have been linked with IBS, and a Low FODMAPs diet has shown to reduce IBS 14 15

    Low FODMAPs Diet restricts: fructose, cow and soy milk, wheat, legumes, certain fruits (including apples, pears, watermelon, and cherries), certain vegetables (including brussels sprouts and the onion family).

    While FODMAPs can cause symptoms in some individuals, they are prebiotics, sources of fiber that helphelps the growth of beneficial bacteria. So as a practitioner, it’s important to know when to use a low FODMAPs diet and when not to.

    Lectin-Free Diet

     

    A lectin-free diet is designed to reduce gastrointestinal distress, and toxicity.16 Raw beans contain high levels of lectin, which can be dangerous for humans, but once cooked, the legumes contain a manageable amount for most people. However, for an individual with sensitivities, remaining lectins can cause issues in the gut, as they can bind to the cells that make up the gut wall.

    Lectins are found in: legumes, peanuts, nightshade vegetables, dairy, grains.

    Low Sulfur Diet

     

    While the body needs sulfur to aid the detoxification pathway, some people are unable to tolerate large amounts in their diet. Your client may have limited tolerance to thiol, a sulfur compound found in many foods and needed to make cysteine – one of the amino acids that make up glutathione.

    The cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS) enzyme is important sulfur metabolism and detoxifying excess sulfur. Children and people with autism often have a mutation in the CBS enzyme, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal tract disorders.17 The process of recycling sulfur requires a lot of energy on a cellular level, contributing to low ATP levels. Eating foods containing sulfur only makes the problem worse.

    Alternatively, a sensitivity to sulfites is also possible – these additives often used as a form of food preservation in processed food, but found naturally in other foods. When sulfites cannot be converted to sulfate, sulfites can build up. As a result your client or patient may struggle to handle sulfur and sulfite, and this can cause gastrointestinal upset.

    There are links between a diet high in sulfur and microbiome imbalances,18 and the low sulfur diet is popular with patients who have inflammatory bowel disease.

    With all of this said, sulfur is very important to detoxification and hundreds of functions in the body, so while short term reduction in sulfur may be helpful, it’s not usually recommended for long term use.

    Sulfur is in the following foods: cruciferous vegetables, onion family, some nuts, cow’s milk, hard cheese, eggs, seafood, several types of meat, peaches, and apricots.

    Body Ecology Diet

    The Body Ecology diet works on the basis of avoiding feeding yeast. Yeast overgrowth in the gut can contribute to an imbalanced microbiome, and lead to inflammation in the gut and beyond – affecting nutrient absorption. Overuse of antibiotics can make this much worse, and yeast overgrowth can contribute to leaky gut and food sensitivities. The Body Ecology diet combines aspects of different diets to avoid the foods that yeast loves, including sugar, starches, and vinegar-based fermented food, while balancing acid and alkaline forming foods. The object of Body Ecology is to reduce or eliminate these foods, in order to rebalance the microbiome and reduce/control yeast. If your client’s digestion can handle them, live-culture fermented foods are a great way to regain the balance.19

    The Body Ecology Diet has been helpful to many of my clients with autism, as well as for their family members. It’s a great diet to use in your nutrition practice, and the principles of low sugar and probiotic-rich food can be helpful in most people’s diet.

    Nightshade-Free Diet

     

    The nightshade family is a group of fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes and white potatoes are two popular foods, but they are also nightshades. Nightshades are a known inflammatory food, as they contain alkaloids, which can act like a toxin. 20 Many children with autism21 or other neurological disorders and autoimmune conditions struggle to process these toxins through their detoxification pathway, and this results in inflammation, leaky gut, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Alkaloids (found in nightshades) aggravate gastrointestinal symptoms. If you suspect your client has a reaction to nightshades, try a short elimination diet and see if symptoms improve.

    Nightshades are found in tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and white potatoes.

    Nightshades include:

    • Tomato (and tomatillos)
    • Eggplant
    • White potato (not sweet)
    • Peppers – bell and hot peppers
    • Goji berries
    • Ashwaganda

       

    BioIndividual Nutrition and Therapeutic Diets

     

    Therapeutic diets are about removing the foods that cause the person problems, and addition nourishing foods to help them heal. But as you can see, even good nutritious healthy foods can be a problem for some people. If the right foods are not removed, the diet you recommend for your client or patient may be ineffective, or even cause further inflammation and problems.

    If you are a parent (or adult) with ADHD, autism, or other neurological condition, you can learn much more on how to choose and implement the best diet for your unique BioIndividual Nutrition needs in my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program.

    If you are a practitioner, download my guide, 8 Clinical Nutrition Cases That Will Change the Way You Practice, and check out my BioIndividual Nutrition Training to learn more about how you can incorporate BioIndividual Nutrition into your practice. 

    Share your experience on special diets with us in the comment section below. 

    References:

    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/20696007/
    2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13590840050000861
    3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10779289
    4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4322780/
    5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604636/
    6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296237/
    7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3174969/
    8. https://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Abstract/2006/04002/Frequency_of_Gastrointestinal_Symptoms_in_Children.11.aspx
    9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24897165
    10. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/494187v1
    11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5647120/
    12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28808808
    13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21911305
    14. https://gut.bmj.com/content/66/7/1241
    15. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016508513014078
    16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8269884
    17. http://www.bu.edu.eg/portal/uploads/Medicine/CLINICAL%20&%20CHEMICAL%20PATHOLOGY/2655/publications/Eman%20Gamal%20Behiry_306_JIPBSV4I304.pdf
    18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20705664
    19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6306734/
    20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18399356
    21. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987799910460
    22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21651783
    23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15673999
    24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217462/ 
    25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872787/

    What You Need to Know About a Low Histamine Diet

    Is your child experiencing a regression right now? Inflammatory response going haywire, despite their usual dietary patterns? Maybe it seems like your child seem is going through a yeast flare despite anti-candida diets or maybe even anti-fungal therapy. What about skin condition flare ups?

    Something to consider at this time of year is histamines! Many families are faced with worsening of symptoms related to both environmental and/or dietary sources of histamine.

    Common physical manifestations of excess histamine:

    • Itchy eyes
    • Runny nose
    • Sneezing
    • Itchy throat
    • Headaches – especially migraines
    • Rashes

    Yet don’t be surprised if your child has none of these either! The histamine can be more locally focused, like in the stomach or gut for example, and cause acid reflux. And for those with auto-immune conditions, their immune response may be atypical.

    I had a client with a child with autism for example and her son had no outward symptoms of histamine issues yet saw a flare in yeast every spring/fall. Once my client was made aware of this, they were able to reduce high histamine foods, focus on bringing in natural antihistamines, and they were able to bypass this seasonal yeast flare as a result! It was an answer to a long-standing question of why each year they saw this pattern. Getting an answer, and something to do about it, was a complete win for this family!

    The body is usually well-equipped to prevent the build-up of histamine

    In the body, histamine is enzymatically degraded one of two ways [5]:

    • Oxidative deamination by diamine oxidase (DAO) into imidazole acetaldehyde
    • Methylation by histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT) into N4-methylhistamine

    However, in some cases, the body may be unable to deal with the histamine produced or consumed either because consumption is too high, or enzymatic activity is too low.

    Histamine is an Inflammation Stimulator.

    Histamine excess can also place a burden on the immune system so any symptom or condition that is connected with immune function can be impacted by histamine. If your child appears to be experiencing a flare in an inflammatory condition, it is good to consider the following questions.

    • Is there a big “bloom” happening in your region now
    • Do you live in an area surrounded by greenery/trees
    • Have you seen a shift in seasons
    • Has it started getting wet and rainy
    • Are they eating a diet high in amines, histamines, salicylates, or oxalates

    There are plenty of “gray area” people who don’t have full-blown Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) but who suffer from histamine-related issues each year or as the seasons change. If you do have a child with mast cell activation syndrome, check out the blog I did on When Histamine Goes Haywire which goes much deeper into the biochemistry of histamine as it relates to MCAS.

    So What is a Parent to do?

    A good assessment is important. Understanding their biggest symptoms or flares can give you the information needed to pinpoint the right nutritional intervention. Then you can look at environmental and dietary patterns that may be contributing to the problem.

    Focusing on lower amine, histamine, and oxalate foods can help calm down the histamine response. 

    Foods High in Histamine

    Histidine is converted to histamine in the body.

    There are several foods high in either histidine, which the body then naturally converts into histamine, or histamine itself. A diet high in histidine rich foods will naturally exacerbate the symptoms and is usually combined with other causes of intolerance, as do histamine rich foods. Fermented foods produced using anaerobic bacteria contain high levels of biogenic amines, like histamine, produced when bacteria break down amino acids.  These foods include:

    • Fermented dairy products such as matures cheese (cheddar and gouda are very high)
    • Other processed dairy products such as yogurt and buttermilk
    • Fermented soy products
    • Wine and beer and other alcohols
    • Processed and cured meats (salami, pepperoni, cured meats, deli meats, sausage)
    • The ‘nightshade’ vegetables (tomato, eggplant) and also spinach
    • Fermented and pickled foods (sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles)
    • Berries contain benzoates which trigger histamine release
    • Citrus foods liberate histamine

    What is a Low Histamine Diet Trial and Why is it Important

     

    A low histamine diet trial is a trial of low histamine foods and supplements designed to provide the body relief from histamine overload. You can gauge response with this approach and review the foods and supplements that may be contributing to high histamine levels. Keeping track of foods and noting symptoms – reduction or exacerbation – can give you great data in moving forward towards lower histamine levels

    Low Histamine Diet

    A low histamine diet trial involves the elimination of:

    • Foods rich in histamine
    • Foods that release histamine
    • DAO enzyme inhibitors

    Foods Rich in Histamine

    • Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kombucha, fermented dairy including yogurt, kefir, sour cream, soy sauce, fish sauce
    • Vinegar and vinegar-containing foods: Pickles, olives, mustard
    • Cured meats: Bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausage
    • Aged, dried, jerky, smoked and less fresh meat and fish, as well as anchovies and mackerel
    • Aged cheese
    • Nuts: Peanuts, walnuts, and cashews
    • Vegetables: Avocados, mushrooms, eggplant, spinach, and dried tomatoes and tomato sauce
    • Dried fruit and citrus fruits
    • Long/slow simmered and roasted foods: Bone broths and pot roast
    • Fermented alcohol: Wine, beer, brandy, port, sherry, rum, champagne
    • Probiotic supplements

    Foods That Release Histamine

    • Bananas
    • Chocolate
    • Alcohol
    • Milk
    • Nuts and peanuts
    • Fruit: Papaya, Pineapple, Strawberries
    • Tomatoes
    • Shellfish
    • Artificial preservatives and dyes

    DAO Enzyme Inhibitors

    • Alcohol
    • Tea (black, green, mate)
    • Various energy drinks

    Low Histamine Foods

    • Fresh meats
    • Fresh fish
    • Vegetables (except spinach, pickles, olives, eggplant, mushrooms)
    • Fruits (except bananas, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, citrus, dried fruit, tomato sauce)
    • Beans
    • Gluten-free grains
    • Butter and ghee

    But, it may take an even more aggressive approach, which may even include a review of probiotics your client may be taking. Probiotics, while wonderfully supportive for many of our clients, can be high in histamine depending on the strains. Ones to be on the lookout for include:

    Probiotic Strains That Contribute to High Histamine 

    • Lactobacillus casei 
    • Lactobacillus Bulgaricus 
    • Streptococcus thermophilus 
    • Lactobacillus delbrueckii 
    • Lactobacillus helveticus

     Beneficial Probiotic Strains That Help 

    • Bifidobacterium infantis 
    • Lactobacillus gasseri 
    • Bifidobacterium breve 
    • Bifidobacterium bifidum 
    • Lactobacillus salivarius 
    • Lactobacillus rhamnosus (especially GG) 
    • Bifidobacterium lactis
    • Lactobacillus plantarum

    For complex cases, reducing even foods higher in salicylate, amines, glutamates, and even oxalates to soothe the inflammatory response.

     

    For the practitioners in my BioIndividual Nutrition Institute, you have access to my comprehensive diets guides for low salicylate, amine, glutamate, and oxalate. These can be wonderful resources for clients looking to reduce their dietary sources. Helping them identify and manage inflammatory responses through nutritional intervention is huge and makes you the most effective clinician you can be!

     

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6129797/

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16461989/

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23545338/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1773229/ 

    What You Need To Know About Oxalates

    Oxalates are highly reactive molecules found in certain foods. They create pain and inflammation in the body, particularly for certain people.

    Oxalates are found in high amounts in spinach, swiss chard, nuts, sweet potatoes, beets, chocolate, and many other foods.

    They bind with certain minerals; particularly calcium and magnesium, as well as iron and copper – so they are often (but not always) found in foods rich in calcium.

    High oxalate in the body (hyperoxaluria) can be a factor in many chronic conditions; including digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, and neurological conditions. Oxalates affect mitochondrial function and can create inflammation; thus influencing every system in the body.

    Having high oxalate in the body can be problematic; and not giving proper consideration to one’s oxalate intake can impede the effectiveness of even the best healing diet protocol.

    Unfortunately, because they bind to these minerals they render the minerals unavailable, so a food that’s seemingly “healthy” because it is rich in calcium like spinach can actually deplete us of those very minerals. 

    Oxalates can cause or contribute to hypothyroid function, autoimmune conditions, autism, vulvodynia, asthma, kidney stones, cystic fibrosis, headaches, and other chronic conditions. (See my article on Oxalates and Chronic Disease for more conditions and underlying contributing factors to oxalate issues and my article on the research behind Oxalates and Autism.)

    Oxalates can be a problem when: the gut is inflamed and hyper-permeable (i.e. leaky gut), fat is not digested and there is fat malabsorption, or when there is not enough good bacteria (especially particular forms) to break the oxalate down. Developing problems with oxalates is more likely if there aren’t enough minerals in the gut to bind the oxalate.

    Although most commonly identified with the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones (oxalate bound to calcium), when unbound, free oxalate can interfere with cellular functions; affecting health on a broader, systemic level. Clinical studies and anecdotal experience indicate that oxidative stress, mitochondrial disruption and damage, and nutrient depletions, trigger widely varied symptoms including fatigue and inflammatory cascades, joint pain or pain anywhere in the body. Chronic low energy is very common because of a reduction in ATP in the mitochondria. Oxalates could be a hidden source of headaches, urinary pain, genital irritation, joint, muscle, intestinal or eye pain.

    Other common oxalate-caused symptoms may include mood conditions, anxiety, sleep problems, weakness, or burning feet. Indicators can be digestive upset, respiratory issues, or even bedwetting for children.

    Where Does Oxalate Come From

    Oxalates stem from two main sources: exogenous (outside the body; from dietary intake) and endogenous (produced within the body, cell or tissue).

    Exogenous oxalate can accumulate from a diet that is high in spinach, nuts, beans, or other high oxalate foods. This is why individualizing therapeutic diets is essential. Diets often heavy on these nut flours include: SCD, GAPS, and Paleo. And vegetarian diets are often high in oxalate; since they usually include many beans, grains, nuts and seeds, as well as high oxalate greens or starchy vegetables, like spinach or sweet potatoes.

    Endogenous oxalate comes from oxalate generated internally inside the cell, and sometimes it comes from substances that don’t contain oxalate but that convert to oxalate often due to nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B6.

    Implementing a Low Oxalate Diet

    Implementing a low oxalate diet can help reduce pain, improve digestion and the microbiome, improve mood, and support growth in children.

    Making informed choices or modifying a diet for oxalate can make a dramatic difference in lowering the oxalate load. Please note: it is important to reduce oxalates in the diet very slowly. 

    Adding supplements such as calcium to bind oxalates can also help while reducing oxalates in the diet. Additionally, supplements that combat oxidative stress and those that boost nutrient deficiency that cause endogenous oxalate production can also help. 

    A nutrition practitioner well versed in oxalates can help guide you. 

    Practitioners should be aware that diets high in oxalate could create a wide variety of problems for some people. To learn more about when and how to help your clients implement a low oxalate diet, visit the BioIndividual Nutrition Training program. 

    For parents or individuals interested in learning about diet and nutrition including the low oxalate diet for their child (or an adult with ADHD, autism, or other neurological condition), join our nutrition program for parents, Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids

    Avoiding Holiday Havoc: Healthy solutions to avoid meltdowns and keep the holidays happy

    The holidays are a wonderful time for being together with family and celebrating. 

    But there are also new holiday traditions that can cause children to have behavioral and emotional reactions. Holiday treats and decorations can cause biochemical overload and physiological reactions like hyperactivity, anger, aggression, crying spells, and anxiety. And the things we enjoy as adults, such as: music, lights, and new smells can be overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivities. 

    Fortunately understanding them ahead of time can help you plan and adjust as necessary.

    Holiday Stressors That Can Cause Meltdowns

    The following are some of the things that can cause real reactions in kids:

    • Christmas trees
    • Wreaths and pine branches
    • Potpourri
    • Scented candles
    • Perfume
    • Lights
    • Music
    • Strong smelling food
    • Food and food additives

    Christmas trees and Wreaths Can Cause Severe Symptoms
     

    Before you run out and buy a fresh, new Christmas tree or holiday wreath, you’ll want to read about my client’s Christmas tree experience.

    Her son 10 year old son with autism severely regressed during the holidays. After the holidays we had an appointment where I learned about his regression and asked if they had a Christmas tree. Turns out they did and it was the cause of his misery.

    Here’s her description:

    “During the Holidays our son regressed severely.  He became anxious, aggressive, and self-abusive. He cried and had tantrums regularly throughout the day. He couldn’t sleep anymore and was up for hours at a time, night after night. He was hand-flapping like crazy.  We have a swing in the house for him and he now wanted to swing all day long, constantly, and do nothing else. He lost eye contact and he stopped responding to his name.”

     And it’s no doubt that the Christmas tree was the culprit, because once it was removed the improvements were dramatic.

    “The decorations came off and the tree was put out that same night.  I didn’t tell anyone at home about our discussion. I wanted to see if they would comment on my son’s behavior after the tree was gone.   The next day, he was much calmer. He seemed to have “exhaled.” Within 48 hours, our son was completely back to normal. His improvement was blatantly obvious. And, everyone commented on it.”

    Pine trees and phenols

    Christmas trees are varieties of pine trees. The aromatic oils that give pine trees their great smell were the cause of his behavior, mood, and sleeping issues.

    These strong smelling oils are phenols.  Phenolic compounds come in many forms including artificial petroleum-based food additives, and salicylates found in plants and foods like strawberries and spices, as well as pine trees.

    When phenols are not able to be broken-down and detoxified (by a process called sulfation, which is low in many children with autism and ADHD), they can cause many symptoms including irritability, red cheeks and ears, hyperactivity, aggression toward self and others, “stimming,” sleeping challenges and many more.

    If you know your child is sensitive to salicylates or other phenols (see my salicylate article), you’ll likely want to avoid a traditional Christmas tree.  If you are unsure about their sensitivity to salicylates: you might ask yourself if your child is often hyper, irritable, or has red cheeks, and other common salicylate symptoms, or whether they crave salicylate-rich foods such as berries, grapes, apples, and ketchup.  If so, explore salicylates further.

    In fact, since so many children with autism and ADHD react to salicylates (in my nutrition practice I find an overwhelming majority react negatively), I’d suggest a cautious approach to holiday decorating for all families of a child with autism or ADHD. Simply avoid the pine Christmas tree. I’ll share some ideas below.

    Sadly, there is nothing “fresh” about air fresheners. And while those scented candles and diffusers seem lovely, they also contain these chemicals. Our body needs to detoxify them, and when we can’t do so sufficiently they cause physical and behavioral reactions. 

    This year skip the scented products. 

    Even essential oils, which I love, can cause reactions because of the phenols I’ve described above. Some of the essential oils with the highest sources of phenols include:

    • Balsam fir oil
    • Clove oil
    • Cinnamon oil
    • Citrus oil
    • Eucalyptus oil 
    • Lavender oil
    • Oregano oil
    • Pennyroyal oil
    • Peppermint oil
    • Sweet birch oil
    • Tea tree oil
    • Thyme oil
    • Wintergreen oil

    Essential oils are certainly better than artificial fragrances. But be sure to use them sparingly and avoid the highest phenolic ones if you suspect a phenol issue.

    Scents: Potpourri, Scented candles, perfume

    Most scented items for the holidays are made with synthetic fragrance. Not only do these fragrances contain toxins like phthalates, parabens, and styrene, but they also contain phenolic compounds (like the pine tree mentioned above). 

    So these scented items can cause headaches, nausea, and behavioral reactions in children and guests. 

    • Potpourri
    • Scented candles
    • Stick/reed diffusers
    • Air fresheners
    • Perfume and cologne
    • Fabric softener
    • Scented Hand soap

    Lights, music, and smells

    Many children with neurodevelopmental delays, have sensory sensitivity. This means they are more likely to react to the holiday lights, blinking lights, strobing lights, music playing in the background, and new smells like food and others mentioned above. 

    Not only are their physiological reactions that can happen, they can also create overwhelm. Sensory input, even when pleasant, are stressors to our nervous system. 

    Try keeping sensory stimulation to a minimum. 

    Having a quiet space for them to take a break can be very helpful. A small tent like this one can be an excellent option as a ‘sensory break’ spot!

    Food and food additives

    Gluten, Dairy and Food Allergens

    Gluten, dairy, soy, and other allergens such as corn and eggs can cause behavioral and emotional reactions including anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability, and add to sensory overload.

    There are many ways gluten and dairy can cause these reactions. If you are eating these foods and your body is creating opiates, opiates themselves can cause mood changes. Additionally, opiates peak and drop, these “withdrawals” from these opiate-compounds can cause irritability and aggression. Also, these foods can cause inflammation and pain causing physical and emotional symptoms. 

    A gluten-free and casein-free (dairy-free) diet is often a great place to start with dietary changes, as there are so many ways these foods can negatively affect children. 

    If your child is on a special diet, the holidays are an important time to STICK WITH IT! Infractions are not worth it. 

    It’s easy to make gluten-free stuffing and gravy.

    Artificial Food Dyes and Salicylates

    I have mentioned phenols in the form of fragrances, but phenols are also in the form of foods and food additives. 

    In my one-on-one nutrition practice, I’ve found that phenols are (by far) the greatest instigators of aggressive behavior, as well as other emotional and behavioral symptoms like hyperactivity and those I mentioned above with Christmas trees.

    Artificial additives like artificial colors and flavors are phenols, and are compounds that can trigger irritability, sleeping problems, ADHD, hyperactivity and aggression.  

    In addition to “artificial phenols” there are “natural phenols” in the form called salicylates.  Salicylates have a phenolic structure, or aromatic chemical ring, that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, and other plant foods.  These foods are rich in wonderful nutrients, but if your body has trouble “detoxifying” the salicylates, they can be a big problem for a child causing significant symptoms.

    Salicylates are high in foods, such as: apples, oranges, berries, almonds, honey, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mint, and other common holiday spices. 

    Avoid anything artificial like Santa lollipops and candy with red and/or green dye, as well as peppermints with mint and artificial colors and titanium dioxide (white coloring). Stick with natural flavored and colored candy and treats. 

    Amines and Glutamates

    Amines are a different natural food compound, similar to salicylates, that is processed by the same detoxification pathway, and therefore, often create similar reactions. People with salicylate sensitivity are more likely to have amine or glutamate intolerance.  Amines and glutamates are found in fermented foods including sauerkraut, salami, smoked meats and fish, bacon, and broths. Amines are high in broths, turkey skin, and pan drippings, which means amines will be high in your holiday gravy and stuffing.  

    Glutamate, also comes in the additive-form of MSG (monosodium glutamate) found in store bought broths and bouillon so be careful to read labels. 

    Holiday Solutions

    • Non-pine decorations
    • Non-living fake Christmas tree
    • Wreath made of dried hydrangea flowers or other materials
    • Unscented candles
    • Wrapped gifts
    • Ornaments
    • Stockings
    • Dropped and dried tree branches
    • Noise cancelling headphones
    • Non-strobing/blinking lights
    • Essential oils (maybe)
    • Healthy food

    Decorations

    Just because you avoid a fresh pine tree, does not mean you need to miss out on any holiday cheer or decorations.  Browse Pinterest or your search engine for “Christmas tree alternatives” and you will find many wonderful ideas. Using dropped and dried tree branches for decorations can work because they won’t be heavily scented. And can be from something other than pine. 

    An artificial Christmas tree can be a good alternative. And be good for the environment too, as it can be used year after year.

    Try a wreath made of dried hydrangea flowers or other materials. However, be careful and avoid dried herbs and plants with a strong smell – they are also very high in phenols.  

    There are also many other ways to make your home festive for the holidays too: candles (unscented) or lights, wrapped gifts, ornaments, or stockings.

    Here are some of my favorite Pinterest ideas: 

    Sensory Support

    Consider over-the-ear noise-cancelling headphones for your child. They are a great way to block out extra sounds.

    Natural scents such as essential oils might be an option depending on the child, however, avoid the high phenol ones. Also, simmering some pear juice along with some orange slices can add a nice natural and not overwhelming fragrance to your home. 

    Have a special room that is low in sensory stimulation that your child can retreat to as a safe haven. We all get overwhelmed sometimes. You might even find you enjoy a short break too.

    Healthy Food

    We all want to celebrate during the holidays and this includes some treats. However, it’s not worth eating junk food with artificial colors or flavors, or even gluten or dairy. 

    The good news is, you can eat healthy AND have treats. Simply choose healthy treats.

    You can make gluten-free stuffing and gravy as I mentioned above, as well as pumpkin pie without dairy or gluten. And you can also make treats like Chocolate Bark and Cocoa Mints that are delicious, festive, and free of artificial ingredients. And you can buy candy canes and chocolate treats and santas free of artificial flavors and dye. 

    I wish you all the best for the holiday season. And I hope these ideas help.

    If you have anything you love doing or eating for the holidays, please share in the comment section below. 

    For Practitioners

    While this article was written with parents/families in mind, I get asked questions related to these issues in my BioIndividual Nutrition Institute training program too! Sometimes it can be tricky to pinpoint what the trigger is with some of our very sensitive clients. I have seen this time and time again in my 18+ years working in the autism, ADHD, and special needs community and the unique biochemistry involved in the processing of these compounds and/or chemicals that results in behavior and physical manifestations.

    If you are a practitioner wanting to dive deep into issues like these to support your clients even more effectively, our training program enrollment is open for just a few more days. Click here and join us today!

    Amazon Disclaimer: Julie Matthews and Nourishing Hope is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

    FTC Disclaimer: Some links may be affiliate links. We may get paid if you buy something or take an action after clicking one of these.