Gluten is another term for the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale, and products made from them. Casein is a protein in dairy. A GFCF diet (gluten-free and casein-free) removes all foods with gluten and dairy.
Soy has similar properties to gluten and dairy. So in my nutrition practice, I virtually always recommend soy-free (SF) as well on a GFCF Diet.
Gluten is found in foods containing wheat and gluten-containing flour such as bread, pasta, pretzels, crackers, cereal, pizza, muffins, cakes, cookies, and more. Furthermore, gluten may also be present in sauces and gravy thickened with flour, spice blends, coated on sweet potato fries, and dusted on potato chips.
Casein is found in all dairy products such as cow milk, goat milk and sheep milk. Not only milk, but yogurt, butter, cream, ice cream, sour cream, and cheese all contain casein. Even non-dairy cheese and other non-dairy products may contain casein.
Soy comes from soybeans and is found in tofu, tempeh, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, miso, and edamame.
Benefits and Symptom Improvement From the GFCF Diet
A GFCF diet is the most well known and practiced diet for autism and ADHD. And there are good reasons for this. Research shows the gluten-free and casein-free diet improves the symptoms of autism and ADHD. And there are vast reports from parents on their experience of using the GFCF diet to help their children improve their health, learning, and behavior.
There is also research into how gluten and casein cause digestive issues, behavioral problems, anxiety and mood challenges, and increased autism and ADHD symptoms. And furthermore, there are many studies showing how the GFCF (or GFCFSF) diet improves the symptoms of autism and ADHD including:
- Improved behavior
- Reduced autism symptoms
- Increased non-verbal IQ
- Improved receptive and expressive language
- Increased sociability
- Reduced gastrointestinal distress
- Decreased hyperactivity and ADHD
- Improved focus and attention
- Improved sleep
- Reduced anxiety
- And more
How the GFCF Diet Works
How does the GFCF diet help? There are a number of mechanisms. Gluten, dairy, and soy are inflammatory, and they can cause leaky gut. This affects digestion and can cause systemic inflammation and nutrient deficiencies that affect the brain, and well as negatively impact the whole body and many physical symptoms. Removing these inflammatory foods can make a big improvement on behavior and learning.
When not properly digested, gluten and casein can form opiate-type compounds. These opioids can affect the brain causing symptoms like foggy thinking and cause cravings for these foods. Removing these foods reduces these opiate compounds and improves mood and behavior.
If you are interested in more on the science and research studies behind the GFCF diet for autism you can read my article here.
I teach parents and individuals in my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program and practitioners in my BioIndividual Nutrition Training how to successfully implement a healthy gluten-free and casein-free diet based on the unique needs of the individual.