Gluten-free Casein-free Diet (GFCF)

The Gluten-Free and Casein-Free Diet for Autism

The Gluten-Free Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet is the typical place to begin when initiating nutritional intervention for autism. This diet entails the removal of all gluten and casein containing foods from the foods you feed your child. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and commercial oats. Gluten can be found in bread, crackers, pasta, cereal, packaged foods, baked goods, and many other foods. Casein is the protein found in milk which is used in dairy products such whole and reduced fat milk, cheese, cream, butter, ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, powdered milk additives in food, and more.

GFCF Science

When ingested by children with a compromised digestive tract, like many children that have autism, gluten and casein proteins can cause gut inflammation, pain, and digestive problems. If the protein is not properly broken down during digestion, it can form opioids (opiate- or morphine-like compounds). Through research scientists have come to believe that opioids in gluten and casein are problematic for children with autism because these children often have an abnormal gastrointestinal tract. These medical issues can be diagnosed by physicians who treat children with autism.

The properties of gluten and casein can lead to digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, as well as foggy thinking and inattentiveness for many children with autism. Studies along with many thousands of parental reports from around the globe indicate physical symptoms and behaviors associated with autism decrease on the GFCF Diet.


Implementing GFCF

A parent often begins the GFCF Diet by removing casein first and then gluten from the foods prepared for snacks and meals.  Most of the foods containing these offending gluten and casein proteins are easy to identify. Some gluten and casein sources can be sneaky, as some foods contain offending ingredients that are not apparent when reading a label – such as soy sauce and malt (barley). Some products, like potato chips and fries, are often dusted with wheat flour (gluten) during processing. This information is not listed on the product label but can be verified with the product manufacturer. It’s important to follow an autism diet strictly – infractions can inhibit or mask progress.

When beginning a GFCF Diet, be careful not to introduce too many GFCF junk foods such as cookies, candy, and chips. Even though they don’t include gluten or casein, the sugars can feed yeast, imbalance blood sugar, and dis-regulate energy. Remember, diet is more than just the removal of offending foods – attention must be placed on ensuring healthy and nutritious food intake and additions.

As the GFCF Diet is implemented, improvements in autism symptoms are often noted as the diet evolves and progresses. Some children experience rashes and eczema clearing up – others note improvements in behavior, concentration, cognitive ability, eye contact, gastrointestinal issues, sleep, speech and more.

The gluten-free and casein-free diet is a great place to start when implementing an autism diet.