Treatment Guide

Gluten Free Diets May Reduce Autistic Behavior


The CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network released data in 2007 that found about 1 in 150 (8-year-old) children in multiple areas of the United States had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The number of diagnosed cases of autism is on the rise; the reason(s) for this is unclear.   Autism knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries.  Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not appear to affect the chance of occurrence.

Fortunately, dietary changes can make a significant change in people with autism.  Research is profound on the positive impact that a gluten and casein free diet can make on children with autism.  Gluten and/or casein free diets have been implemented to reduce autistic behavior, in addition to special education, since the early eighties {Autism, Vol. 3, No. 1, 45-65 (1999)}.  The scientific studies include both groups of participants as well as individuals, and beneficial results are reported; “reduction of autistic behavior, increased social and communicative skills, and reappearance of autistic traits after the diet has been broken, {Autism, Vol. 3, No. 1, 45-65 (1999)}.  Researchers have found that psychoactive peptides from improperly digested casein (milk) or gluten-based (wheat) foods affect brain function in some individuals with autism.  Many children, who have problems with cow’s milk also react to soy protein, so try rice milk or almond milk in cooking, cereals, etc.

To increase the variety of foods a child with autism can consume, you need to know what foods that child is allergic or intolerant to, so that dietary restrictions are not made unnecessarily.  Testing for food allergies by a doctor who specializes in that area and assessment of food intolerances by a Registered Dietitian through food records and denoted symptoms should be considered.  The lack of ability to detect hunger, food allergies, and/or food intolerance can impact eating issues and ultimately the child’s health.

Some children with autism spectrum disorders will eat mostly foods that fit into only one of these four categories; sweet, sour, bitter or salty.  Often, a child will choose to eat mostly or only foods which are salty and not be interested in sweet foods.  Thus, it is important to try to increase the variety of foods a child will eat to prevent overloading on sodium, sugar or fat by consulting with a psychologist, occupational therapist and Registered Dietitian.

Gluten Free Doesn’t Have To Be Out Of A Box:

Hang out in the produce aisle for an array of gluten free choices.  For high fiber gluten free carbohydrates that are great energy sources: try sweet potatoes, yams, green peas, corn, potatoes with skin, winter squash-great for this time of year (e.g., spaghetti squash, acorn, butternut, pumpkin).  In addition of course, high fiber fruits with edible skin or seeds (e.g., strawberries, blueberries, pears, peaches, apples, kiwi, oranges with the white part (bioflavinoids)) and green leafy vegetables (e.g., kale, collard greens, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy). 

When cooking gluten free, instead of wheat flour, use potato, quinoa, rice, soy, or bean flour.  Stay clear from foods that contain wheat (including spelt, tritcale, and kamut), rye, barley and possibly oats (assess for intolerance)- most grain, pasta, cereal, and many processed foods.  Plain meat, fish, rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables do not contain gluten.  Hidden sources of gluten include additives, preservatives, and stabilizers found in processed foods, medicines, and mouthwash.  If ingredients are not itemized, check with the manufacturer of the product.

Approaches for achieving balanced nutrition personalized for autism:

Making food choices:  Learning how to make food choices starts in childhood.  Individuals with autism have difficulty internalizing concepts, but are comfortable with routine.  Good nutrition can be learned, if repeated frequently over a long period of time.  Importantly, recognize that using food as a reward may contribute to weight gain and dental problems.

For all ages:

When trying to expand the food choices, introduce one food at a time. Instead of a cookie jar, have a bowl of cut-up fruit in the refrigerator. Look for low-fat crunchy alternatives to chips for those that crave foods with texture. Try baked chips, Veggie Booty, or nuts.

For children: 

  • Rather than using food as a reward, have non-food related prizes, e.g., trip to the park, a new toy, etc.  Before offering food, make sure they’re hungry, train them to ask themselves if they are hungry, before just going for food automatically, “Am I hungry, or am I tired/anxious/angry/sad/happy, etc.?”  A lot of kids know what full means, but they don’t know what hungry means, just having them ask themselves before they eat, helps them become in tune with their hunger cues.
  • Offer healthy snacks such as fruits, vegetables, air popped popcorn.


Provide water as a beverage with meals to help prevent filling up on caloric beverages and then rejecting food.  Get the kids involved with food preparation; take them grocery shopping with you with the itemized list, have them bake with you, baking encourages creativity and gives kids a real sense of accomplishment. When kids bake, they have fun and develop manual dexterity at the same time.


Whole Foods Kid-Friendly Gluten and Casein Free Grocery List:


Select Organic Green Tea/Ginger Root/Rose Hips, Traditional Medicinals – Organic Chamomile/Organic Golden Green Tea/Organic Peppermint/Organic Echinacea Elder, Inko’s White Tea Unsweetened Hint O’Mint, 100% Natural White Iced Tea, 365 Italian Sparkling Mineral Water, Organic 100% Pomegranate Juice not from concentrate, Metro Mint unsweetened peppermint water.


Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse Muffins, Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse Cinnamon Raisin Bread, Banana Bread, Sandwich Bread Food for Life Ezekiel Sprouted Corn Tortillas.

Bulk Foods:                                                                                           

Rice, Dried Fruit, Nuts, Dried Beans.


Any fruit or vegetable, “Follow the Rainbow”, vary weekly and choose organic as much as possible (definitely choose organic for items that you’ll eat the skin or ones that have a large surface area, e.g., strawberries, apples, celery, grapes, peaches, potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, cherries, nectarines, pears, red raspberries, strawberries).

Edamame (Soybeans) Ready to Eat In the Shell or Shelled (*When buying soy products select products with soy beans rather than soy protein concentrate or isolated soy protein). 

Juices in moderation, mix juices with 50% water, choose 100% juice, rather than sugar added. Ceres Juice, 365 Organic Apple Juice, Hansen’s Natural Multi-Vitamin Juice Awesome Apple, Naked Probiotic 100% Juice Smoothie (have half the bottle, 5 oz.). 

Whole Body:

Barlean’s Forti-Flax Organic Cold-Milled Select Flaxseed, Spectrum Essentials Ground Flaxseed.


The Spice Hunter Seasonings (Choose organic), Simply Organic Seasonings and extracts, Whole Pantry Organic Spices, 365 Organic Vanilla Extract, Organic Frontier Natural Flavors Alcohol Free Mint Flavor, Sweet Cactus Farms Organic Agave Nectar, Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave, Shady Maple Farms Organic Pure Maple Syrup, 365 Organic Maple Syrup, Rapadura Organic Whole Cane Sugar, Maranatha Organic Peanut Butter, Fiordifrutta 100% Organic Fruit Spread, 365/Maranatha Organic Almond Butter, Eden Organic Apple Butter Spread.

Baking Products:

Cherrybrook Kitchen Gluten Free Dreams Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix, 365 Gluten Free Products: Cake Mix, Pizza Crust Mix, Pancake and Waffle Mix, All-Purpose Baking Mix, Corn Bread and Muffin Mix, Sandwich Bread Mix, Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Mixes, Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free Mixes, Bob’s Red Mill Xanthan Gum (great gluten free zucchini bread recipe on the back), Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder (*Cocoa increases immunity!), 365 Chocolate Chips, Bob’s Red Mill brand powdered egg whites.

Cereals: (Choose >5 gram fiber and <30 g total carbs./serving.)

Barbara’s Puffins, Bob’s Red Mill Creamy Rice Hot Cereal, Erewhon Organic Corn Flakes, Heartland’s Finest CerOs- Raspberry Flavored, Nature’s Path Organic Crispy Rice Cereal, Nature’s Path Organic Puffs: Millet, Corn, Rice, Envirokidz Cereals: Organic Amazon Frosted Flakes, Organic Koala Crisp Cereal.

Grains & Beans:

Lundberg Short Grain/Long Grain Brown Rice, Lundberg Wild Blend Rice, Arrowhead Mills Organic Dried Beans, Westbrae Natural Organic Canned Beans, 365 Organic Beans, Eden Organic Canned Beans, Health Best Organic Dried Beans, Arrowhead Mills Organic Whole Millet, Quinoa, Amaranth, Health Best All Natural Polenta, Ancient Harvest Quinoa.


Back to Nature Sesame Ginger Rice Thins/Tomato Herb Rice Thins (no fiber, so add vegetables)-GF crackers, Lundberg Organic Rice Cakes, Hain Popped Corn Mini Cakes, Real Foods Organic Corn Thins Multigrain Gluten Free, Ian’s Cookie Buttons Crunchy Cinnamon (individual pouches), All Natural Pop Chips Salsa Corn Chips (Gluten and dairy free), Guiltless Gourmet Baked Chili Lime Chips or Chili Verde Chips, Enjoy Life Soft Baked Lively Lemon Cookies, Mi-del Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Ginger Snaps, Robert’s American Gourmet Veggie Booty, “Yummy Earth” Organic Lollipops, “Let’s Do…Organic” Classic Gummi Bears Organic Candy, “The ginger People” Ginger Chews Original sweet-hot soft ginger candy, Crystallized Ginger Reed’s All Natural Ginger Candy, Stretch Island Fruit Co. The Original Fruit Leathers.

Frozen Foods:

Good Karma Organic Rice Divine Sundae Cups, Organic Bistro Whole Life Meals Wild Salmon, Amy’s Gluten and Dairy Free Bowls- Brown Rice and Vegetable, Teriyaki, Natural Organic Choice Sorbet, Cascadian Farms Organic Frozen Vegetables.


Imagine Organic Vegetable Broth Low Sodium/Creamy Tomato Soup (dairy free), Pacific Natural Foods Cashew Carrot Ginger Soup, Health Valley No Salt Added Soups.


All wild low mercury fresh fish: cold water fish, e.g., salmon, halibut, orange roughy, sole, cod, Echo Falls Wild Alaskan Sockeye Smoked Salmon (All Natural), Gefen Albacore Tuna in water (spread the tuna on gluten free crackers/rice cakes).

Condiments & Oils:

Whole Foods Chunky Guacamole, Scotty’s Low Sodium Salsa, Emerald Valley Organic Salsa, Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods Artichoke Spinach Hommus, Roasted Red Pepper Hommus, Heinz Organic Ketchup, Soy Vay Island Teriyaki Sauce, Robbie’s BBQ Sauce, Robbie’s Sweet & Sour Sauce, Bone Suckin’ Sauce, Bragg Liquid Aminos, Robbie’s Ketchup, Hain Pure Foods Canola Mayonnaise, Natural Value Organic Mustard, Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar or Solana Gold Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Eden Brown Rice Vinegar, 365 Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Spectrum Naturals Organic Canola Oil, Spectrum Organic Sesame Oil, Annie’s Naturals Raspberry Vinaigrette Low Fat Salad Dressing*, Wild Thymes Vinaigrette Salad Dressings.

Eggs & Egg Substitutes & Margarine:

Chino Valley Ranchers Organic Eggs, Organic Grade A Large Brown Eggs Plus Omega 3, Chino Valley Ranchers Organic Omega-3 Eggs – for hardboiled eggs, Eggology Organic 100% Egg Whites, Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (100% Vegan) Margarine.


DeBoles Rice Pasta, Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta, 365 Organic Pasta Sauce.

Casein Free: Cheese, Yogurt, Milk:

Galaxy Nutritional Foods Rice Cheese Vegan (casein and gluten free), Ricera Rice Yogurt Organic Peach, Strawberry, Blueberry, 365 Organic Non-Dairy Rice Milk Vanilla- Calcium:25%, Organic Rice Dream Original Enriched-Vitamin A, D, B12, Calcium.

Pre-packaged snacks/Dried fruits:

Solana Gold Organic Apple Sauce, Earth’s Best Organic Apple Sauce, Leroux Creek Organic Cinnamon Apple Sauce, Glutino Gluten Free Breakfast Bars (blueberry, apple), Certified Organic Just Veggies (dried carrots, corn, peas, bell peppers and tomatoes), Certified Organic Just Fruit Munchies (dried apples, raisins, blueberries, sour cherries, mango, pineapple, raspberries), {Nuts are best for older kids (~>5 years)}:, Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Peanuts (common allergen: test if allergic to peanuts), Flavor Tree Snack Foods Deluxe Roasted Salted Mixed Nuts (No peanuts), Raw Sunflower Seeds, Raw Pistachio Nutmeats Halves and Pieces, Raw Pumpkin Seeds, Raw Almonds Raw Walnuts Halves and Pieces, Health Best All Raw Nuts & Seeds (except Brazil nuts, Cashews, and Macadamia – are too high in saturated fat), Health Best Dried Fruits (Choose unsulphered, and no sugar added), “Dr. Soy” Soy Nuts, Pavich Organic Raisins, Whole Kids Organic Thompson Seedless Raisins, Organic Dried Fruit Cranberries, Harvest Organic Hunza Dried Pomegranates, Dried Blueberries Sweetened with Apple Juice, Stretch Island Fruit Leather 100% Fruit Snack.


Deborah A. Klein, MS, RD, is the world’s first Livitician™, author of a book titled: Good-bye Diet, Hello Livit! on the LIVIT instead of DIET philosophy.  The livitician network, 8111 beverly blvd., suite 208, Los Angeles, CA 90048, T: (310) 247-0018,

About Deborah A. Klein, MS, RD


  1. Everyone would like to find a cause and a treatment for ASD. However, I have not been able to find a SINGLE well-controlled clinical trial testing the effect of a gluten-free diet. A controlled trial means that a placebo is compared with a test substance (gluten), and neither the patients or observers are aware of who is in the treatment group. In addition, there need to be enough patients to obtain a statistically significant result.

    Studies involving psychological outcomes are very prone to observer and patient bias and placebo effects. Likewise, nutritional intervention is very hard to do for a gluten-free diet without the patient or parent being aware of the intervention.

    It appears that the literature is prone to investigator bias (i.e. wishful thinking), and consists of “preliminary promising results” which are then never tested thoroughly in follow-up studies.

    Unfortunately, these preliminary, suggestive, results are widely cited and recycled in the popular media, and the lay-person can find it hard to know whom to trust.

    We need to lobby for larger, well-controlled clinical trials that can test this hypothesis once and for all.

    Finally, a gluten-free diet is not without its own difficulties, since it can be harder to achieve well-balanced nutrition.

    Peter Olins, PhD

  2. Thank God I didn’t wait for the availability to read results of a “SINGLE well-controlled clinical trial testing the effectiveness of a gluten free diet in ASD children” to determine whether or not I should implement it for my son. I just did it. I am so grateful I had access to all the information I needed to help me make informative decisions regarding my child’s health & well being. And I am so grateful I had the courage to use my mother intuition and follow my gut which was telling me to heal my son’s gut! Ha!

    The progress,growth & strides my ASD son has made over the past 4 yrs thanks to bio-medical intervention is insurmountable!! I know he is not an exception. There are many others! The earlier one starts,the better the results. We started my son on GFCF when he was 2. He is only 6 now! He has his whole life ahead of him. And it is a bright future. But the best outcome of all, he is healthy & happy!

    I wholeheartedly believe implementing a GFCF diet is at the very core of his achieving important goals & overcoming countless obstacles related to ASD and that speaks volumes to me. The success he has had living this lifestyle is ALL THE PROOF ILL EVER NEED to know…IT WORKS!!!

  3. Can you tell us more about this? I’d like to find out more details.

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