by Patricia S. Lemer, M.S. Bus., NCC

Are you on “the diet”? is a query commonly heard wherever I go.

At my weight loss clinic “the diet” is the protein shake that allowed me to drop 25 pounds.

At the health club, “the diet” could mean The Zone, Atkins or Eat Right for your Type. Friends have used these programs to drop poundage and feel better.

Most people have heard of the Feingold diet, a program that eliminates artificial colors flavors, preservatives and salicylates. It has helped many children overcome difficult behaviors.

In disability circles, however, the that probably works best is a gluten-free, casein-free diet. I find it one of the simplest, most exciting discoveries in my 40 years in this field.

History of the Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet

Originally, Lisa Lewis dug into diet literature looking for a way to help her son. She located the research of Paul Shattock and Karl Reichelt, who link gluten and casein with autism spectrum disorders.

In 1998, she wrote Special Diets for Special Kids, sharing her findings with other families.

Later she co-founded the Autism Network for Dietary Intervention (ANDI) with Karen Seroussi, who popularized “the diet” further in her book, Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother’s Story of Research & Recovery.

These two courageous women have changed the lives of many families.

Others have joined their bandwagon. More and more companies now produce time-saving, quality, gluten- , dairy- , soy- and yeast-free products.

Gluten-free products are available from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and increasingly in mainstream stores and restaurants.

Whatever “the diet” , here are some ways to assure best results with the least amount of distress:

  • Switch to additive-free, real foods. Eliminate junk. Because strawberries are available all year round, most of today’s kids don’t have the experience of eating a just-picked local, organically grown berry in May. What a shame! Shop at stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods that specialize in wholesome products.
  • Eat a varied diet. Menus that reflect the seasons provide natural variety. If you serve corn cereal for breakfast, use a rice product for dinner.  Rotate seed and nut butters for extra calcium. Vary cooking methods according to season, using long-cooked foods in the winter and raw or steamed foods in the summer. Watch those fats, including good ones such as olive and flaxseed oils. Eliminate hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils.
  • Eat better; exercise more. Today’s kids are chubby because they are eating empty calories, playing video games instead of hopscotch, and riding school buses instead of their bikes.
  • Put the whole family on “the diet”:  Everyone’s health will improve. Children with autism frequently have siblings with similar issues to a lesser degree.  AD(H)D, learning disabilities and perceptual issues could dissipate. So could adult arthritis, mental and physical fatigue, asthma and allergies.
  • Find out individual needs through elimination or laboratory testing. Some call food sensitivities allergies, while others say a true allergy requires a reaction such as hives. Nutritionist and Developmental Delay Resources co-founder Kelly Dorfman believes that the best and least expensive test for food reactions is elimination of that food followed by a challenge. If that process overwhelms you, and if your pocketbook can withstand the cost, have your physician order laboratory tests. A wide variety of reliable tests, including organic acid tests for yeast problems and urinary peptide testing for gluten and casein sensitivities, is available from Great Plains Laboratory
  • Learn to cook again. Share the kitchen with your children, who are more apt to experiment with new foods if they are involved in making them. Cooking is also a great way to gain fine motor control and to learn some math, physics and chemistry.
  • Use new natural sources of vitamins and minerals. Try sea vegetables. Ever eat sushi?  That black wrapper is nori, a seaweed rich in minerals.  You can buy it in sheets or flakes. It is salty and adds flavor to popcorn, soups and any foods. Dulse, another seaweed, is the world’s highest source of iron.
  • Be open and flexible. If a child ingests a little gluten or a muffin made with milk, don’t panic. Most children will not go into anaphylaxis. The constant assault of problematic foods causes illness, not a single serving.