Article – Food Matters for Children with Autism (with scientific reference)

Food Matters for Children with Autism By Julie Matthews, Certified Nutrition Consultant and Autism Diet Specialist

For every disease or disorder: from diabetes to heart disease, celiac or IBS…food matters.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine taught us to “let food be your medicine” and informed us “all disease begins the gut.”  To help heal autism, we need to relearn the principles of healthy food and nutrition.

Don’t let healthcare practitioners’ lack of understanding sway your knowledge that food matters. Even though “modern medicine” knows that sugar affects diabetes and that celiac patients are intolerant to gluten, they’ve yet to remember (ala Hippocrates) that food affects EVERYTHING, including autism.  Physicians tell me they spend little time studying the relationship between food and biochemistry, food and health, and food and mood.

Parents report positive changes when applying special autism diets: which involve removing offensive foods and boosting nutritious foods.  Since parents determine what their children eat, biochemistry can be altered through these calculated omissions and additions.  By intentionally empowering natural healing forces, they affect a reduction in autistic symptoms that result from improvements in systemic health.

And fortunately, a growing contingent of leading edge doctors are realizing that food matters; they are listening to parents, studying dietary intervention and applying it to aid children’s recovery.

Autism is a whole body disorder. Here is some current knowledge about food, diet, and autism:

  • Children with autism     have problems with certain foods that affect their behavioral, cognitive,     and physical symptoms. 1, 3, 5
  • Food has a direct effect on the gut, intestinal     inflammation, and digestive capacity – which in turn affects physiology     and brain function. 2, 4,
  • Nutrient deficiencies are common with autism.6,     7, 8
  • Gut problems and insufficient     digestive enzyme function are common.9
  • Digestion, detoxification, and immune function     are often affected.  Dietary intervention influences these disordered     systems seen in autism.
  • The gut is considered the “second brain” and the“gut-brain connection has been studied in autism.10  Healing the gut positively influences the brain.
  • Addressing digestive issues increases nutrition absorption. As nutrient status improves, systems function better – including the brain.
  • Removing foods containing toxins (such as artificial additives) that adversely affect brain chemistry relieves a burden on the liver and detoxification system, and affects improvement in brain function and behavior.11
  • By avoiding inflammatory foods we support in immune and digestive systems.

When you see how much food matters, it’s easy to understand why most people who try dietary intervention benefit – parents and clinicians are realizing it helps! The Autism Research Institute (ARI) surveyed thousands of parents and found that 69% of those applying the Gluten-free Casein-free Diet saw improvement.  For the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, 71% noted improvement. In recent autism diet research funded by Autism Speaks, 82% of parents reported“definite improvement” in their child’s skills. This data is being presented at leading conferences. Parents report improvements in diarrhea, constipation, language, attention, sleep, hyperactivity, and more.

While “dietary intervention”(change) can seem overwhelming, with learning and focus, even busy moms can make it work.  As a child feels better, parents often have more quality time with their children and cooking becomes more enjoyable.  And nutritious meals needn’t cost a fortune. While quality, whole foods involve more expensive ingredients; you’re buying fewer expensive processed foods.  A healing diet empowers you to support your child’s health and improved well-being.

This is why I titled my book, Nourishing Hope.  We need to nourish children’s bodies with healthy food, and nourish their mind and soul with hope.  Food supplies requisite nutrients to the body, and healthy food preparation transfers healing energy through the loving intention of the chef.  When we believe that something better is possible (hope), we can move forward with faith and commitment.

In my book, I support you in nourishing hope.  I present topics and strategies to further your understanding and effective application of autism diets. While the use of supplements is essential with autism (and I address them), I primarily focus on FOOD.  I explore healing foods, nutrients in foods, probiotics in fermented foods and gut health, and special healing diets used to balance biochemistry, support digestion, and methods to sneak in nutrient-dense foods in ways that kids will like.  I emphasize the myriad of ways that food is medicine or poison depending on: the quality, the way food is grown or raised, the manner food is prepared, processed, and cooked, and the compounds in food that can heal or aggravate systems.


Don’t let anyone tell you that autism diets don’t help.  Indeed, a healing diet for autism is essential for optimal physical and cognitive health. Join me in nourishing hope.


Julie Matthews, a leading autism nutrition and diet specialist. Her award-winning book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, provides an understanding of the role of nutrition to aid healing and relieve symptoms of autism – it stems from intense research and clinical experience.  She educates parents and physicians at the nation’s leading conferences on autism treatment and advocacy.  Julie has a private nutrition practice and radio show in San Francisco, California, and supports families and clinicians from around the world. Visit to study autism diets and view video presentations.



  1. Jyonouchi H, Geng L, Ruby A,Zimmerman-Bier B. Dysregulated innate immune responses in young children with autism spectrum disorders: their relationship to gastrointestinal symptoms and dietary intervention. Neuropsychobiology. 2005;51(2):77-85.
  2. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T,Nodland M. A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Sep;5(4):251-61.
  3. Lucarelli S, Frediani T, Zingoni AM,Ferruzzi F,Giardini O,Quintieri F,Barbato M,D’Eufemia P,Cardi E. Food allergy and infantile autism. Panminerva Med. 1995 Sep;37(3):137-41.
  4. Millward C, Ferriter M, Calver S,Connell-Jones G. Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(2):CD003498.
  5. Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM. Can the pathophysiology of autism be explained by the nature of the discovered urine peptides? Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Feb;6(1):19-28.
  6. Tapan Audhya, presentation at the Defeat Autism Now! conference, San Diego, October 2002. Audhya reported his measurements of vitamin and mineral levels in the blood of over 150 children with autism compared to 50-100 controls of the same age. He found that the children with autism on average had much lower levels of most vitamins (vitamins A, C, D, and E; all B vitamins except choline)  and some minerals (zinc; magnesium; selenium).
  7. MA Landgreme and AR Landgrebe, Celiac autism: calcium studies and their relationship to celiac disease in autistic patients, The Autistic Syndromes, Amsterdam:  North Holland; New York; Elsevier, pp. 197-205
  8. Alberti A, Pirrone P, Elia M, Waring RH, Romano C  Sulphation deficit in “low-functioning” autistic children: a pilot study.  Biol Psychiatry 1999 Aug 1;46(3):420-4.
  9. Horvath K, Papadimitriou JC, Rabsztyn A, Drachenberg C, Tildon JT. Gastrointestinal Abnormalities in Children with Autistic Disorder. J Pediatr. 1999 Nov;135(5):559-63.
  10. MacFabe, et al.,  Neurobiological effects of intraventricular propionic acid in rats: Possible role of short chain fatty acids on the pathogenesis and characteristics of autism spectrum disorders. Behavioural Brain Research. 176 (2007) 149–169
  11. McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchin E, Lok K, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, O Warner J, Stevenson J. “Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.” Lancel. Published Online, September 6, 2007. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61306-3.

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