It is pretty easy to substitute your child’s favorite foods with gluten-free options—GF waffles, GF pancakes, GF muffins, GF pasta are all readily available in stores. GFCF hotdogs and chicken nuggets are also pretty close to the original gluten containing versions, and easy to substitute. Breads are more difficult to substitute, since gluten’s texture makes bread more difficult to duplicate with gluten-free flours. As you try different brands of GFCF bread, consider making some of your own. Gluten-free breads, with and without yeast, taste much better and have a fresher texture when made at home.
Some aspects of going casein-free are also easy to change: butter substitutes such as ghee and coconut oil are delicious, healthy, and available in most health food stores. Coconut yogurt (by So Delicious) is dairy-free and soy-free, casein-free pudding and ice cream is also nearly indistinguishable from the dairy versions. Milk can be slowly diluted over time with dairy-free milk. Mac and cheese can be made fairly easily without any cheese substitute at all. Melted cheese such as on GF pizza is harder to mimic because of its gooey texture. Fortunately, Galaxy Foods makes a Vegan Rice cheese that is free of casein and caseinate, as well as soy-free, that can be used when you simply must have pizza.
Here are some initial steps for implementing GFCF:
- Experiment. Before removing anything, introduce GFCF alternatives such as rice pasta, GF waffles, and other GFCF foods and snacks-this will support the elimination portion later. Try some prepared foods and mixes. Find options you child likes and that you can substitute later during implementation.
- Explore GFCF resources (books, cookbooks, videos, autism websites) to become familiar with the diet and learn helpful ideas, what to expect, and what foods are allowed. Watch instructional videos – many available at YouTube.
- Create a meal plan—a list of gluten-free and casein-free foods, meals, and snacks your child will eat or that you would like to make on GFCF.
- Shop for foods according to meal plan, as well as purchasing GFCF flours, milks, and other cooking staples.
- Then, begin eliminating one at a time:
- Start with the elimination of casein—for two weeks, then…
- Remove gluten and continue both (gluten-free and casein-free) for three to six months
After you plan and are ready to implement the diet, consider these additional factors:
- Substitute the same foods your child likes with gluten/casein-free options. For example, if they eat waffles every morning, buy rice flour waffles.
- Do not increase the amount of sugar in the diet. When going GFCF, it is common to start substituting anything gluten-free, including high sugar cookies. If you need to continue to use higher sugar foods (if they are already in the diet) during the transition, it is fine; however, you will want to take them out as soon as possible. Therefore, best to avoid them if you can.
- If the package does not say “gluten-free” and “casein-free,” call the manufacturer to be sure. “Wheat-free” and “dairy-free,” do not necessarily mean GFCF. Even if there are no gluten or casein ingredients, you cannot assume GFCF – there may be trace ingredients that do not need to be listed. Also, remember to check that any gluten-free products are also casein-free.
- For younger kids, just make the changes when you can. Put gluten and dairy free options into your usual containers, i.e. put rice milk in the milk container. Make this transition—slowly diluting the dairy to non-dairy over a week or two.
- To aid digestion of wheat and dairy, try using a digestive enzyme with DPPIV. While it will not take the place of doing the diet, it can help children ease their way into the diet and help with cross-contamination until the diet is being implemented fully.
- When following a GFCF diet, it is common to over-substitute corn and soy in place of gluten and casein. Corn and soy are also very common food sensitivities, and removing these foods as well can make a remarkable difference on the health, behavior, and attention for children with autism. I suggest soy-free and corn-free, or only organic corn.
- Make sure your child’s nutritional needs are met. Diet choices should be as healthy as possible, and add a calcium supplement and/or a proper multivitamin/mineral formula to make sure a child’s vitamin and mineral needs are met. Consider working with a nutrition professional to ensure all nutritional needs, including protein intake and calories, are met. My book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, will help guide your efforts.
- As you get the hang of the diet and your child is GFCF, begin to strategize on how you can introduce healthier foods such as vegetables and fresh vegetable juices, fermented foods, antioxidant-rich foods and other nutrient-dense choices. See Cooking To Heal for many tips, recipes and demonstrations.
Preventing cross-contamination can get so “nit-picky” and overwhelming that it causes some parents not implement a special diet at all – this needn’t be. To keep things simple, initially just be concerned with the major cross-contamination offenders such as: bulk foods, commercial fryers that fry breaded foods, the toaster, and wooden cutting boards or wooden utensils that can get gluten and casein lodged in the porous wood. Everything else that is non-porous can be washed well.
Foods your child can eat on a GFCF Diet