Frequently Asked Questions
Implementing a Gluten-Free and Casein-Free Diet

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Beginning a gfcf diet can seem intimidating and confusing. Following are some of the most frequently asked questions, and my input on them!

My child has not been diagnosed with autism.
Will he or she still benefit from a gfcf diet?

If your child is experiencing bowel problems (either diarrhea or constipation), language or social skill difficulties, problems with sensory integration (including difficulty processing touch, sounds, etc.), or difficulty monitoring his or her activity level, or if there is some other indication of allergies or intolerances, your child may possibly benefit from this diet, with or without a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

If your young child benefits from this diet, there is also the possiblity of avoiding (or losing) a diagnosis of ASD, as symptoms decrease.

Of course, not everyone with the above symptoms has a gluten or casein intolerance, and not everyone will benefit from this diet. However, I certainly consider it worth a try, since there exists such a tremendous potential for success!

My child is a picky eater. Won't he or she starve?

We certainly thought our son would. However, when we looked objectively at his already-limited diet, we realized that everything he was eating was gluten or casein based. He existed on crackers, bread, yogurt, milk, and cheese!

It is important to remember that people with an intolerance to gluten and casein actually crave foods that contain them. Research has shown that when the body is unable to break down these proteins, they pass from the intestines into the bloodstream (this is known as the "leaky gut syndrome"), building up a substance similar to morphine. This is what is theorized to cause autistic-like symptoms such as hand-flapping, sensory dysfunction, lack of eye contact, etc. In other words, it isn't surprising that a child with an intolerance to gluten and casein would be a picky eater, and prefer foods that contain these items!

Other difficulties such as muscle weakness and/or sensory integration disorder can add to the picky eating problem. Our son had difficulty moving food around with his tongue, causing him to choke often, and to avoid anything that required much chewing, such as sticky foods, meat, and raisins. Other children avoid slimy things. We found it helpful to consult with an occupational therapist, and to have a swallow study done (it's a completely painless procedure where they watch--via a form of x-ray--a child eat, chew, and swallow). Our son went through several months of feeding therapy to help with these difficulties.

Although beginning the diet required us to make several changes, our son eventually adapted, and now eats afrom all the food groups. His weight has climbed from the 5th percentile to the 50th (he's by no means "starving!"), and he has been extremely healthy, with significantly reduced ear and respiratory infections!

Is it expensive to implement a gfcf diet?

I do not have definite figures for how our food budget changed once we began the gfcf diet. I know that specialty foods tend to be more (sometimes MUCH more) expensive than other foods. However, we eat very differently than we used to. I bake most of our treats and meals from scratch, rather than investing in "TV Dinners," ready-made snacks, or eating out. Because we believe very strongly in the diet and its positive effects on our family, we purchase what we need to without much regard to cost.

However, there are ways to save money. Buying in large quantities, using "generic" ingredients when possible, etc. can help. See my cookbook for more money-saving tips.


How do I explain the diet to my child and others?

We began by explaining to our children (then ages 3 and 5) that we were going to be doing an "experiment" to see how food might be making them feel. We talked specifically about the changes we were seeing, such as, "Did you notice that you aren't worried about being late to school today? I think it might be because we have changed what you're eating." Our boys are so familiar with the diet and how "cheating" affects them now that they can usually identify when they have eaten something "illegal." ("Cheating" affects them in different ways. One son becomes constipated when he consumes dairy or gluten. The other has difficult concentrating, and invariably dresses himself backwards, even though he is by nature very meticulous!)

Once we determined that gluten and casein were causing problems for our boys, we began using the term "allergy" to describe the need to avoid them. Although an intolerance is not an allergy, and won't show up on traditional allergy tests, the word "allergy" conveys a more serious need to avoid something. Our boys are good at informing people, "I can't eat that. I'm allergic to it." It has also made other people (teachers, relatives, etc.) more receptive to the diet, and to the need to follow it strictly.

Isn't there a test to determine whether my child is intolerant
to gluten and casein?

There are some labs which do specialized testing of the urine or blood to determine whether a person is likely intolerant to these proteins. (See related links for more information.)

It is advisable to work with a qualified health professional when determining whether to try this diet. However, it has been our experience that the medical community is slow to embrace the thought that food intolerances would affect symptoms such as those which lead to a diagnosis of autism, and equally slow to believe that a medical test would be helpful in determining the liklihood of this. We were told that an allergy elimination diet was the only way to accurately determine the presence of an intolerance, and our physician would not sign off on the lab work. For us, it was evident after only a few days on the diet that our boys were intolerant to gluten and casein.

How long will I have to follow this diet once I begin it?

It is generally accepted that in order to truly determine whether the diet is working, you should plan to implement it for at least 3 months. (Dairy can be eliminated from the body within days, but it takes months to remove all traces of gluten). Sometimes there are dramatic results such as we observed in our children. Other times the results are less noticeable or dramatic.

Once it is determined that the diet is working, individual responses vary as to whether and when gluten and casein can again be consumed. The theory is that after eliminating them for a time, you should be able to at least consume small amounts without incident. We occasionally "cheat," (only on gluten, not on dairy), but have evidence that it should only be done infrequently (see FAQ, above). Our plan right now is to continue the diet indefinitely, as a true "lifestyle" change. In fact, just recently my 7-year-old son said to me, "Mom, I need to get your cookbook so that when I am grown up I can cook everything I need!"

There are other cookbooks available. Why have you written another?

When I first implemented the gfcf diet in our home, I spent hours researching the Internet and library for recipes that we could use. Unfortunately, many of the results were either inedible, or only acceptable to adults, not picky kids. Many of the recipes used obscure ingredients, which were not only hard to find, but very expensive.

I love to cook, and quickly learned that I achieved much better results by adapting all my old favorite recipes. I began adapting them one at a time, with rave reviews from my children, husband, friends, and relatives. Eventually, I realized that I needed to have the recipes and tips written down so that others could cook for my children.

As word spread that we were "doing the diet," I began receiving numerous phone calls and e-mails from other parents who were interested in implementing the diet. I quickly realized that they, too, would benefit from the use of my recipes and experience with a wide variety of products. The Gray Center was interested in making this book available to whomever could benefit from it, so they agreed to publish it.

I believe that this will be a helpful book for those interested in implementing a gfcf diet in their home. The recipes are easy to follow, even for those who do not like (or have abundant time) to cook. The recipes should also be a refreshing change for those who have been following the diet for a long time.

I continue to develop new recipes, which I will share with this site's visitors. My hope is that my cookbook and this site will help those who are implementing the gfcf diet in their home!


The Gray Center

See related links for more places to get information on the gfcf diet and autistic spectrum disorders.

Related Links