Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine himself, thousands of years ago said: “Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.” The idea of eating a healthy, whole foods diet to improve health and the practice of using foods to treat illnesses may seem like a radical, new age, alternative approach to healthcare, but it’s been around for thousands of year. It’s an approach still widely used in most parts of the world. So it should be no surprise that there have been numerous studies linking certain foods with mood, behavioral and neurological disorders, like ADHD, ADD, ODD, Autism, dyslexia and even depression and anxiety.
If you have a child with any of these disorders you might be familiar with the Feingold Diet or the Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) Diet. There are countless articles about these and other diet changes that may improve symptoms of ADHD, ADD, ODD, Autism, dyslexia, etc. If you are eating the standard American diet (as we were at the time), then the magnitude of dietary recommendations can be shocking and, quite honestly, too daunting to implement. Aside from that, there is a lot of controversy as to whether or not diet change is even effective.
With all the information, it’s hard to know where to start. The websites I linked above are good but I didn’t find them until recently. The girls’ (clinically obese) pediatrician was no help at all. She pretty much dismissed the idea before I even finished asking the question. Her response (complete with an eye roll, a smirk and feigning preoccupation with her fingernails) was basically “Yeah, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about diet changes, but it’s a waste of time.” Or something to that affect. At the time, I was too naive to challenger her, and it was just easier to believe her.
But, even before we improved our diet, I couldn’t help but feel, deep down, that there must be something to this diet thing. Now, since we’ve already made quite a few diet changes over the last year and because I now have Brian’s support and the support of our (new) pediatrician, I’m ready to try it.
Through a friend, I found a new, more holistic pediatrician who agrees that nutrition plays a major role in healthcare. She helped me connect some dots. Linsey’s has seasonal allergies and has also had problems with acid reflux, frequent stomach aches, unexplained vomiting, frequent infections, eczema and irregular bowel movements since birth. With the changes we’ve already made to our diet, many of these problems have virtually disappeared. A few of them are still around, but are less frequent and less severe.
STEP ONE: We’ve already taken the first step by eliminating artificial food coloring and flavors, preservatives and additives as well as genetically modified foods (GMO’s) and foods tainted with synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics and those filled with added sugar. The easiest way to accomplish this was to eliminate highly processed junk foods and prepackaged meals and (if we must have it) only buy those that specifically say they are free of artificial ingredients, hormones, antibiotics and GMO’s. Buying organic is another way we’ve avoided chemicals and GMO’s. If sugar or a sugar substitute (in any of their many forms) are listed in the first five ingredients, I usually don’t buy it. (See the many names for sugars and sugar substitutes at the bottom of this post.) I buy mostly organically grown fruits and vegetables and thoroughly wash non-organic produce.
STEP TWO: The new and improved pediatrician recommended we eliminate casein (dairy) from Linsey’s diet. No cereal and milk, no ice cream, no cheese, no mac and cheese! You may remember that I don’t believe it’s healthy to restrict foods, so this is tough for me. Of course we had a few meltdowns and venting in the first couple days, but it’s been much easier than I expected. There are non-dairy substitutes for milk and ice cream (soy, almond, coconut and rice milk and milk products). Cutting out cheese, except for an occasional – maybe once a week – light sprinkle, has gone virtually unnoticed by most of the family (shhh…. don’t tell them). She also recommended fish oil and probiotic supplements. I am also going to try to incorporate more fermented foods and beverages (which naturally contain probiotics) in our diets. My water kefir grains are thriving, but I still don’t have enough to supply probiotics for the entire family. (What’s water kefir? Click here to find out.)
STEP THREE: At her follow up the doctor recommended we eliminate gluten. Yikes! More restrictions. This is taking some creativity and we are working to break down preconceived notions about what foods are eaten at certain times of the day. If they want leftovers from last night’s dinner for breakfast, then they can have it. I was hoping we’d survive without bread and pancakes, etc. But the transition is hard, so I bought some gluten free bread and pancake mix to hold us over until I have time to find my own recipes.
Linsey’s glucose level was a little low on our second visit. Hypoglycemia can cause shakiness, dysphoria (nervousness, anxiety, grumpiness) and sometimes even aggressive behavior. This can happen when you’re hungry. The doctor recommended that we try to make sure she eat a little something between meals, like a piece of fruit, and try to avoid foods with a high glycemic index. This may have more to do with her new calmer demeanor, but it is hard to know what she’s benefiting from the most. We’ll keep this up for another three to six months and then reassess it’s effectiveness and maybe consider reintroducing small amounts of these foods to test her sensitivity.
She also recommended a Vitamin D supplement because Linsey’s value was a little low. Most of us would probably benefit from a Vitamin D supplement, especially when we can’t spend at least fifteen minutes in the sun each day without sunblock. The more skin exposure the better. However, I do recommend that you at least wear a bathing suit (unless of course you are sure you have complete privacy). Please don’t let anyone catch you sun bathing in the nude. That might be really embarrassing. And make sure you get some sunblock after fifteen minutes (especially if you’re nude… ouch)!
EFFECTS SO FAR: Last week was one of the most peaceful weeks this household has seen in awhile. Most notably, the girls are more patient with each other. I’ve seen the biggest change in Linsey. She used to blow her fuse quickly and often. Now I see her remaining calm in situations that used to trigger outbursts. The “allergy shiners” (dark circles under her eyes) are fading. The bumps on the backs of her arms are gone, and lets just say her digestive system is working much better. I’ve been following the diet in support and to see if I could benefit. I have noticed subtle differences as well in my mood and energy level. Of course we’ll need more time to see if this diet truly makes a difference.
Here’s a summary of the girls new diet and supplements, a prescribed combination of the Feingold and GFCF diets:
- Eliminate processed snack foods and prepackaged meals
- No foods with artificial ingredients, chemicals, GMO’s, antibiotics or hormones
- No casein
- No gluten
- Avoid added sugar
- Eat more organic whole foods, especially vegetables, fruits and protein
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin D supplement or 15 minutes in the sun each day
- Fresh fruit between meals
Finally, she recommended that I check out The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook, Updated and Revised: The Ultimate Guide to the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet. (Casein is the problem causing protein found in dairy, while gluten is the culprit in wheat, barley, rye and about a gazillion derivatives.) So far the book has been extremely helpful and informative. I recommend this book if you are thinking of trying something similar.
ABOUT GLUTEN: The gluten free diet is controversial for people who do not have Celiac’s Disease. It can be unhealthy to go gluten free and is not recommended if you are healthy. However, wheat is one of the most common food allergens and gluten sensitivity is likely under diagnosed or misdiagnosed as something else. If you have frequent unexplained abdominal pain, bloating, gas, headaches, some auto immune disorders like eczema (sometimes dry, irritated skin on the elbows and knees is misdiagnosed as psoriasis) and joint pain, excessive fatigue, depression, constipation, diarrhea or alternating constipation and diarrhea (which may be misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome), then you may want to do a little more research about gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance and Celiac’s Disease. If you are sensitive to gluten you may have internal inflammation that could cause you to be more susceptible to UTI’s, vaginal infections, polyps, colitis and even colds, flu, sinus and eye infections. Asthma can also be a sign of food allergy. If you feel strongly that you or your child might be sensitive to gluten, I recommend that you talk to your doctor about it. If they dismiss your concerns and don’t offer you a satisfying explanation – find a new doctor.
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, SugarTwin)
- Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
List of Sugar Names
Cane juice crystals
Corn syrup solids
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Grape juice concentrate
High-fructose corn Syrup
Organic raw sugar