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Special Diets and Autism Ranking: Unable to rate

Key Features

Special diets are diets which have been modified in some way to bring about specific healthcare benefits. Most special diets used to help people on the autism spectrum are ‘exclusion’ diets. This means you avoid or reduce foodstuffs which may cause specific symptoms (such as additives in the additive-free diet). Other examples of exclusion diets are the gluten-free, casein-free diet, and the salicylate-free diet.

In some diets you have to exclude some foodstuffs but include others, such as the specific carbohydrate diet. This excludes complex carbohydrates (such as those found in rice and potatoes) and replaces them with simple carbohydrates (such as those found in bananas and squashes).

In practice, many diets share similar characteristics. For example, the Feingold diet is a mixture of the additive-free diet and the salicylate-free diet, while the specific carbohydrate diet incorporates elements of the gluten-free diet.

It is important to remember that small quantities of many ingredients such as wheat and milk are used in many different foods. For example, gluten or its derivatives can appear in a wide range of things including biscuits, nuggets and chips, as well as some flavourings.

Some people think that diet is a key component of any intervention designed to help people on the autism spectrum. Some people also think that modifying the diet and the gastrointestinal system is necessary for the success of other treatments and therefore should come first.

Diets are sometimes combined with other therapies. For example, some people advocate following a particular diet, taking one or more dietary supplements and using detoxification techniques such as chelation.

Specific diets

The following is a list of some diets which have been reported to be beneficial to people on the autism spectrum.

Many of these diets share similar characteristics. For example, the Feingold diet is a mixture of the additive-free diet and the salicylate-free diet, while the specific carbohydrate diet incorporates elements of the gluten-free diet.

  • Additive-free diet, also known as the chemical-free diet. Requires you to avoid additives, such as colourings, flavour enhancers, sweeteners and preservatives. Specific programmes which incorporate an additive-free diet include the Feingold Diet and the Special Foods Diet.
  • Allergy-free diet. Requires you to avoid those foodstuffs which have been shown to cause you allergies (the most common include gluten, dairy, cane sugar, corn, soy, yeast, peanuts, egg, artificial colours and preservatives).
  • Casein-free diet, also known as the dairy-free diet. Requires you to avoid all sources of casein, a protein found in many dairy products, such as milk, butter and yoghurt.  (In practice, there are numerous proteins other than casein in dairy products that some people may react to.)
  • Detox diet. Also known as the detoxification diet or the natural diet. Requires you to avoid processed foods, to eat fresh, organic food and, as far as possible, to eat raw fruit and vegetables.
  • Feingold diet, also known as the Feingold program. Requires you to avoid a range of additives (such as synthetic colourings and flavourings, and preservatives) as well as salicylates (a natural plant chemical found in some foodstuffs and medicines)
  • Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet. A version of the selective carbohydrate diet which mainly excludes sugars and starches and which mainly consists of meats, fish, eggs, fermented foods and vegetables.
  • Gluten-free diet. Also known as the cereal-free diet. Requires you to avoid all sources of gluten, a protein found in some cereals such as wheat, oats, rye and barley.
  • Ketogenic diet, also known as the low carbohydrate diet and the starvation diet.  A high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet designed to mimic many of the biochemical changes associated with prolonged starvation.
  • Lutein-free diet. Requires you to avoid all sources of lutein, a carotenoid found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale,
  • Nourishing Traditions diet, also known as the Weston A. Price diet. Requires you to consume a combination of traditional food types including saturated fats, unprocessed dairy products, sprouting grains, stocks and broths while avoiding processed foods.
  • Oxalate free or low oxalate diet. Requires you to avoid or reduce oxalates, crystals found in many plants where they concentrate light and boost photosynthesis.
  • Palaeolithic diet, also known as the paleo diet, caveman diet, stone age diet or hunter-gatherer diet. Requires you to follow the diet believed to have been followed by early humans i.e. eating mainly meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts, and avoiding grains, legumes, dairy products, salt and processed fat and sugar.
  • Phenol-free diet. Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, is an aromatic compound. Foodstuffs with high levels of phenol include apple juice, citrus fruit juice and chocolate. Specific programmes which restrict phenol include the failsafe diet, the Feingold diet, Sara's diet.
  • Purine free diet. Purines are nucleic acids found in the body and in some foods. Foodstuffs which have high levels of purines include some fish (such as anchovies and mackerel) some meats and meat products (such as beef, offal, and gravy) and some beverages, such as tea and coffee.
  • Salicylate free/low salicylate diet. Salicylates are natural plant chemicals common in many fruits, berries, and some vegetables, as well as honey, yeast extracts and almonds. Specific programmes which incorporate a salicylate-free diet include the Feingold diet.
  • Selective carbohydrate diet. Requires you to exclude or reduce some forms of complex carbohydrates, for example, all starches and complex sugars and replace them with simple carbohydrates e.g. glucose and fructose. The individual also uses appropriate dairy products (such as goat milk yogurt) or probiotics to repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.
  • Serotoninergic diet. Diet high in foods thought to boost the neurotransmitter serotonin - foods containing protein (and particularly the amino acid tryptophan) and food rich in carbohydrates.
  • Yeast-free diet, also known as the antifungal diet. Requires you to avoid fermented substances which contain yeasts (such as breads, vinegar, alcohol, cheese, soy sauce, coffee and processed meats) or substances which encourage yeasts to grow (such as natural and refined sugars, including fruit). Specific programmes which incorporate a yeast-free diet include the body ecology diet.
Updated
31 Oct 2017
Last Review
01 Jan 2017
Next Review
01 Jan 2020