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Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

Nutritional Intake Study

A study, published in 2009 in the Journal for Autism and other Developmental Disorders, by Alison C. Herndon and colleagues entitled Does Nutritional Intake Differ Between Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Typical Development? investigated whether or not there was a significant difference between the nutritional intake of these two groups. The reason for this study was due to a common reporting that individuals with autism are selective eaters. The investigators wanted to determine whether or not individuals with autism were getting the same macro- and micro-nutrients as same-aged children without autism.

They found that children with ASD consumed much more vitamin B6, vitamin E and non-dairy protein and less calcium and dairy servings. The lower number of dairy servings were not a factor of the children with ASD being on the GFCF diet (in which dairy products are eliminated) which was confirmed by reanalyzing the numbers after excluding these participants. They also found that both groups (ASD and neurotypical) were consuming the recommended number of calories per day.

There were two interesting finding in this study. The first is that they found the two groups to be comparable in their intake of calories and macro- and micro-nutrients. The differences they did find were no longer statistically significant when the participants on the GFCF diet were excluded from analysis. This points to the idea that parents who choose to place their children on the GFCF diet need to be aware of potential nutritional deficits.

An important note to make here is that any dietary interventions should not be implemented without first consulting your pediatrician, allergist and a behavioral specialist. Dietary interventions have not been shown to be effective in treating symptoms of autism. There are, however, individual who do have allergies, intolerances or sensitivities to specific foods. If you find that your child does have reactions to certain foods (discovered by working with an allergist) then it will be important to work with a behaviorist to create a data collection system that will track target behaviors before and after the diet is implemented to determine whether or not the dietary intervention effects this target behavior.

The second finding of interest is not related to individual with autism, but our nation as a whole. The investigators found that all children in the study had “adequate intakes for all nutrients except for fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin E, and vitamin D, where large proportions of both groups fell below the [daily recommended intake] cutoff”. While both groups generally met the energy intake requirements (i.e. adequate number of calories), on average the participants in both groups consumed fewer servings than recommended in each category. The current recommendations are 5-12 servings of grains, 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2-3 servings of non-dairy protein, and 2-4 servings of milk products. This finding is not directly related to autism, but adequate diet an nutrition is important to growth and development. It should be a goal of all families, with and without children with autism, to make sure their children are getting a balanced diet which meets the daily recommended intake (DRI) values. The book “The 10-Step Nutrition Plan to Help Treat Your Child’s Autism, Asperger’s, or ADHD” by Elizabeth Strickland is a great place to start in making these changes.

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