GFCF Diet…What You Need to Know

May 14, 2012

Gluten Free, Casein Free Diet

There are many diets that both doctors and parents utilize to help kiddos on the spectrum.  The Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) is just one option and is the diet we decided to pursue.  Zakary has been on the GFCF diet for about 4 years and we have seen improved results in weight gain, mood, eye contact and socialization.

What are gluten and casein? Can removing them from my child’s diet really improve the symptoms of autism?

Gluten and gluten-like proteins are found in wheat and other grains, including rye, barley, bulgar, durum, kamut and spelt.  They are also found in food starches, semolina, couscous, malt, some vinegars, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, flavorings, artificial colors and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.

Casein is a protein found in milk and foods containing milk, such as cheese, cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whey and even some brands of margarine. It also may be added to non-milk products such as soy cheese and hot dogs in the form of caseinate.

“The GFCF Diet is one of the very first recommendations made by the Autism Research Institute.  It is considered to be a cornerstone of the bio-medical approach (formerly called DAN which stands for Defeat Autism Now). The reasons are many: first, many of the children lack the [dpp4] enzyme that allows them to break down the peptides from gluten and casein. As a result, a subset of autistic individuals have these improperly digested proteins which cross the intestinal membrane, travel in the blood, pass through the blood-brain barrier and interfere with neurotransmission. When this happens, Dr. Karl Reichelt, M.D., Ph.D., and other researchers have shown that these opioid-like substances can be responsible for poor attention, odd behavior, a deficit in socialization skills and poor speech.  A researcher at the New Jersey Medical School’s Autism Center found that autistic children were more likely to have abnormal immune responses to milk, soy and wheat than typically-developing children, according to Cutting-Edge Therapies for Autism 2011-2012.  Medical tests can determine if your child has a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, casein, soy and other foods. Any physician can order these tests.

The diet will seem like a lot of work, at first. You must carefully read the ingredients on food packages. Beware of hidden casein and gluten in ingredient lists, such as curds, caseinate, lactose, bran, spices or certain types of vinegar.  To help individuals, many grocery stores have started to label gluten free foods which is a big help!

So what can my child eat on a GFCF diet?

Naturally gluten-free foods include fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, potatoes, and most pure spices, along with these grains:  buckwheat, corn, flax meal or flour, millet, nut flowers, potato starch or flour, quinoa, rice, sorghum and tapioca.  You can find bread, crackers, cookies, pretzels, waffles, cereal, and pasta made of rice, potato or other gluten-free flours in many grocery, specialty and health food stores. Several online retailers sell GFCF foods and vitamins, including Amazon.  We have found a substitute for virtually everything Zak used to eat before we started the diet.  It took time to find what we liked and that is why we have also created a Products We Like page as well as some of our favorite recipes so you do not need to taste as many bad things as we did.  For example Zak still eats waffles, pancakes & muffins and drinks milk (Almond & Coconut).

Some common food brands that are naturally GFCF:  Rice Chex, Fritos, Heinz Ketchup, Hormel Natural Choice Meats and many more… some brands have come out with specific products that are GFCF (Biscuit & Betty Crocker to just name a few).

GFCF Diet Implementation Plan

Some advocates of dietary intervention suggest removing one food from the diet at a time, so you will know which food was causing a problem. It also is helpful to ask people who do not know about the dietary change if they see improvements after a few weeks.

It’s often suggested to remove milk first because the body will clear itself of milk/casein the quickest. Gluten may be removed a month after the elimination of milk. It may take up to six months on a gluten-free diet for the body to rid itself of all gluten. That is why most advocates suggest giving the diet a trial of six months.

Step One:  Remove all dairy for a minimum of 2 weeks but 30 days is recommended

Step Two:  Remove all gluten (gluten can take up to 6 months to rid from body so stick with it)

Step Three:  Remove any additional foods your child tested allergic or intolerant to that have not already been removed

Step Four:  Check all products that your child consumes or puts anywhere on their body (lotions, shampoos, toothpaste).  Look for gluten free products – find our favorites on our Products We Like page.

 Our Experience & Advice

  • The diet will seem so incredibly hard when you start.  You will feel like your child can not have anything they love.  DO NOT GIVE UP.  Also, do not beat yourself up when you cave in and let your child “cheat” because it will happen.  Get back on the diet & work hard to not fall off.  Unfortunately it needs to be 100% elimination in order to see the best results.  It is so hard to say no to something your child wants.  Keep in mind your goal and that your kiddo will feel so much better in the long run & you will find lots of food that they will start to really enjoy.
  • Our favorite grocery stores are Sprouts & Whole Foods although many local grocery stores, even Walmart are starting to carry GF & CF products.  We also buy several foods from Amazon in bulk.  The diet will be more expensive than a typical diet.  We try to make as many items as possible to cut down on the cost however there are some items we struggled with creating “edible” options and have decided store bought was the way to go.  Again, check out our Products We Like page to see some of our favorite things!  Also, stock up when items are on sale.  Also, if you get a prescription from your doctor for the diet, some costs can be itemized on your tax returns.
  • There are several GFCF cook books.  We have used several and highly recommend The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook.  There are also several good replacement tricks for gluten or casein items in a recipe.  We suggest doing an internet search when a replacement is needed for good ideas.  If you would like some starter recipes, go to our contact page and send us a request.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Amy May 16, 2012 at 2:23 AM

Fascinating blog article! Well done, wondered if you minded me linking to your blog from mine – it is – we have a section on food and it would be great to get this out there more, cheers


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