A good diet can contribute to a better quality of life with individuals under the autism spectrum. Many of these individuals suffer from food allergies or sensitivities, inflammation, GI disturbances, autoimmune issues, and behaviors that are impacted by the foods they eat and environmental exposures. Eating real foods, that are both nutrient dense and low inflammatory, are the best ways you can take control of health and behavior symptoms. Symptoms like focus issues, hyperactivity, brain-fog, headaches, eczema, digestive disorders, congestion, sleep issues, and joint pain can improve by incorporating more of whole foods and eliminating artificial, toxic, and inflammatory foods.
“Eating real foods, that are both nutrient dense and low inflammatory, are
the best ways you can take control of health and behavior symptoms.”
The best way to optimize a diet is to learn how to swap out some of the foods that aggravate symptoms with low-inflammatory options. The reason why most individuals under the autism spectrum are encouraged to eliminate gluten, dairy, refined grains, and sugar is because these are some of the most highly-inflammatory foods on the market that impact the brain, gut and inflammation.
Most recipes can be modified to be egg free, soy free, nut free, and adapted to special diets. You can be creative when converting recipes and switching to ingredients that are more conducive for your health conditions or special diet your family may be on. To help you get started, IAT has provided the following list of healthy and low-inflammatory food items that you can use to replace ingredients in recipes that may aggravate your health symptoms.
Replacement for Flour
Most flours on the market today are overly-refined and contain more gluten than products did 10 years ago. Gluten has taken the top spot as the most inflammatory food product. Inflammatory foods only aggravate behavior and autoimmune conditions. Highly inflammatory foods should be avoided by anyone with autoimmune and inflammation conditions. Grains and gluten products are not only highly inflammatory, they are hard for the gut to breakdown. In some individuals, gluten proteins cannot be broken down and digested properly, and these partially digested proteins get into the bloodstream and impact mood, memory and behavior.
Fortunately, there are plenty of gluten-free flour and products on the market now. Some great gluten-free flour products include arrowroot flour, buckwheat flour, cassava flour, coconut flour, tigernut flour. You may even want to keep your eye out for coffee flour which is the new gluten free flour on the market. Each of these flour options have different qualities, tastes, and textures that you will need to be aware of. If you are trying to select a more low-glycemic gluten-free flour option, you will want to choose buckwheat flour, coconut flour, tigernut flour, and other nut flours. Some of these flours are not at your local grocery stores but can be found at online retailers like Thrive Market and Amazon. When replacing flour with gluten-free flour products, you may need to mix certain baking products longer and add additional liquids.
Even if a bread or grain product is listed as gluten-free, you still need to exercise caution. Some of the gluten-free bread and cereal products out there are filled with toxic additives, chemicals, and artificial ingredients that our bodies don’t know how to break down. If you need tortilla shells, pancakes or pizza crusts, there are plenty of healthy gluten-free options out there. Look for products that contain arrowroot flour, cassava flour, coconut flour, or nut flours to replace bread and grain products that contain corn, wheat, barley, spelt or rye products. You can also use lettuce and/or cabbage leaves to wrap around sandwiches and burgers in place of the bread or buns.
Replacements for Dairy
Dairy is the second-most inflammatory food. Fortunately, there are several easy swaps you can make to replace the dairy in recipes. Replace dairy milk with coconut milk, coconut butter, coconut cream, or coconut yogurt (our favorite is Coyo Brand Coconut Yogurt). When buying coconut milk, it’s important to always choose 100% organic, full-fat coconut milk made with only coconut meat and water to avoid inflammatory additives and thickeners.
Ghee, also known as clarified butter, and coconut oil are two options for replacing butter in cooking and baking. Depending on the recipe, you can also swap milk with water or bone broth.
Other non-dairy options include almond milk (if tolerated), cashew milk, flax milk, hemp milk, and tigernut milk. You can even purchase powdered coconut milk.
Replacements for Caffeine
Caffeine is not a friend to inflammation or autoimmune issues. If you are a caffeine consumer, we recommend taking 7-10 days to gradually taper off the caffeine. This can be accomplished by cutting the amount of caffeine consumed every couple of days by 1/4 -1/2.
If you are relying on caffeine for energy, there are many caffeine-free beverages you can drink to give you that same energy boost! Herbal teas are a great substitute for green or black varieties. If you are using green tea for medicinal purposes, you can find a lower caffeinated green tea or re-use the tea bags to reduce the amount of caffeine. Some great herbal teas options are chamomile, dandelion root, ginger, marshmallow root (use caution if you have blood pressure issues).
Replacements for Eggs in Baking
There are many ingredients that can be used to replace eggs in recipe (see image below). Eggs provide texture and lift to baked goods, so you will want to find a good replacement for eggs in your recipes. A good egg replacement that serves as a binder in baked goods is gelatin. Other potential swaps for eggs for baking that are not pictured include avocado, coconut milk yogurt, and baked mashed squash or sweet potato.
Replacements for Vegetable Oil & Hydrogenated Oils
Vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils are highly processed and highly inflammatory. Vegetable oils that should be avoided include canola, corn, peanut, safflower, and soybean. Hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated oil, and trans fats are very damaging to the health and are found in a lot of processed foods and fake-foods like margarine. Replace these inflammatory fats and oils with fats and oils that are less processed. When cooking at higher temperatures you want to use fats and oils that have a higher smoke point like avocado oil, ghee (clarified butter), or palm shortening. If you are doing more low-temperature cooking, then extra virgin olive oil is a good option. Palm shortening and ghee work as better alternatives when replacing butter and lard in baked goods, especially cookies.
Replacements for Sugar
You can replace refined sugar with dates, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, honey, and molasses. Monkfruit and stevia are natural sweeteners that should not impact yeast or blood sugar. Erythritol and Xylitol are natural sweeteners but should be used with caution as these sugar alcohols can cause GI disturbances. Individuals with yeast, candida, SIBO issues may have to avoid all forms of sugar and sugar alcohols completely. Those on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet or GAPS diet can only use monosaccharides like honey, applesauce, bananas, and coconut sugar. If you are replacing the sugar in recipes with honey, you will use less honey than the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. Dates can also be used to substitute for brown sugar in a 1:1 ratio (soak the dates first and drain). I find sugar alcohols can be tough on many people’s guts, so I avoid or limit them if an individual is having gut issues. Even if you are using a healthier sweetener options, remember that sweets are still treats. You still want to keep sweet treats to a minimum.
Replacements for Seasonings, Spices & Soy Sauce
Spices are amazing ways to add health promoting phytonutrients and flavor to recipes. However, individuals with sensitivities to nightshade will need to avoid spice like paprika, cayenne, and chili powder. Some low-inflammatory seasonings that enhance the health benefits of the meal and add flavor include apple cider vinegar (unless you have a histamine issue), citrus juice and zest (unless you have a histamine issue), fresh herbs, and olive tapenade.
You do need to be aware of soy sauce. Some individuals react poorly to soy. Soy sauces contain both gluten and soy. If you are just avoiding gluten, you can replace the soy sauce in recipes with Tamari Soy Sauce. If you are avoiding both the gluten and the soy, you can replace the soy sauce with liquid coconut aminos.
Watch out for gravies, ketchups, soups. Many of them have gluten added as thickening agents. Always read your labels for hidden sources of gluten. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/hidden-sources-of-gluten#1
Replacements Potatoes, Rice, Corn, Tapioca & Pasta
Potatoes and rice, tapioca, and other starchy grains should be avoided if blood sugar regulation and yeast are issues. These flours can be replaced with the gluten-free flour items listed above.
White potatoes can be replaced with sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes can be used in any recipe that calls for white potatoes. Steamed and pureed cauliflower or parsnips are a great substitute for mashed potatoes. Rather than snacking on potato chips, there are some great Vegan options loaded with inulin fiber called Vegan Rob’s. You can also replace chips with cassava chips, kale chips, plantain chips, sweet potato chips, or sweet potato crackers.
Corn can also be of concern with certain individuals who are sensitive to gluten. Corn is one of the top 6 genetically modified foods and comes from the same grass family as wheat. Corn contains protein zein, which is similar to the zonulin in wheat products. Zonulin is a protein that modulates the permeability of the tight junctions between the cells of the wall of the digestive tract and causes a condition called leaky gut. A good replacement for corn starch is arrowroot powder. It can be used in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement for cornstarch.
Rice can be replaced with cauliflower rice! Costco and other grocery stores now carry prepared cauliflower and broccoli rice. You can make your own cauliflower rice placing the florets in a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower reaches a rice-like consistency. You can also use a cheese grater to make cauliflower rice.
You can replace pasta noodles with spaghetti squash. Other pasta replacement options include carrots, sweet potatoes and zucchini spiralized into noodles. They are excellent alternatives for pastas and stir fry. You can buy your own spiralizer at most grocery stores and online.
Replacements for Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a tricky category because a lot of people with inflammation, elevated histamine, and food allergies/sensitivities may have an issue with nuts. Sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter are great alternatives for people with peanut and other nut allergies, but still need to be used with caution for those with histamine sensitivity.
If you can handle tree nuts you can find great butters and flours made from almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts. Tigernuts are another option. Tigernuts are actually little tubers that are full of healthy fats.