Did you know that April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day? And the entire month of April is now dedicated to Autism Acceptance. There’s a reason for this growing attention. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of children identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) nearly tripled between 2000 and 2016, to 1 in 54 children (1.9% of all children). And according to their 2021 report, that number has continued to rise. It’s now estimated that 1 in 44 children (2.3% of all children) have been identified with ASD.
Despite the dramatic rise, treatments for heavily symptomatic cases of ASD are limited. Consequently, many families end up trialing therapies, like special diets. The most popular one is the gluten-free casein-free diet.
Does the Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet Work for ASD?
Scientists are perplexed by this topic. Just a few clinical studies have been done on autism and diet, yielding a mixed bag of results. But they can’t seem to ignore the reality that many people are seeing real world results with dietary changes, like cutting out gluten and casein, the primary protein in milk.
Researchers have suggested a scientific correlation in which peptides from gluten and casein may cause excessive opioid activity that results in many of the physiological and psychological symptoms associated with autism. Other autism nutrition experts, like Julie Matthews of Nourishing Hope, believe this is exacerbated by digestive difficulties in people with ASD.
To back this up, the Autism Research Institute led a study in which over 23,000 parents of autism reported on the success of various treatments. A resounding 65% of participants saw notable symptom improvement with the gluten-free casein-free diet, with only 2% reporting worsening symptoms. On the contrary, of the more than 50 medical drugs tested, only 30% saw symptom improvement, while 31% actually had their symptoms worsen on the drugs.
Researchers later followed up on this study with a more detailed look at studies done on various autism therapies. Again, a resounding 69% of parents said their children improved on the gluten-free casein-free diet, while only 3% saw a worsening of symptoms.
Sometimes, a testimonial speaks volumes. Here is one sent to us by a reader, who has chosen to remain anonymous.
When my son was diagnosed with Autism, his peds doc gave me no hope. I started my own research and found a DANs! Doctor. The FIRST thing she had me do was change his diet to GF/CF. I really didn’t think it would do that much, but boy was I wrong! He went from maybe one bowel movement a month (no kidding) to now about 4 a week! He is so happy now!
Diets are Not One Size Fits All
As noted above, not all autism cases benefit from a gluten-free casein-free diet. And some people find benefit in other dietary elimination, like sugar, specific food triggers, and/or food additives. It’s essential to consult with your physician before undergoing any change in diet. They might refer you to a dietitian, who can help ensure a diet with proper nutrients is established. If you do pursue a gluten-free casein-free diet, we have some family-friendly food and recipe ideas to help get you started.
54 Gluten-Free Casein-Free Recipes for the GFCF Diet
Every recipe on Go Dairy Free is suitable for the casein-free diet and we offer over 1000 gluten-free recipes. But here are 54 of our favorite kid-approved GFCF recipes (18 in each category), in honor of autism awareness.
Notes: Autism dietary expert, Julie Matthews, typically recommends also cutting soy with the GFCF diet. So this list of recipes is very low in soy. For pastas, be sure to substitute your favorite gluten-free pasta. They work seamlessly in the pasta recipes listed.
GFCF Breakfast Ideas
- Our Best Gluten-Free Vegan Pancakes
- Joel’s Perfectly Creamy Dairy-Free Scrambled Eggs
- Maple & Brown Sugar Steel Cut Oatmeal and Griddle Cakes
- Vegan Hashbrown Waffles
- Banana Blueberry Breakfast Smoothie
- Blackberry Oat Muffins (can use other fruit)
- Perfect Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie
- Earthbound Farms Maple Almond Granola
- Gluten-Free Blueberry Pancake Bread
- Easy Mini Maple French Toast Casseroles
- Jumbo Triple Chocolate Mug Muffin (5-Minute Recipe!)
- Instant Banana Cashew “Yogurt”
- Banana-Oat Trail Mix Muffins
- Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Dutch Baby with Maple Blueberry Sauce
- Creamy Butterscotch Oatmeal
- Dairy-Free Yogurt Cheese
- Mini Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust
- Everyday Turmeric Smoothie
GFCF Meal Makers
- Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Southern Fried Chicken
- Skinny Gluten Free Hamburger Buns
- Dairy Free Cheese Sauce with Baked Baby Potato Wedge Fries
- Healthy Ramen
- Tater Tot Casserole
- Mama’s Artichoke Rice Salad
- Baked Curry Risotto
- Italian Rice Skillet with Zucchini, Sausage and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Easy Pad Thai
- Asparagus Chicken Stir Fry
- Stovetop Dairy-Free Mac ‘n Cheese
- Instant Pot Italian Meatballs
- Pizza Nachos
- Dairy-Free Scalloped Potatoes
- Allergy-Friendly Baked Chicken Nuggets
- Tom Colicchio’s Dairy-Free Meatloaf
- Down-Home Drumstick Sheet Pan Dinner
- Dairy Free Ranch Pasta Salad
GFCF Snacks & Treats
- The Best Chewy No Bake Granola Bars
- Vesper Boards
- Nacho Cups with Guacamole and Plantain Chips
- Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies
- Healthy Caramel Apple Nachos
- Basic Dairy-Free Hot Cocoa
- Tuna Salad Avocado Boats
- Chocolate Chip Dairy-Free Ice Cream
- Rainbow Fruit Parfaits
- Paleo Salami Chips
- Dairy-Free Chocolate Whipped Cream
- Family Favorite Bean Dip
- Vanilla Chia Pudding
- Easy DIY Candy Bars
- Dairy-Free Cheesecake Dip
- Perfect Pumpkin Bread for All
- No Bake Power Cookies
- Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies
For More Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Recipes, Get Eat Dairy Free!
Popular Gluten-Free Casein-Free, Family-Friendly Food Brands
- 88 Acres – Snacks, seed butters, dressings
- Applegate Farms – Meats without additives
- Better than Milk – Dairy-free milks and milk powders
- Canyon Bakehouse – Bread products
- Daiya Foods – Dairy alternatives, dressings, frozen entrees, frozen desserts
- Earth Balance – Butter alternatives
- Enjoy Life Foods – Snacks, chocolate, and other treats
- Flax4Life – Baked goods
- Follow Your Heart – Dairy alternatives, dressings, bread
- Good Planet – Cheese alternatives
- Katz – Breads, baked goods, desserts
- Kinnikinnick – Breads, baked goods, baking mixes
- Modern Table – Boxed pastas
- Ripple Foods – Dairy alternatives, frozen desserts
- So Delicious – Dairy alternatives, frozen desserts