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  • A new study in the Journal Nutritional Neuroscience found a diet without gluten and casein could improve behavior and physiological symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

    The Penn State researchers asked 387 parents and caregivers of kids with ASD to fill out an online survey about GI symptoms, food allergy diagnoses, food sensitivities, and how well the kids adhered to their gluten-free, casein-free diet.

    If you’re not aware, much debate exists within the ASD community about how effective—and realistic—a gluten-free, casein-free diet can be for ASD. The Autism Research Institute, for instance, recommends completely ditching casein and gluten to treat autism.

    Studies, however, show mixed results. The most recent systematic review, which appears in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, argues “limited and weak” evidence that casein and gluten exacerbate problems with ASD, despite that seven of the 14 studies they reviewed concluded eliminating gluten and casein could be incredibly beneficial.

    So what’s the big deal about casein and gluten anyway?

    Casein is the primary protein in cow’s milk and cheese. Casein breaks downs to casomorphin, an opioid that has a morphine-like effect in your brain. A study in the journal Autism found that casomorphin exacerbates some symptoms of autism. Gluten, the protein in wheat and certain other grains, triggers similar morphine-like effects.

    But according to study researcher Laura Cousino Klein, autism may not just be a neurological disease. It may also involve the GI tract and the immune system.

    "There are strong connections between the immune system and the brain, which are mediated through multiple physiological symptoms,h Klein said. gA majority of the pain receptors in the body are located in the gut, so by adhering to a glutenfree, casein-free diet, youfre reducing inflammation and discomfort that may alter brain processing, making the body more receptive to ASD therapies."

    The study found when kids went entirely gluten- and casein-free, things dramatically improved. These kids werenft suffering as many GI problems, for instance, and exhibited better social behavior and attention span.

    But here's the deal. Parents who completely removed casein and gluten from their kids' diets got the best results, as opposed to parents who only eliminated one or the other, or parents who didn't completely remove them.

    In other words, you canft halfway ditch these foods and call it a day. Youfve got to remove every last morsel of Kraft singles and wheat crackers from your kids' diet.

    If you've got a child with ASD, it's definitely worth removing all caseinand gluten-containing foods to see if things improve. But youfve got to give it time (at least six months) and do it right. There are no shortcuts, and you can't let an occasional glass of milk or wheat bread slip in and get optimal results.

    And heads up: gluten can slip in the strangest places. Sandwich meats often contain gluten, as do mustard and pickles. Same deal with casein. Youfve got to read labels and monitor everything your kid eats.

    You can see what a challenge this can become, since so many school lunchroom options, for instance, contain gluten and dairy. The point is, you can do it, and the results often prove worth the effort.

    I also don't think it's a bad idea to remove gluten and casein from any child's diet, particularly if they have trouble concentrating or gut-related problems.

    You might be asking at this point, Then what the heck do I feed my child? I've seen lots of kids go Paleo with amazing results. Lean protein, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. There are unlimited varieties of satisfying gluten- and dairy-free foods your child will learn to love.

    I'll get the ball rolling with these five delicious, kid-friendly Paleo snacks:

    1. Organic apples with almond butter
    2. Sliced turkey and avocado in a corn or rice wrap
    3. Deviled eggs with gluten-free mustard
    4. Trail mix with mixed nuts and berries
    5. Coconut milk yogurt with frozen grapes and cherries 
  • You may have heard that ‘going organic’ is a healthy choice for the farmers, the environment, and your own health. But do you really understand why it’s such a positive choice? This article series explores the benefits of choosing organic.

    Reason 1: Glyphosate
    You may be aware that organic food and products are produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or chemicals. Advocates of conventional farming (the type that does allow use of these artificial substances) argue that recommended levels of these chemicals are not exceeded.

    This statement may be true for one chemical in one product but it does not consider the sheer number of potentially toxic chemicals that we are subjected to in modern society—in our food, our water, in the materials we use to make products and clothing, and in the air we breathe.

    A chemical may be tested and found to be safe at a certain level, but it is unlikely that the full cocktail of chemicals contained in a product have been tested. Molecular biologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini has demonstrated that the full formulations of pesticides are much stronger than the declared active ingredient. Additionally, the ‘active’ ingredient may not be the most toxic ingredient in pesticide formulations.1

    Coupled with these issues, there is little consideration for variations in sensitivity between individuals, nor for the consequences of being exposed to so many different chemicals over the course of a day, or a lifetime.

    Glyphosate is a chemical under hot discussion in the farming world. Being on the market in the form of the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup, virtually all conventional produce and food products contain traces of this chemical. As with all subjects of debate, there are many studies that claim Roundup herbicide poses no risk to humans.2

    However, in March 2015 the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A) based on epidemiological studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies.3,4,5

    Advocates for organic farming believe it is wise to err on the side of caution—who wants to risk a build-up of toxic residue that could lead to serious health problems? It is much safer to ban ‘questionable’ chemical ingredients and to find a proven safe alternative than to live by the mantra of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

    The links between glyphosate and a wide range of health concerns and conditions are becoming increasingly evident. Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has found strong links between glyphosate use, and the rise in celiac disease. She explains that the villi in the gut are destroyed by glyphosate, which reduces the person’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals and can result in gut problems.6

    Glyphosate has been highlighted as a potential endocrine disruptor7 and has shown a strong correlation with the increased incidence of many diseases, from cancer to dementia, to autism.8,9,10 The World Health organization lists the adverse health effects caused by glyphosate as airway, skin, and mucous membrane irritation, abdominal, pain, nausea, vomiting, shock, dyspnea, respiratory failure.11

    For consumers who are not convinced about the safety of food production methods using synthetic chemicals such as glyphosate, the only ways to currently drastically reduce exposure are by choosing certified organic produce and products, growing your own, or by getting food from a local farmer who you know is not using these chemicals.12,13,14

    For those who are not sure how to start shifting from a conventional to an organic diet, or who have concerns around personal budgeting restraints, a good place to start making changes is by focusing on the ‘dirty dozen’— a list of the twelve foods in New Zealand that have been identified as having the highest pesticide residues.

    Reason 2: Healthy soil, healthy body
    Many people are now choosing organic as one way to help optimize their health and wellbeing. The vitamin and mineral content of fresh produce and other foods will vary based on how the soil is cared for, the environment they are grown in, and how they are processed, among other things.

    In organic farming, caring for the soil is of the utmost importance, because it forms the basis for health, for all life forms. As Sophie Grigson and William Black explain, “Healthy soil encourages healthy plants, plants which are strong and disease resistant, which means there is less need for artificial pesticides in organic production.” Their book “Organic—a new way of eating” highlights the fact that if we feed the soil, the plants will look after themselves.15

    Sally Fallon reiterates this in her book “Nourishing Traditions,” when she explains that nitrogen fertilizers used in conventional (non-organic) farming produce high yields, in part by pulling minerals from the soil. In turn, the food suffers because the vitamin and mineral contents are depleted. She explains that vitamin and mineral content between conventional and organic crops can vary hugely, and that some commercially raised oranges have been found to contain NO vitamin C!16

    The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ really does ring true. If you are consuming food that was once a sickly animal who was fed routine courses of antibiotics and a genetically engineered diet of pesticide sprayed grains that it is unable to digest, how healthy do you think you will be?

    If you are eating food that has been sprayed copious times with a herbicide that has been engineered to kill EVERYTHING around it, except that particular crop, how do you think this affects the health of the soil, and the subsequent health of your body? Similarly, with the skin being the largest organ in the body, and readily absorbing anything you rub on it, have you considered what is entering your system via this method (by way of creams and lotions)?

    Yes, our bodies are amazing, and yes they can process and eliminate a certain degree of ‘rubbish.’ But, when they become overloaded they are unable to summon the resources required to neutralize the onslaught of poisons entering them. Therefore it makes sense to limit our intake of toxins wherever we are able to do so; for example by making organic choices.

    Organic farming helps ensure you are receiving the best quality for your body, allowing your cells to be as healthy and strong as possible. Growth hormones, protein rich feeds and the routine use of antibiotics are not allowed, nor are synthetic chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides or pesticides.

    If you consider health as a holistic word encompassing people, animals, and the planet, then choosing organic is a positive step in this direction.


    1. “Food Matters – Life matters!” article. Organic NZ magazine. May/June 2015.
    13. Organic – a new way of eating.” Sophie Grigson and William Black. Headline Book Publishing 2001.
    14. Nourishing Traditions." The Cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats. Revised second edition. Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig. Ph.D. 1999, 2001 New trends Publishing Inc.