GFCF Diet – What, How, Why

  • What, How and Why of GFCF Diet

    By Kirti Singh

    What Is the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet?

    This is a dietary intervention to lessen the digestive and behavioral issues sometimes found in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Recent research indicates that there are children with a genetic predisposition to the disorder, which is then triggered by some as yet undetermined environmental event which can cause a “leaky gut”. If this happens, wheat and dairy are then metabolized as opiates. It is believed that by eliminating gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein), the gut will begin to heal and the child’s overall condition will improve.

    The diet is not a cure for autism nor is it a substitute for traditional one-on-one intervention. Rather, by making the child more comfortable, the child becomes more receptive to learning (not to mention the potential positive impact in the child’s overall health, demeanor, and possible reduction in negative behaviors).

    What can the Children Eat?

    Children can eat a wide variety of meat, chicken, eggs, gluten free grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables anything that does not contain gluten or casein.  However, some children may have additional food intolerances/sensitivities as well (including soy, corn, peanuts etc.) that have to be eliminated.

    How Is the GFCF Diet Implemented?

    Parents are first line of defense and are mostly responsible for strictly adhering to GFCF diet for their child.  The first step starts at home because the child spends most of his/her day at home. The second place is school, where parents are responsible for providing clear guidelines to the teachers and their aids regarding GFCF diet. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team needs to document that a dietary intervention is being used in conjunction with traditional interventions. Generally, the parents are responsible for providing GF/CF supplies for their child to use in the classroom as well as any snacks or “special treats.”

    How can I tell if my child will benefit from the GFCF diet?

    Just like any protocol give a whole hearted effort for at least 3 to 4 months before giving up.

    Signs your child may benefit from this diet

    F  When the child self-limits his diet especially to milk and wheat (it’s like a biological addiction to opiates).

    F  When the child eats unusually large or small amount of food. Large amount may suggest that child thinks eating makes him feel good because of opiates, so he should eat. Small amount suggest many foods make him sick so he tries to avoid eating.

    F  Extremely dry skin.

    F  Migraines or head banging.

    F  Red cheeks and ears.

    F  Abnormal bowel movement.

    F  Abnormal sleep patterns.

    F  Bouts of screaming

    F  Seizures

    What are good substitutes for milk?

    Almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk are few choices. They are available in health food stores or you can make them at home. Blend ¼ cup soaked nuts with 1 cup water in a high speed blender to get fresh homemade nut milk.

    How can I substitute bread, pasta, pancakes, cakes etc.?

    We can use gluten free flours like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, teff, sorghum, brown rice to make all these foods. Moms have come up with great recipes that not only make these traditionally cherished food items delicious but also nutritious.

    Can we still eat out at restaurants?

    Yes, though choices are limited. You can find list of all restaurants that serve GFCF food on the following link.

    Where can I get more information?


    @  Nourishing Hope for autism– Julie Matthews

    @  Special needs kids eat right- Judy Converse

    @  Special diets for special kids1&2- Lisa S. Lewis

    @  The Encyclopedia of dietary interventions for the treatment of Autism and related disorders- Lisa Lewis & Karyn Seroussi



    Caution: There is lot of junk that is sold in the name of GFCF. Replace milk and wheat with nutrient dense foods not with white sugar, white rice, genetically modified foods, artificial flavors and colors. The aim should be to clean up the diet of all the allergenic and harmful ingredients.



    Kirti Singh is an Honors graduate from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts.  She also has a Master’s degree in Food and Nutrition, and has worked as a dietician.  She enjoys using a holistic approach in helping people achieve their goals for better health.

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