Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Dietary interventions

In the past two weeks, I've come across people who have suggested to me that I should try different dietary methods of helping my son. One person, a dietitian, is a strong advocate of the gluten-free/casein-free diet. She also tried to convince me to try enzyme therapy. The other person was a mom with a child who has ADHD. She was advocating enzymes, supplements and an all-organic diet. I had heard about these therapies in the past, but quite frankly, they're very hard to maintain, and when I had first heard of them, our pediatrician couldn't give me the information I was looking for. So I thought that maybe it's time to consider one or all...and there's the problem. Which therapy is right?

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains: wheat, rye, barley, and because of contamination issues in processing, sometimes oat. When gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine can repair itself. The gluten-free diet is recommended for those individuals who suffer from intolerance to gluten that can cause all manner of gastric disturbances (i.e. diarrhea, bloating, gasiness). The success stories sound very hopeful, so what do we have to lose?

The thing is, Gus has never had any gastric problems outside of the occasional virus. So would this diet, which is recommended for 3-6 months, be of any use to him? A good nutritionist may be able to evaluate the situation, but they can be a little pricey. One place I was referred to in Kingston, NY charges about $120 for an initial consultation. I was fortunate enough to be given a referral card, so I may be able to be seen for much less. We'll see how that works out.

On the plus side, it makes perfect sense to me that spectrum kids digest food a little differently than the typical child. I've said for years (to pretty much myself because no one around us likes to listen to me) that Gus can't handle chocolate in even the smallest of doses. A bit of chocolate would usually send him into hyperdrive for at least 48 hours. "But that's crazy...there's not that much sugar in chocolate...the amount of caffeine in chocolate is minuscule..." I don't know what it is in chocolate that has always made him nutty, but the only evidence I need is that when he has it, he's worse, and when he doesn't have it, he's better. So the argument for eliminating gluten from the diet feels right to me. And I'm certainly willing to try it if I can.

Which brings us to the down side. Although many more supermarket chains are starting to carry gluten-free products (locally for us, A&P and Hannaford's) in addition to the Mrs. Green's and health food stores, the fact still remains that these foods are much more expensive. If we were better off financially, hell if we even had 2 full incomes, it might not be such an issue. But when you're consistently having trouble staying out of the red every month, it's a very real issue.

Once we get past the cost, then there's the fact that gluten can be found in almost everything! And what about when we eat away from home? Gus's school doesn't follow a gluten-free program, and he's in a school for special needs children. Our families would certainly have a problem with adapting to a new diet. I've got an Italian mother-in-law who lives to feed her grandchildren pasta and bread, and those things are my kids' favorites. Yes, we can find gluten-free pasta (it's actually pretty good), but if I suggested that MIL try something different, that would be akin to asking her to throw a spitball at the pope.

Snacks are another issue. I tried a few things that I thought my son might like - he didn't. So I am still searching and trying to adapt before going full force into this diet. I'll report my progress.

Casein is a protein found in dairy products. This wouldn't be too difficult to incorporate into our diets (if I could get my in-laws to stop obsessing over feeding my children ice-cream - they've gotten better about it). There are enough ways to get calcium into a diet without dairy, and my daughter already won't drink milk. Even though Gus does drink milk and eats yogurt, no one else in this household does. Soy milk hasn't gone over too well. I attempted rice milk, and I don't think he liked that too much either, but I'll need to try it again before I can say for sure. And even if the kids can't have ice-cream, they can still have ice-pops made with fruit, which they love just as much. Of course, Gus isn't one of those kids with any major food aversions, so it may be easier for me to make this particular transition than some others.

I'm still researching the enzyme therapy route and going all-organic, so that will be a post for another day.


  1. I went entirely dairy free for almost a year when my son was first born and I was nursing him, because he had an allergy to dairy. After a year he had grown out of that allergy and I could go back to eating what I wanted, but I learned a great deal about eating non-dairy in the meantime.

    The best substitute for milk in things like cocoa (which I am guessing you do not feed Gus if chocolate makes him crazy) or cereal or so forth that I found was almond milk. Now almond milk was used during the Middle Ages when Dairy was avoided during Lent, so even though not everyone has heard of it it has been around a long time. It is not cheap, it is more expensive that most soy milk, in fact. However, for me it was worth it for the little I was using.

    An easy way to avoid dairy in places where it can be found but is not essential is to buy Kosher Parve versions of those foods. There is a symbol which is a U inside a circle, one which is a K inside a circle, and one or two others which are ok. If it just says Kosher on it it means nothing - anyone can put that on anything. The Special Symbols mean a particular group of rabbis has approved and monitors the product, I believe. Kosher Parve means it has no milk, and no meat, but may, I believe, have eggs. I was able to get cookies, chocolate bars and even margarine that was Kosher Parve. It depends on what supermarket you go to how much they have.

    Gluten free I know less about. However, I would do one thing at a time. For example, go casein free for a while and see how that works. Then, when you have made up your mind about that, eliminate something else. If you do it all at once it is hard to tell which one is causing any improvement you might see.

    I am so glad you started this blog!


  2. I definitely intend to try one thing at a time, and the casein-free seems the easiest way to go for now. I'm playing phone tag with the nutritionist, but I think she'll be able to shed lots of light on what we need to do. That's the biggest problem - it's so easy to say 'try this diet or that diet' but if it doesn't meet the child's specific needs, it's really a waste of time and money. I wish there were more people out there who are able to evaluate what those needs are. But I suppose with exposure and research increasing every day, maybe that won't be too far off.


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