Nutritional Status and Special Diets for Autism

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Baby on side              What is the evidence for altered Nutritional Status in children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder? This page contains a small collection of articles addressing this.  The need for more studies addressing this topic can not be over emphasized.  The parent's perceptions of the dietary intake may not be adequate to estimate the actual status of children especially if they are on special or restrictive diets. It is prudent to recommend routine nutritional screening to monitor bone development and overall nutritional status.



Bandini LG, Anderson SE, Curtin C, Cermak S, Evans EW, Scampini R, Maslin M, Must A. Food Selectivity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typically Developing Children. J Pediatr. 2010 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print]

Abstract: To define food selectivity and compare indices of food selectivity among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and typically developing children, and to assess the impact of food selectivity on nutrient adequacy. STUDY DESIGN: Food selectivity was operationalized to include food refusal, limited food repertoire, and high-frequency single food intake using a modified food frequency questionnaire and a 3-day food record. Food selectivity was compared between 53 children with ASDs and 58 typically developing children age 3-11 years. Nutrient adequacy was assessed relative to the dietary reference intakes. RESULTS: The children with ASDs exhibited more food refusal than typically developing children (41.7% of foods offered vs 18.9% of foods offered; P <.0001). They also had a more limited food repertoire (19.0 foods vs 22.5 foods; P <.001). Only 4 children with ASDs and 1 typically developing child demonstrated high-frequency single food intake. Children with a more limited food repertoire had inadequate intake of a greater number of nutrients. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that food selectivity is more common in children with ASDs than in typically developing children, and that a limited food repertoire may be associated with nutrient inadequacies. Copyright © 2010 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved. PMID: 20362301 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Lockner DW, Crowe TK, Skipper BJ. Dietary intake and parents' perception of mealtime behaviors in preschool-age children with autism spectrum disorder and in typically developing children. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Aug;108(8):1360-3

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) frequently report that their children have selective eating behaviors and refuse many foods, which could result in inadequate nutrient intake. This preliminary cross-sectional descriptive study investigated dietary intake and parents' reported perception of food behaviors of 20 3- to 5-year-old children with ASD. Twenty typically developing children matched for sex, age, and ethnicity were also studied as a case-control comparison. Nutrient intake determined from 3-day food records was adjusted for day-to-day variation to determine the estimate of usual intake distribution for the two groups. This distribution was compared with the Estimated Average Requirement or Adequate Intake recommendations. The reported food behaviors and use of vitamin or mineral supplements were compared for matched pairs using the exact McNemar test. Nutrient intake was similar for both groups of children, with the majority of children consuming more than the recommended amounts for most nutrients. Nutrients least likely to be consumed in recommended amounts were vitamin A, vitamin E, fiber, and calcium. Children with ASD were more likely to consume vitamin/mineral supplements than typically developing children. Compared with parents of typically developing children, parents of children with ASD were more likely to report that their children were picky eaters and resisted trying new foods, and they were less likely to describe their children as healthy eaters or that they eat a variety of foods. Despite the similar and generally adequate nutrient intake for the 40 children in this study, parents of children with ASD had more negative perceptions of their children's dietary behaviors.
 
 
 
Hediger ML, England LJ, MOllow CA, Yu KF, Manning-Courtney P, Mills JL. Reduced bone cortical thickness in boys with autism or autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 May;38(5):848-56.
Bone development, casein-free diet use, supplements, and medications were assessed for 75 boys with autism or autism spectrum disorder, ages 4-8 years. Second metacarpal bone cortical thickness (BCT), measured on hand-wrist radiographs, and % deviations in BCT from reference medians were derived. BCT increased with age, but % deviations evidenced a progressive fall-off (p = .02): +3.1 +/- 4.7%, -6.5 +/- 4.0%, -16.6 +/- 3.4%, -19.4 +/- 3.7%,-24.1 +/- 4.4%, at ages 4-8, respectively, adjusting for height. The 12% of the boys on casein-free diets had an overall % deviation of -18.9 +/- 3.7%, nearly twice that of boys on minimally restricted or unrestricted diets (-10.5 +/- 1.3%, p < .04), although even for boys on minimally restricted or unrestricted diets the % deviation was highly significant (p < .001). Our data suggest that the bone development of autistic boys should be monitored as part of routine care, especially if they are on casein-free diets.
 
 
Arnold GL, Hyman SL, Mooney RA, Kirby RS.  Plasma amino acids profiles in children with autism: potential risk of nutritional deficiencies. J Autism Dev Disord. 2003 Aug;33(4):449-54
The plasma amino acid profiles of 36 children with autism spectrum disorders were reviewed to determine the impact of diet on amino acid patterns. Ten of the children were on gluten and casein restricted diets administered by parents, while the other 26 consumed unrestricted diets. No amino acid profile specific to autism was identified. However, children with autism had more essential amino acid deficiencies consistent with poor protein nutrition than an age/gender matched control group. There was a trend for children with autism who were on restricted diets to have an increased prevalence of essential amino acid deficiencies and lower plasma levels of essential acids including the neurotransmitter precursors tyrosine and tryptophan than both controls and children with autism on unrestricted diets. These data indicate that larger, more focused studies of protein nutrition in children with autism are needed in order to determine the extent to which restricted diets might place the developing brains of children with autism at risk from protein malnutrition. The high rate of tryptophan and tyrosine deficiency in this group is also of concern given their role as neurotransmitter precursors.
 
 

Herndon AC, DiGuiseppi C, Johnson SL, Leiferman J, Reynolds A.  Does nutritional intake differ between children with autism spectrum disorders and children with typical development? J Autism Dev Disord. 2009 Feb;39(2):212-22. Epub 2008 Jul 4
Consumption of macro- and micronutrients and food group servings by children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs; n = 46) and typical development (n = 31) were compared using 3-day diet records. Children with ASDs consumed significantly more vitamin B6 and E and non-dairy protein servings, less calcium, and fewer dairy servings (p < .05). The significantly lower dairy serving intake persisted after controlling for child age and sex and parental dietary restrictions, and excluding children on the gluten-free casein-free (GFCF) diet. Large proportions of children in both groups did not meet national recommendations for daily intake of fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin E, and vitamin D.

Cornish E. Gluten and casein free diets in autism: a study of the effects on food choice and nutrition.  Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.  2002;15:261-269.
Background: There is growing interest in possible dietary involvement in the aetiology and treatment of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Research has focused on the physiological and behavioural effects of dietary change but has not examined the effect of exclusion diets on nutritional intake.
Aims: The aim of this study was to examine whether the removal of major dietary staples placed children with autism at risk of nutrient deficiency and compares their food choice with ASD children not following gluten and/or casein free diets.
Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to parents of children aged 3–16 years, diagnosed with ASD belonging to the National Autistic Society in Leicestershire and southern Derbyshire. Detailed dietary information and a 3-day food diary were collected. The sample size was small: those using gluten/casein free diets (n = 8) and those not following diet (n = 29).
Results: Nutrient intakes fell below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) in 12 children (32%) for zinc, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and riboflavin in the nondiet group and four children (50%) for zinc and calcium in the diet group. Fruit and vegetable intakes were higher and cereal, bread and potato consumption were lower in those children using gluten and/or casein free diets.
Conclusion:  No significant differences in the energy, protein and micronutrient intakes were found between the two groups of children. A longitudinal prospective study is suggested to examine whether differences in food choice are the result of dietary intervention or the prerequisite for the successful application of diet in this special group of children.
 

Page Updated 4/12/2010 -- Yvette Fierce