Kris is a mom of 2 kids, 1 of whom was diagnosed with Autism (he’s no longer on the spectrum). She is an expert in nutrition and holistic health, after she’s journeyed with her son, healing his gut through nutrition and food. She’s a certified health and nutrition coach.
How can what you eat affect your behaviour? There is a connection between the gut and your brain. Think about how you feel when you drink alcohol. When you drink it and it goes into your gut, the first thing to be affected is your brain.
All the major neuro transmitters which are in the brain, are in the gut. E.g. Seratonin (our feel good hormone) – 95% of it is made in the gut.
When we need to sleep, we need to produce a hormone called Melatonin. At night, our body converts Seratonin to Melatonin. If we don’t have enough Seratonin, we can’t have enough Melatonin to sleep well. It’s an imbalance in our body, often caused by our gut.
Leaky gut – In a healthy gut, when you digest food, the food will come into our system like a train of paper clips and be broken down until there’s one paper clip left – all nutrients taken out, food broken down and a message sent to the blood brain barrier that all is fine, etc.
In an unhealthy gut, we can get a situation where the gut wall is weak and permeable. So it allows undigested proteins through the wall (so those paper clips go through 5-6 at a time) and this affects the blood brain barrier and the body goes Woah! It doesn’t know whats happening, it thinks it has a foreign invader and mounts an immune response to get it out. That’s when we get a situation where all the wrong messages get sent through the blood brain barrier and because of the relationship between the gut and the brain, this situation is what causes behaviour issues, learning difficulties, etc.
2 proteins that cause issues in our gut are:
Gluten – Wheat, barley and rye – bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, etc.
Casein – the protein that is found in milk. Most of us know about lactose but haven’t heard of casein. Lactose is the milk sugar and casein is the milk protein.
Both of these proteins can cause issues if we have a delicate gut. When not broken down properly, gluten turns into gluteomorphin and casein turns into caseomorphin which are a part of the morphine family. So for children on the autism spectrum, these two proteins can cause morphine like symptoms. They become addictive. Over time, children will only crave foods that cause these morphine like symptoms.
If you have a child who is a picky eater or who is focused on only one food they love, that is the food most likely to cause them problems.
So, how do you make changes?
Start by swapping your childs favourite food slowly. E.g. Move from wheat pasta to gluten free pasta, gluten free bread, move to a milk alternative. You can’t change everything but you will be able to substitute atleast 95%. Within days you should be seeing changes in your child. In their behaviour, their sleep, their interaction with you. The first few days will be tough because the child will have withdrawal symptoms but once you get past these, you’ll see the changes.
It’s never too late to change your child’s diet. It’s a lot more difficult the older they get but when you do it when your child is younger, they grow out of the dependency very quickly.
How long does it take to get the gluten/casein out of your diet?
When Kris did it, she did it overnight but this is not usually sustainable (and she doesn’t actually recommend it). Start by switching breakfasts and then dinner, then snacks and lastly lunch. The body takes 1-2 weeks to rid itself of casein but gluten takes up to 3 months to leave the system completely.
In the US and Australia there are many additives still allowed in food that have been banned in Europe. For children on the Autism spectrum, it’s usually gluten or casein that is the main cause of their issues. For children with ADHD and other behavioural problems, it’s usually additives that have caused the problem.
Two of the most common are Caramel III (it’s a colour) aka 150C AND anti-oxidants (which we usually perceive as a good thing). In the healthy food world, anti-oxidants are a good thing but in the processed food world, anti-oxidants (BHA aka 320) are what is added to the food to give it a longer shelf life. BHA is banned in Europe! But in the US and Australia it’s still allowed. BHA has detrimental affects on behaviour. It has damaging effects on the respiratory system and is a no-no for children with asthma. Also for children who have skin conditions like eczema and hives, it exacerbates that. Lastly, it’s a carcinogen (cancer causing).
E.g. Granola/Museli bars – always labelled as natural, wholesome, healthy and we think of it as a better substitute for lunch boxes than biscuits and cookies. But infact most granola/museli bars have about 36 ingredients and they contain Caramel 3, which causes hyperactivity and is actually banned in infant foods (foods for children under the age of 2) AND BHA (320).
Yeast Extract – another baddie!
It’s just another name for MSG. The public has become quite educated about the dangers of MSG. But they don’t realise that MSG is hiding behind names like Yeast Extract, Malt Extract or Hydrolyzed vegetable protein – it’s in over 10,000 of our supermarket products. MSG causes behavioural problems, learning difficulties and respiratory issues.
For many children, fruits high in salicylates (naturally occuring chemicals) can cause behaviour issues. So often we’re happy when our child eats fruits but if our child reacts to salicylates, it could cause hyperactivity, diarrohea, red ears, trouble sleeping, headaches, bed wetting, etc.
Often you think you’re additive free or gluten free but still have issues. It could be as simple as too many grapes and oranges. But it’s all a circle. If your gut is healthy then these foods shouldn’t cause a problem. But if your gut already has an issue then you need to avoid those foods for a while, heal your gut and then re-add them back into your diet.
For a list of foods high in salicylates, click here.