printer-friendly version   Printer-Friendly Version  

ADHD Diet: Gluten-Free, Casein-Free

The gluten-free, casein-free diet (GFCF) is one of the most well-researched and highly recommended diets for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Parents who put their children on the GFCF diet have reported significant results – from improvement in social skills and increased attention spans to fewer incidents of tantrums, aggression, and fidgeting. For most people, the GFCF diet requires some important dietary changes.  Most of the foods we put in our grocery carts contain both gluten and casein. Baby food, canned soup, yogurt, cereals – the list is almost endless.  That’s because gluten is a component of wheat, and casein is found in milk and milk products. It will take a lot of tough love to remove ice cream and chocolate from your child’s diet, but you’ll have to do it. Otherwise, every meal your child eats will only further damage his or her brain and development. Here’s how you can slowly implement the GFCF diet into your child’s lifestyle.

If your child is four years old or younger, you’re in luck – it’ll be easier to start the diet because your child’s food preferences are not set yet.  Parents unconsciously develop their children’s food preferences just by the number of times a food is placed on the dinner table. If your child is older than five, it is still possible to get him or her used to the GFCF diet.

There are two ways you can go about following the GFCF diet.

You can go cold turkey and remove all forbidden foods at once. This is the way we recommend you do it in our clinic. It might take more organization and commitment at first, but it will also take less time to ascertain whether the diet is working for your child.

The second way is to go slowly and gradually. Start introducing foods that contain no casein or gluten before starting the diet itself.  For instance, if your child eats nothing but pasta, start putting more whole rice and quinoa on the table. Serve green leafy vegetables at every meal and fruits for dessert.  Use a favorite food as an incentive to get your child to try out a new gluten-free or casein-free dish.

Remove one food at a time.  Eliminate bread first, then cereal, then pasta noodles, and so on, until all products containing gluten are out.  Then eliminate milk, then cheese, and so on until all dairy products are gone.

Implement the GFCF diet one meal at the time, beginning with snacks. When your child is used to eating casein-free and gluten-free snacks, make GFCF meals for breakfast, then lunch, then dinner.

Read the food labels very carefully when you buy groceries.  Although there are some food items labeled “GFCF,” many foods are hidden sources of casein.  Watch out for ingredients like malt, whey, malt flavoring, hydrolyzed plant protein or vegetable protein, and artificial flavors.

With every gluten-free or casein-free food you add to the diet, watch your child closely for any physical reactions like rashes, gastrointestinal problems, and worsening behavior.  These are the withdrawal symptoms of the diet. If you remember from our previous articles, casein and gluten work like morphine in the body; once they are removed from the system, the body starts “craving” it.  Although the appearance of these symptoms might make it seem that the diet is making your child worse, this is actually a sign that things are getting better. Those reactions may last from a couple of days to two weeks.

If you can see improvements when the withdrawal symptoms are over, keep up with the GFCF diet.  You should be on a strict diet for at least one month to see if it works. Obviously, if you choose to go the slow road, it will take some days or weeks until you get to the strict diet. But do at least one entire month of the full, strict diet.

You can start re-introducing wheat and dairy one food at a time, but if your child starts reacting negatively, put him or her back on a strict GFCF diet.

You might also want to consult a nutritionist or a holistic health care practitioner for advice on how to successfully do a gluten-free, casein-free diet for your ADHD child. The UnRitalin Solution will also help you implement this powerful diet.