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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: What are the diets associated with autism?

In her weekly column, licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long looks into different diets that are beneficial for children with ASD

Dear Readers,

This week’s question comes from Sue in Edmundston, N.B. She wrote:

Dear Nutritionist,

I know every individual need is different, but do you have any general diet suggestions for a syndrome often associated with Asperger/autism, called EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)?

(or any diet suggestions related to what is often called high-functioning autism would be welcome).

Thank you!


Autism spectrum and the gut

There is actually a growing body of evidence linking to the gut biome as playing a very important role in ASD (autism spectrum disorders). A 2021 study published in the mSystems, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, confirmed that ASD is correlated to changes in the gut microbiome. You can read the study here.

Earlier investigation by Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D., M.S., discovered the same, but as is often the case with pioneers, medicine has taken a while to catch up.

Caltech has also published data and TED talks regarding the role of the gut biome in ASD. Find one such TED talk on mind-altering microbes here.

Here is what Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride has to say about these conditions:

“In clinical practice, these conditions overlap with each other. A patient with autism often is hyperactive and dyspraxic… Children with these conditions are often diagnosed as being depressed, and as they grow up, they are more prone to drug abuse or alcoholism than their typically developing peers… When we start examining the patients with these so-called mental conditions, we find that they are also physically ill. Digestive problems, allergies, eczema, asthma, various food intolerances and immune system abnormalities are universally present amongst them. We have created different diagnostic boxes for these patients, but a modern patient does not fit into any one of them neatly. The modern patient, in most cases, fits into a rather lumpy picture of overlapping neurological and psychiatric conditions.

Why are all these conditions related? What underlying problem are we missing?

To answer all these questions, we have to look at one factor which unites all these patients in a clinical setting. This factor is the state of their digestive system. I have yet to meet a child or an adult with autism, ADHD/ADD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder who does not have digestive abnormalities. In many cases, they are severe enough for the patients or their parents to start talking about them first. In some cases, the parents may not mention their child’s digestive system, yet when asked direct questions, they would describe a plethora of gut problems. So, what have digestive abnormalities got to do with these so-called mental problems? According to recent research and clinical experience – a lot! In fact, it appears that the patient’s digestive system holds the key to the patient’s mental state.” (source)

GAPS diet

The diet Campbell-McBride recommends is called the gut and psychology syndrome diet, or GAPS diet for short. Parents interested in learning more about this diet can find info here. The criticism that many people have of it is that it’s highly restrictive and difficult to implement.

In my own lived experience with a child with ASD and schizophrenia, I have learned that the gut indeed plays a large role and that diet informs and shapes that. Additionally, I would say there are three other factors at play:

  • Hidden food intolerances, often including wheat/ gluten, dairy, and sugar
  • Chronic inflammation, as seen in asthma, rhinitis, eczema, and ear infections, to name a few.
  • Suppression of symptoms with early antibiotic or steroid use or chronic use of the same in the mother.

Effective treatment

My experience has led me to focus on diet as the key to improving these conditions naturally, with supplements where needed. The diet I’ve found to be most effective is an omnivore, ancestral diet that avoids grains and polysaccharides and identifies and removes any food intolerances. Fresh juices, smoothies, and bone broths, as well as fermented foods to facilitate digestive healing, are also imperative. Figuring this out in a way that is palatable and manageable for busy families is quite a challenge.

As a result, I do not recommend doing this without professional guidance. Elimination diets are exhausting and confusing, and extremely restrictive. They can quickly overwhelm and exacerbate power struggles around meal times. Working with a practitioner who can identify intolerances and inflammatory foods to guide you without strict elimination is far superior, in my opinion. I wish I had had this when my son was diagnosed. And that’s why I do what I do!

But if you’re looking for a place to start, the GAPS diet and the book by the same name are very good.

Thank you, Sue, for the great question. As always, if you have your own health issue or question, just send me an email at [email protected]. And if you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website at


Nonie Nutritionista