How Autism Impacts Your Dietary Health
Sensory challenges are common among children with autism, resulting in avoidance of specific foods which can lead to nutritional deficits. In addition, some type of gastrointestinal dysfunction is experienced by many people with autism. In this issue, we’ll focus on the gastrointestinal condition called Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS.
What is IBS?
IBS is considered a chronic functional disorder that affects the gastrointestinal system. There are three major forms of IBS: the predominantly diarrhea type (IBS-D), predominantly constipation type (IBS-C), and a mixed type with both diarrhea and constipation (IBS-M). Symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. The most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain/cramps
- Gas/feeling bloated
- Stool containing mucus
IBS is considered a functional disorder, meaning that it causes a disruption to bowel functions but does not result in inflammation like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Fortunately, unlike these other diseases, IBS does not increase your risk for colon cancer (Mayo Clinic, 2015).
IBS is a chronic condition, which means many people with the syndrome must cope with it for years. Long-term management of IBS symptoms is possible through identifying triggers and being mindful of what you eat.
1. Common triggers of IBS:
- High stress. When people with IBS are under a great deal of stress, their symptoms often worsen. Thus, you may notice that you have more gastrointestinal problems when facing a major deadline at work or when having trouble in your relationship.
- Foods. The foods you eat can certainly trigger IBS symptoms. Exact food triggers vary from person to person. It is not clear yet if food allergies or sensitivities contribute directly to IBS symptoms.
- Hormones. Women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to report IBS symptoms than men This may be because of hormonal fluctuations in women that trigger a gastrointestinal response. Many women report that their IBS symptoms are worse during their menstrual periods, suggesting that hormonal changes may play a role.
- Illness. Other illnesses, especially those that cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal distress, can also trigger IBS symptoms. Treating the acute illness may cause these symptoms to go away.
2. Awareness of Certain Food Triggers of IBS
The foods you eat can have a profound impact on your IBS symptoms. When learning how to manage your symptoms, it can be helpful to keep a food diary listing all of the foods you eat. This can help you link specific foods to an onset of your IBS symptoms.
Although food triggers vary from person to person, certain foods are more likely to aggravate IBS symptoms. These include (National Health Service, 2014)
- Carbonated beverages
- Dairy products
- High fat foods
- Caffeinated beverages
- Highly processed foods, such as chips or cookies
How You Can Plan an IBS-friendly Diet
When planning an IBS diet, consider the following recommendations (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 2015; Mayo Clinic, 2015):
- Increase fiber intake.
- Avoid FODMAPs. Certain types of carbohydrates, known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), may worsen IBS symptoms in some people. Avoid dairy products, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, sorbitol, xylitol, garlic, onion, lentils, and beans to lower your FODMAPs intake. After eliminating these foods, you can gradually reintroduce them one at a time to identify specific triggers.
- Avoid gas-causing foods. Carbonated beverages, raw fruits, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli often cause gas. Cut these foods out of your diet to reduce IBS symptoms.
- Avoid foods that contain gluten. Some patients report that following a gluten-free diet helps them manage their IBS symptoms. Thus, bread, pasta, and other wheat-containing foods should be eliminated on a gluten-free diet.
There is no cure for IBS, but certain products can help with symptom management.
- Taking over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications (e.g., Imodium), anticholinergic medications to relieve bowel spasms, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to inhibit the activity of gastrointestinal neurons, or antibiotics.
Get prebiotics and probiotics to ensure you have a healthy gut flora. Your gut is home to billions of microbes, many of which help you properly digest food. The disturbances in the gut microbes may have a role in some people with IBS. Several scientific studies suggest that probiotic treatment, which aims to balance the levels of healthy gut bacteria, may be effective in alleviating IBS symptoms
Yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy product, contain both prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics are also found in supplement form, which can be helpful for IBS sufferers who cannot eat dairy products. Meanwhile, whole grains, onions, bananas, garlic, and artichokes are excellent sources of prebiotics. Eating a diet that is rich in these foods — while avoiding any IBS trigger foods — can help you to manage your symptoms.
Eating Your Feelings
Everyone is stressed out these days, and many turn to food for relief. But overeating isn’t the answer — it can even make things worse. Here are seven ways to stop stress eating:
1. Knowledge is power. When you learn about the relationship between food and stress, you can do something about it. Initially, stress causes the appetite to decrease so that the body can deal with the situation. If the stress does not go away, another hormone called cortisol is released. Cortisol increases appetite and can cause someone to overeat. Also cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones, which may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
2. Resilience: Overeating is one thing, but most people get into trouble when they beat themselves up about it. Self-compassion can decrease stress eating. When you are kind and understand to yourself, it’s easier to resist the urge to stress eating. If you do stress eat, promise that you won’t beat yourself up and know it happens to everyone sometimes. That can help stop you from eating out of failure and help you make better choices later.
3. Exercise is a great stress-reliever, so don’t forget to include it in any plan to prevent or respond to stress eating. Even a five-minute walk can get your mind off food and help you deal with what’s stressing you out.
4. Meditation is another way to handle stress. How about taking ten deep breaths before giving in to a food craving? Try simple meditations available online or via apps.
5. Mindful eating can help stop stress eating before it starts. It is based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept. Mindful eating is using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating , such as eating slowly and without distraction; engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors; learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food; appreciating your food.
6. Sleep may be the answer for many people who use food to deal with stress. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. Getting plenty of rest will help with appetite control and reduce food cravings.
Coloring is a great stress-reliever. An added bonus — it’s hard to eat while your hands are occupied! Find adult coloring books online or in bookstores and department stores. You can even print out single pages to color (just do google for ‘free printable coloring pages’).
A Satisfying Gluten-Free Cake
If you have chronic gastrointestinal issues, eliminating gluten from your diet can have a positive impact. But just because you’re avoiding gluten doesn’t mean that you have to give up cake! Here is a delicious, gluten-free cake recipe that includes bananas and antioxidant-rich blueberries, and uses almond flour instead of wheat flour. The best part is that you can use either fresh or frozen blueberries — especially convenient in the winter months!
Almond Flour Banana Blueberry Cake
About Our Nutritionist, Shelly Xu
Shelly Xu manages Poppy Life Care’s Nutrition Program, which offers general nutrition information, instructional tips and recipes for healthy foods to improve behavioral health. Shelly has a background in traditional Chinese medicine and combined modern and traditional Chinese medical therapy in the treatment of neuro-system diseases and psychiatric diseases while serving as a Resident Doctor in the Nanjing Brain Hospital in China. She conducted nutrition analyses for CKE Restaurants Holdings in California, and received her Master’s degree from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Chapman University.
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The information presented is offered for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice. Please consult with your family’s personal physician/caregiver regarding your own medical care.
Poppy Life Care, 307 Placentia Avenue, Suite 203, Newport Beach, California 92663, United States, (949) 393-2240