What Foods to Avoid With Autism: A Comprehensive Guide for Families

Hello, dear readers! Today, we’re tackling an incredibly important and often overlooked topic: what foods to avoid with autism. We all know that what we eat directly impacts our well-being, but for those with autism, diet can significantly influence behavior, focus, and even social interactions. So, grab a cup of tea or whatever your go-to comfort drink is, and let’s get started. 

What Are the Signs of Autism?

Before we dive into the dietary aspect, let’s briefly discuss the signs of autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication, behavior, and social skills.


  • According to the CDC, 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism.
  • Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.

Some common signs include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Communication challenges

Meet Alex, a bright 10-year-old who loves puzzles and painting. Alex was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. His parents noticed that certain foods seemed to aggravate his symptoms, making it harder for him to focus and increasing his anxiety levels.

Foods to Avoid with Autism

Nutrition can play a pivotal role in managing autism symptoms. Here’s a list of foods you might consider avoiding:

  • Artificial Colors and Preservatives: Foods with artificial colors, such as candies, cereals, and sodas, can worsen hyperactivity and impulsive behavior in some individuals. Preservatives like sodium benzoate, commonly found in processed foods, have also been linked to increased hyperactivity.
  • Gluten: Found in wheat, barley, and rye, gluten can be problematic for some individuals with autism. While not all people with autism are sensitive to gluten, some parents and caregivers report improvements in behavior and gastrointestinal symptoms when following a gluten-free diet.
  • Casein: This protein is found in dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. Some reports suggest that casein may contribute to behavioral issues, including mood swings and irritability, in certain cases. However, scientific backing is still limited, and more research is needed to establish this link conclusively.
  • Soy: Soy products can mimic estrogen in the body and have been shown to disrupt endocrine function. For those sensitive to hormone imbalances, avoiding soy might be beneficial.
  • High Sugar Foods: Sugar can cause fluctuations in energy levels and lead to periods of hyperactivity followed by crashes, which can be particularly challenging for children and adults with autism to manage.

Facts and Statistics:

  • A 2018 study found that 70% of children with ASD had food selectivity, making dietary changes even more critical.
  • Gluten-free and casein-free diets have been the most researched dietary interventions for autism, though results are still inconclusive.

Alex’s parents saw a noticeable improvement in his behavior when they reduced his intake of foods with artificial preservatives and colors.

Foods to Avoid for Children with Autism

When it comes to children, the list becomes a bit more specific due to their developing systems:

  • Sugary Foods: Excess sugar can lead to spikes and crashes in energy levels.
  • Processed Foods: These often contain additives that can worsen symptoms.
  • High-salicylate foods: Such as grapes and tomatoes, can sometimes cause adverse reactions.

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Food Ingredients Children with Autism Should Avoid

Some ingredients to look out for include:

  • MSG (Monosodium Glutamate): Can lead to mood swings.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: These can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.


  • Nearly 30% of children with ASD have been found to experience gastrointestinal issues, which can be exacerbated by certain food ingredients.

Alex’s parents found that cutting out MSG made a significant difference in his mood swings.

What Is the Best Diet for Autism?

Dietary approaches to consider:

  • Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods: Prioritize a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins like chicken or fish, and whole grains. These foods offer essential nutrients that can support brain function and overall health.
  • Consider Allergies and Sensitivities: Many children with autism also have food allergies or sensitivities. Gluten, dairy, and soy are common culprits. Always consult with a healthcare provider for allergy testing and tailored advice.
  • Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These essential fats, found in foods like fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have shown promise in improving cognitive function and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Monitor Sugar and Carb Intake: Limiting high-glycemic foods that lead to rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar can help in stabilizing mood and behavior.
  • Hydration Matters: Proper hydration can play a role in cognitive function. Water is generally the best option, but natural juices without added sugar can also be considered.
  • Consult Professionals: Always seek the guidance of medical professionals like pediatricians, dietitians, or nutritionists specialized in autism care for the most effective dietary plan tailored to individual needs.


  • A 2019 study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements showed promise in improving the behavior of children with autism.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein seemed to help manage Alex’s symptoms most effectively. His parents also consulted a nutritionist to make sure all his nutritional needs were being met.


Navigating the complexities of autism can be challenging, but knowing that there are dietary avenues to explore offers a beacon of hope for many families. From understanding the signs of autism to identifying foods and ingredients to steer clear of, each step is a move towards a better quality of life for your loved ones. It’s a collaborative effort that involves parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers coming together to create the most supportive environment possible.



  1. CDC: Prevalence of Autism
  2. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders: Dietary Interventions in Autism
  3. National Institutes of Health: Food Selectivity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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