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End the overwhelm.

Get a head start with my researched and field tested tool kit so that your child can thrive too.


Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet – Why It’s a Good Place to Start

Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet - Why It's a Good Place to Start

Many doctors advise parents of children with autism and ADHD to start with the gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet when considering dietary intervention for the first time. In a recent article, I discussed the GFCF diet along with nine other therapeutic diets that you can use. These will help resolve the many neurological and physiological symptoms your child experiences. Let’s review what the GFCF diet is and why it’s a good place to start.

in a nutshell
  • When making dietary changes for the first time, most practitioners recommend the GFCF diet. It is the easiest to implement and many parents see excellent results.
  • The proteins in gluten and casein, when improperly digested, are known to have an opiate-like effect. This could be the root of some of your child's neurological symptoms.
  • Removing soy in addition to gluten and casein can have an even greater impact on the reduction of symptoms.
  • Be mindful of not adding in too many processed GFCF foods to replace other processed foods. Some may be required for convenience, but ideally, the diet should consist of mainly whole foods (the ones you find around in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store).
  • Watch out for hidden gluten and soy in household and personal care products.
  • Strict adherence is necessary to evaluate whether your child will obtain benefits from continuing on a GFCF diet.

What is the Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet?

Most parents start with the GFCF diet first. A study by the Autism Research Institute of children with autism, based on parent reporting, found that the GFCF diet resolved symptoms over 65{4537a52abafa24f75931b694e3f6d1d9b0beb5896e18e49b3141987b78b41d96} of the time. 1 This diet is focused on the complete elimination of all gluten- and casein-containing foods from the diet.

Gluten and casein are proteins found in certain grains and dairy products, respectively. Complete elimination of these proteins is required in order to adequately assess the diet’s impact. Even small exposures through cross-contamination can trigger symptoms in children, reducing the efficacy of the diet.

How Does the GFCF Diet Work?

Many children test positive with IgG antibodies to gluten and casein, indicating a sensitivity to these proteins. This can result in impaired cognition and focus. One theory is that the peptides created by the breakdown of gluten and casein are known to mimic the peptides of opiates, which creates a “morphine-like” impact on the brain.

A more recent study has shown that the opiate peptides mentioned above impact the methylation cycle. This results in increased inability to effectively detox and increased inflammation in the gut, which in turn impacts the function of the brain. 2

Challenges and Benefits

The GFCF diet is one of the easiest to implement, maintain and see benefits from.

Strict adherence is necessary. The diet cannot be properly assessed for effectiveness until strict adherence has been achieved for a minimum of six weeks. Many parents, however, report seeing gains immediately.

In order for this and other therapeutic diets (especially the ones that remove entire food groups) to be a healthful change, you must ensure that the gluten- and casein-containing foods are not replaced with processed foods that are labeled “gluten-free” and “dairy-free.” Instead, substitute and include a variety of whole foods to ensure your child is getting the nutrients they need.

Should My Child Also Be Going Soy-Free?

When implementing the GFCF diet, many feel they should also take it a step further and eliminate soy from the diet. Parent reporting has indicated that the effectiveness of the GFCF diet is increased by also removing soy.

One reason why removing soy from the diet may increase the efficacy of the GFCF diet, is that soy is often processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains. This can potentially lead to a high rate of cross contamination.

In addition, cross-reactivity between soy and casein was noted in a 2002 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 3 Others studies have shown that soy causes the same villous atrophy in the intestinal tract that is an identifying factor for celiac disease. 4

Given all these factors, removing soy might be in your child's best interest if you can handle making all of these changes at once.

Removal of soy will not harm your child's nutritional status. It will give your child's immune system a break from a potentially cross-reactive response. It will also ease the impact on her digestive system, as soy is difficult to digest. If you are primarily eating a whole-food diet (with minimally processed foods), removing soy is easy. The majority of our exposure to soy comes from processed foods containing soy lecithin and soybean oils.

Special Considerations

Many household products contain gluten or soy, so you must not only remove gluten from food, but also from products that come into contact with your child. Personal care products, such as shampoo, moisturizers, toothpastes, etc., must also not contain gluten or soy.

Other foods in addition to soy have been discovered to be cross-reactive with gluten and casein. One way to identify foods that may be cross-reactive for your child is to talk to your practitioner about getting specialized testing by Cyrex Labs (Array 4 and 10), which can identify cross-reactive foods.

What to Do if My Child Is Accidentally Fed Gluten or Casein?

First of all, don't beat yourself up about it. This happens from time to time. Usually, it is by a well-meaning relative who doesn't understand what gluten is, and that it is found in more than just wheat. It can also happen to even the most watchful parent who forgets to check the ingredients on an item that normally would not include gluten or casein.

There are a few remedies to minimize the impact of accidentally ingesting gluten or casein. These measures do not counteract regular ingestion of these substances, but they are very helpful to have on-hand in case of accidental exposures.

  • Take a digestive enzyme that contains the DPP-IV enzyme, which will help to break down gluten proteins. One enzyme product that is handy to have on hand is Houston Enzymes' AFP-Peptizyde or TriEnza.
  • The other go-to remedy is activated charcoal. This is helpful to “mop up the mess” in the gut, caused by improperly digested food. Activated charcoal adsorbs certain toxins, working like a magnet to shuffle them out with food waste so they are not absorbed.
  • Epsom salt baths can also be helpful to ward off any digestive or emotional distress caused by the infraction. Use 1–2 cups, beginning with a lower amount if it is your child’s first Epsom salt bath. Otherwise, they may experience “healing” reactions that could aggravate instead of soothe their symptoms.

How to Get Started on the GFCF Diet

Be prepared!

Like any big dietary change, mentally preparing yourself, your child and your family, as well as making changes to your kitchen and your house, will make the implementation of the diet much easier.

Prepare mentally by making a commitment ahead of time. Know that you will have to be diligent and that the results of this diligence will be worth it. Prepare your child by letting her know that you will be cooking some new foods for her. Help her to view it as a culinary adventure. Prepare your family for the changes as well. It’s best that everyone follow a similar diet so that your child doesn’t have to give up his favorite mac ’n cheese when everyone else at the table gets to eat it. Your family might be surprised at the health benefits they experience by making this change, too!

Prepare your kitchen by removing all of the foods your child will no longer be able to eat. When my family went through these changes, we ate our way through these foods over time, and as we got closer to the date of diet implementation, we gave the remaining foods to friends, family and food banks.

Check out the resource guide I have compiled for you. There are many great websites, books and Facebook groups with fantastic recipes, tips and tricks—as well as encouragement along with way—on implementing the GFCF diet.

Grab Your Free GFCF Diet Resource Guide Here!

Of course, you can also jump into our Facebook group, the My Child Will Thrive Village, to get guidance and knowledge from the members!

Talk to family, friends, day care providers and your child’s school about the change you are making. Let them know how very important it is that they adhere to the dietary restrictions. Not everyone is going to accept your choice, so expect some resistance. Until you can get everyone fully on board, make sure that you are providing all of the food for your child and insisting they are not fed anything else. Well-meaning friends and relatives may think they know what gluten-free and dairy-free means, but even the most experienced parents make mistakes on this diet.

Last, but certainly not least, write it all down! Grab your Food, Sleep, Mood and Poop Journal, and write down everything. This is essential to properly evaluate the effectiveness of the diet. You can read all about how to track and review your food journal for your child here.


  1. Summary of Biomedical Treatments for Autism, Dr. James B Adams, PhD, April 2007
  2. Trivedi et al. Nutrition & Metabolism (2015) 12:54 DOI 10.1186/s12986-015-0050-1
  3. ROZENFELD, P., DOCENA, G. H. and FOSSATI, M. C. A. &. C. A. (2002), Detection and identification of a soy protein component that cross-reacts with caseins from cow's milk. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 130: 49–58. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2249.2002.t01-1-01935.x
  4. Eur J Pediatr. 1981 Sep;137(1):63-9.