A yummy slice of gluten-free casein-free joy-free pie?
October 25, 2008 5:29 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has started a GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) diet. This is following a recent diagnosis of Adult Aspergers. Please help us.

He is interested in the theory that gluten and dairy have a depressing, opiate like effect in autistic people. He also says since cutting out these foods he has no stomach discomfort (he regularly has some kind of tummy issues - common to autistic people, I hear).

The diet often makes him quite miserable to be around, with headaches and the expected side effects -- he is quite skinny to begin with so I can't help but think he is missing out on some crucial nutrition here. I (hope I) have convinced him to visit a nutritionist soon.

Ask Mefi, you can help by pointing me in the direction of any reputable information about the whole GFCF thing. I see a lot of crap on the web about this. Where's the scientifically sound information and who can I trust?

Also, good recipes? Recipe blogs? Ideas of what he can eat? Regular recipes that can be tweaked to be made GFCF?

We especially need ideas for quick snacks, stuff to have on hand, take to work, or offer a pick-me-up? He often gets caught out in a state where he is really starved, weak, and too tired to THINK of what foods he could eat ... I ruffle through the pantry trying to think of simple things I can make him, but nothing seems to interest him (he's a picky eater). Then he just gets even more tired and miserable.

If you're wondering, the plan is to try this out for as long as possible, perhaps around 6 months to a year (apparently it can take that long for the body to "recover" from gluten?) He also has an appointment with an allergist but there's a long waiting list so that's not til February.

On a slightly related note, I'd appreciate links to resources or web forums for partners of people with Aspergers. I am finding this harder to cope with than I thought I would. :) Thanks.
posted by mjao to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely check out The China Study. The book is more about casein, but its a good, seriously scientific discussion on the way it works in the body.

He's gonna be going mainly vegan on snacks, then (unless he's eating Slim Jims all the time). Check out this awesome resource -- Accidentally Vegan.

And this is a great Vegan cooking website -- Veganfood. I know, he eats meat, so throw a chicken on the top. You're gonna have to go to the vegans to get a lot of recipes for dishes that are sensitive to these kind of concerns. There is also a great Yahoo group for CFGF that I came across when I was doing the CF thing. (Which, by the way, was extremely good for me.)

He's gonna have to find a way to make it sustainble, though, otherwise he'll never get an accurate "read" on whether its helping.
posted by letahl at 5:41 PM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, wow. Here's some sites. Sorry, you'll have to cut and paste.


Got them from http://gfcf-diet.talkaboutcuringautism.org/
posted by letahl at 5:43 PM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

along the same lines of letahl, i like pangea/vegan store.

also, check at your local grocery store, a lot of places are offering gluten free pasta now.
posted by nadawi at 6:01 PM on October 25, 2008

Karina's Kitchen is a gluten free, casein-free cooking blog with many tasty looking recipes (none of which I've tried, but the pictures make it all look good).
posted by AAAA at 6:06 PM on October 25, 2008

Man, that "accidentally vegan" PETA site is silly sounding. "For example, did you know that Pepperidge Farm Turnovers, Murray Butter Cookies, and Cracker Jacks are all vegan? They may not all be 'health foods,' but they are great for the taste buds! Just remember, one cannot live on Goldenberg Peanut Chews alone."--can you say paid product advertising?

Mr. WanKenobi has celiac's disease and about a million food allergies. It's actually not very difficult to get by at all. As nadawi pointed out, there's a ton of gluten free pasta out there, as well as gluten free version of other products--cereals (rice based), crackers (also rice based), breads (often nut based and contain eggs, so my SO can't eat them, but yours should be able to!) Even if you don't want to go the fake bread route, there's all sorts of good side dishes he can have next to his meat--potatoes and sweet potatoes, squashes, other veggies, salads. Get a bread machine and you can even make bread for him--or, even better, he can make it for himself. I can't speak for whether or not he'll feel better without gluten or casein, but really, there are tons of gluten free, vegan friendly options if you check out health food stores--supermarket chains are even getting better at carrying this stuff!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:16 PM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read a great blog written by a woman who is gluten free and casein free. She posts a lot of great recipes that your boyfriend might like.
posted by legendarygirlfriend at 6:43 PM on October 25, 2008

I can't speak to the effects of gluten freedom on Asperger's, but I can say it's not that hard to avoid gluten and enjoy a wide-ranging diet. For example, rice abounds in all sorts of forms, including the wonderfully chewy and highly caloric. The easiest for me is to cook up a big batch of short grain brown rice, freeze individual portions in freezer jars, and nuke as needed. Add store-bought sauce of some sort (Thai peanut sauce, for example) and you have a super-easy, filling snack that satisfies carb cravings and packs a load of calories.

If he misses bread, I'll second the bread-machine idea. I got over the desire for bread, but if I'm entertaining normal types who expect bread, I'll make a rice-based French bread in the bread machine. I've also made flatbreads and other baked goods and people are surprised to learn they're made of rice flour.

For portable snacks, I'm a huge fan of nuts. If carbs are called for, there are rice crackers and such that have a lot more flavor than the boring puffed rice cakes.

To establish healthy eating routines, it can be helpful to cook up a huge pot of something and freeze it as individual servings. Maybe even write the day the portion is to be eaten on the container. Many filling stews can be made with no gluten or dairy, as well as lots of interesting Asian dishes, including ghee-free curries (curries freeze well--just thaw some curry and some rice, combine, and eat).
posted by PatoPata at 6:50 PM on October 25, 2008

Gluten-Free Girl is an AWESOME gluten-free cooking blog. She also has a kick-ass recipe book, which you should get pronto. Just amend recipes as needed to make sure they're also casein-free.
posted by barnone at 7:03 PM on October 25, 2008

We bought "Enzymes for Autism" which was an interesting, if not entirely persuasive read. I don't have the brain cycles right now to make the argument, but boyfriend might want to read up on the enzymes offered by Houston Nutracueticals, and also read the research on DHA. Our experiences are largely anecdotal, with our eight-year-old, but there seems to be signs of improvement (but not cure, of course). PM me if you want a copy of the book.
posted by mecran01 at 8:30 PM on October 25, 2008

Try a cookbook called Veganomicon. Everything is vegan (ie: casein-free) and dishes that are gluten-free are marked as such.
posted by ainsley at 9:02 PM on October 25, 2008

i eat gluten-free. quick snacks for when you are too tired and hungry to think straight are very important. things that help me survive and are also CF:
--tortilla chips + salsa and/or guac and/or bean dip
--rice cakes and peanut butter/almond butter (though i got tired of rice cakes really fast)
--precooked sausage is nice to have in the fridge to heat and eat for some protein
--keep some quinoa salad in the fridge, especially one with beans to add protein, like this one. it will keep for several days and you can just grab the container from the fridge and start eating.
--roasted and/or flavored nuts, like sesame-honey almonds or thai-lime-and-chili peanuts (or, you know, plain nuts, but i find them boring)

some commercial snacks i eat a lot of:
--kind bars and mrs. may's "classic crunches" are two amazingly delicious nut snacks
--when you get tired of rice cakes, gluten-free freezer waffles (trader joe's has some, too, under their own label) are a lifesaver. not yummy enough to eat like waffles (i.e. with just syrup), but top with almond butter + honey, or nutella, or cooked apples.
--if i could eat only one food it would probably be ike and sam's kettle corn.

in terms of recipes, i eat a lot of homemade soups, curries, and stir fries (lots of recipes are GFCF, and if you make a big batch, you've got micowaveable meals ready in the fridge for a few days).

if his stomach feels better eating GFCF, i would declare it a worthwhile diet, whether it helps with autistic symptoms or not.
posted by nevers at 9:17 PM on October 25, 2008

Fritos have 4 ingredients, and are perfectly GFCF.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:24 PM on October 25, 2008

Gluten and casein's purported connection to Asperger's, I know nothing about (though it sounds kind of hokey at first glance, in that mostly-harmless-macrobiotic-kind-of-way). But this, I know about:

He often gets caught out in a state where he is really starved, weak, and too tired to THINK of what foods he could eat ... I ruffle through the pantry trying to think of simple things I can make him, but nothing seems to interest him (he's a picky eater). Then he just gets even more tired and miserable.

That isn't gluten-free or casein-free, that's just low blood sugar. Call it "hypoglycemia" and it even sounds all medical and shit. Being on a restricted diet, where he is probably not eating enough calories, can really exacerbate this, too. And as Phalene describes, hypoglycemia (and restrictive diets) can overlay with Asperger's in a way that makes it even harder for that person to eat when they need to.

The answer is the dietary equivalent of democracy in Chicago: eat early and eat often. Keep snacks in the glove box of the car, in the desk at work, in your backpack so when you are out with him and he starts showing the early signs you can just shove a granola bar or whatever in his mouth and carry on.

So I think you need two totally separate sets of things here. One is a set of gluten- and casein-free granola bars and beef jerky packets and so on -- convenience foods that you can stash everywhere and insist that he eat before totally collapsing. I'd just go shopping and read labels really closely. Your local healthfood/hippy store will have lots, or just spend half an hour in the snack food section of the regular supermarket. But this is not really a big deal, because there are plenty of convenience foods that fit the bill.

And then the other thing is to figure out ways of eating gluten- and casein-free that don't deprive him of calories and nutrients. It's kind of like when people become vegetarians in their teens, and start out by just cutting out meat and not really adding anything, so they live on mac and cheese and pop-tarts for six months and then wonder why they are feeling really crappy -- if you just cut things out but don't pay attention to what to add instead, it won't work well.

One path is like in one of the blogs I glanced at above, where you figure out how to make gluten/casein-free substitutes of familiar foods (eg bread, muffins, etc). That works ok, but is a lot of effort and the results are only really satisfying if you don't compare them to the real version of what you are imitating. Or, easier and probably more satisfying, you just focus on the things you can eat, like rice and lentils and whatever.

But really, that's secondary to making sure he is getting enough calories every day, and has snacks ready for when his blood sugar dips in the late afternoon.
posted by Forktine at 10:47 PM on October 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Potatoes are fine, you can always stop and get some fast-food fries. Just make sure they're not coated in some glutenous substance like flour.
posted by bluekrauss at 11:52 PM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've read a lot about the idea that gluten and casein can cause opiate-like effects. The science isn't really very clear, but the idea is that the long chains of amino acids in these proteins can be broken into peptides that match certain opioid receptors in the digestive tract. Search on "casomorphin" and "gliadorphin" if you want to read about that. It's not all that well understood, but it seems to make sense if you consider that human breast-milk casein proteins might trigger receptors in babies' colons to make them contented, sleepy, etc.

The thing is, some people go further and contend that these peptides "leak" through the gut in certain susceptible populations, such as autistics, possibly triggered by something (like a vaccination). Some even say the peptides then cross into the bloodstream and across the blood/brain barrier to cause problems directly in the brain. It's unlikely since the peptides we're talking about are 7 amino acids long, far too big to get out of the colon (2-3 is more like it), let alone all the way into the brain.

That said, there is never anything wrong with trying out eliminating certain foods for a while if you suspect an allergy or other problem. It's a perfectly sensible thing to do as long as you're mindful of overall nutrition. However, one difficult problem is, it's hard to be objective, because any dietary change tends to make a person feel better - energized, upbeat, etc. So you can think the diet is doing you all kinds of good when it's the mere fact that you changed your diet that is giving you stimulation and excitement. So try to keep that in mind.
posted by ysabella at 1:28 AM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have him carry a small bag with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and jerky with him at all times and he should always have a snack he can eat.

Fresh fruit is also great but make sure he eats something like nuts/seeds/nutbutter at the same time.

Look into starchy vegetables as a great substitute for grains.

Read all labels when shopping and (learn) to cook fresh unprocessed foods.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:12 AM on October 26, 2008

On a slightly related note, I'd appreciate links to resources or web forums for partners of people with Aspergers. I am finding this harder to cope with than I thought I would. :) Thanks.

There isn't much information out there yet about adult aspie/NT relationships but Tony Attwood has done some work on it and Chris & Gisela Slater-Walker have written a book and more about their relationship.

Also there are several aspergers-partners forums on the delphi forums pages.

This one is for partners who really want to make things work, this one is for partners who are at the end of their relationship-rope, and this one is ostensibly for both partners but ymmv on that one. There is some overlap among the three and they'll point you in the direction of other resources as well.

Good luck to both of you.
posted by headnsouth at 5:13 AM on October 26, 2008

Sorry that last link should say "ostensibly for both the aspie and the NT partner..."
posted by headnsouth at 5:15 AM on October 26, 2008

My friend's blog - Aprovechar is about health, and her battle with MULTIPLE allergies- gluten and casein being just two of them. She has lots of recipes posted as well as tons of links to other bloggers fighting the same issues. I've basically never eaten anything at her house that was not excellent. Good luck, you can eat this way (and in a much more restricted manner actually) - and you can eat WELL.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:33 AM on October 26, 2008

Get tested for celiac disease as soon as you can -- the stomach issues that were solved by this diet should tell you a lot, especially since it appears you two were surprised by this. I'm old school celiac (yo), all in the playground eating rice cakes that looked like styrofoam and lettuce sandwiches 'n shit.

It's a diease, a real disease and not anti-MSG style pseudoscience that's tries to explain away what happens when you eat sugar-coated fried chicken with a potential for disastrous long term effects like stomach cancer. Being tired and "stomach problems" are the main symptoms.
posted by sleslie at 9:27 AM on October 26, 2008

He needs to evaluate after a couple months if the diet is actually working.

My son is on the autistic spectrum and goes to a special autistic school where half the kids are on this diet. From what the teachers can tell, the diet either works or it doesn't. Different kids get different results, and no one medication, diet, or what have you is blanket perfect.

I simply mention this because if he doesn't see a significant improvement, then the diet is pretty miserable to follow.

No matter what, good luck to you both.
posted by FunkyHelix at 12:47 PM on October 26, 2008

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