Just Because Something is GFCF…
(or Specific Carbohydrate (SCD), etc.) Doesn't Mean You Should Eat It
By Lisa Ackerman
As a parent coming up on our nine-year anniversary since starting the GFCF (gluten-free and casein-free) diet, along with low carbohydrates/sugar, allergy elimination, and the rotation of food families, I often find myself cringing at what folks actually feed their kids -- not just the typical families eating gluten and casein like there is no tomorrow, but families like ours -- GFCF families and their hungry, sugar-munching, carbo-loading special needs children.
I know I should never judge another family and I try to remember “you have to walk a mile in another person’s shoes” to even begin understanding their life, but my concern is this: Just because the food is GFCF, doesn’t mean your child should eat it!
Yes, there are a lot of easy foods that meet the requirements of not containing gluten or casein. Products like Coca-Cola and other sodas, traditional Gummy Bears, a hamburger patty from McDonald’s, old fashioned hot dogs, Starburst candy, Lays potato chips, Jell-O, sugar-laden GFCF cookies are all heavy in carbohydrates with little to no good protein, and other much needed nutrients. The problem with these foods is they offer no or little nutritional value , which most, if not all, special needs children (especially those with autistic enterocolitis and immune disorders) desperately need and do not often or easily eat. Foods like these can play havoc on an already damaged digestive system.
Feeding children these items “once in a while” or on special occasions like a birthday party, is not the problem. It becomes a problem when these GFCF food items that have little or no nutritional value, are fed to special needs children on a daily basis. The goal is to work towards feeding your children healthier, organic foods in a variety of choices, instead of the poor nutrition-less choices!
It is easy to get started! Once you have been on a GFCF Diet, SCD diet or other related diet for six to twelve months, it is time to look at labels again. Ask, “What is your child eating?”
Here are some suggestions for a new healthy “Add to your GFCF diet” routine:
Step 1. RE-CHECK LABELS: Any items with an ingredient with more than three syllables or an ingredient you cannot pronounce should be ELIMINATED! (An exception would be zucchini!) Examples of NEW NO-NOs are: Monosodium glutamate, any "dyes," preservatives like compound butylated hydroxytoluene, sulfites, nitrates, etc!
Step 2. GO ORGANIC! If you cannot afford to do so for the entire family, please try to do this for your special needs child! From vegetables to fruits, meats and even bath and body care products!
Step 3. SKIP THE PACKAGED REFINED PRODUCTS! If it comes with a “character” on the package or is wrapped in lots of plastic and cardboard– try something else! Buy some of your kids favorite GFCF stickers and a Seal-a-meal Vacuum Storage system and make your own home-packaged foods with ingredients you are proud to feed your child! Refined packages are convenient but often, are poor sources of nutrition.
Step 4. BAKE AND MAKE IT YOURSELF. Take old favorites and make them at home! Try fresh ingredients and freeze the extras for quick meals later. Where to find the time? I used to work full-time and BAKE everything for my child. Know this–time can be found. These efforts of cooking, packaging and freezing sometimes well into the early hours of the morning--when David Letterman and Conan O’Brien have already called it a night–are worth it. I can tell you, even on little sleep, I felt better about what my child was eating when I knew what the ingredients were. It is habit to now quadruple a favorite recipe and freeze batches in individual baggies that easy to reheat and serve on short notice. Once a week, I pick a recipe, cook it, and then, freeze batches ahead of time–that way I have plenty on hand during the busy times of the week.
Step 5. TRY ALTERNATIVE SWEETENERS! Special needs bellies do better using maple syrup or honey. Maybe try a little xylitol for those kids that need to cut back on sugars! Whenever I bake, I ALWAYS CUT the requirement for sugars in HALF, especially when using natural sugars like maple syrup or honey - they have a stronger flavor so you can use less.
STEP 6. UNDERSTAND SUGAR INTAKE: Some children become different “beasts” when fed a diet with too much sugar–even natural sugar sources. Become familiar with your child’s intake level and how different amounts (high and low) affect him/her. The sugar grams consumed can easily add up over the day. It is recommended that special needs children go “low” on refined sugar and carbohydrates (which turn into sugar). Experiment going without sugar and then, with eating low amounts of sugar to see what affects your child’s behavior both positively and negatively. The total amount of sugar (in grams) each child ingests daily and the total amount of sugar intake that works best for each child (in terms of positive versus negative behaviors) will vary by child.
STEP 7. TRY SOMETHING NEW! Ever try a new GFCF item like spaghetti squash, tofu (if tolerant of soy), or rice pasta? Walk down the aisle of your health food store and locate five new things. You may have five new failures at your house or you may discover a new favorite! Get out of your own rut and try some new foods for your kids!
Your biggest concern about food should not only be about whether it is gluten- and casein-free, but also free of chemicals, additives, dyes, SUGAR, and preservatives, too. These other ingredients can do just as much damage to our children as gluten and casein and then some. This damage typically demonstrates itself in the following ways: in the stools (either diarrhea or constipation), in their gut (distended stomachs and gas), surges in erratic behaviors, sleep disturbances, spaciness/lack of focus and more. It is worth the effort to provide your child with some clean, healthy alternatives.
If you have a picky eater, do not fret! Read how to get picky kids to eat!
When they eat healthier foods, our kids will have better sleep, behaviors, stools and performance! It is our goal to make good food choices for our kids and help expand their food repertoire with these good choices. Happy eating!