Food is a major issue for many of us living with neurodiversity. We all eat don’t we! Good food nourishes us. Poor food harms us and while this is the same for everyone it is heightened for people who lead stressful and more anxious lives – carers of autistic people and autistic people themselves.
At Autism Voice we have discussed food issues and learnt that while nutrition problems are common, they vary. Some children are very picky eaters, some eat things that aren’t really food. For some sensory issues such as the sound of people eating is a concern, but for others it’s the texture and smell of the food that causes difficulties.
As a starting point for our discussion, we wanted to be clear about what we mean by healthy eating. There are so many messages about what to eat and what not to eat that it is worthwhile being clear about this.
- VEGETABLES and FRUIT – If there’s one message, it’s eats more vegetables. Fruit too. Dried fruit is great in meals but should be avoided as a snack on its own as it is bad for teeth.
- MEAT & FISH – Sometimes it is good to have vegetarian meals to make sure we eat enough vegetables. When we do serve meat, visible fat should be removed before cooking, and skin removed from poultry.
- FAT and OIL – It is important to avoid transfats or hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat or oil such as sunflower, corn oil or rapeseed oil is best. Crisps and processed foods contain transfats.
- SUGAR – Sugar is not good for you – and it’s highly addictive – so it’s difficult to stop eating it.
- SNACKS – chose rice cakes, bread sticks, oat biscuits, plain popcorn or fruit. Nuts are another healthy option.
- DESSERT fruit and yoghurt-based meals are preferred – we have given some recipes for low sugar alternatives below.
- CARBOHYDRATES – We aim to offer wholegrain varieties of carbohydrates e.g. wholemeal bread, pittas, rotis, whole-wheat pasta, brown or wild rice are better than refined (white) carbohydrates. They act like sugar and cause a rapid rise and then fall in sugar levels in the body – which can lead to nervousness, shakiness, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, depression.
- DRINKS – Water is one of most neglected aspects of our diets – as a population we are regularly at risk of being dehydrated and this means our bodies don’t function properly. Sugary and fizzy drinks should be avoided completely.
- ADDITIVES – If you eat as above you are not likely to encounter additives – they are usually found in processed food – but the ‘autistic community’ is particularly concerned about artificial additives – they are:
A healthy diet would not include any of these.
Top tips for picky eaters that have come out of our discussions are:
– Remember you are not alone – there are many of us that share this problem
– Work with your children & not against them – if they want to touch or play with food that’s better than not wanting to touch it at all.
– Keep offering different foods, even if their diet is limited.
– Focus on healthy foods above – if the diet is limited it should be as healthy as possible.
– If you do give your child lots of sugar and processed or refined foods, they could end up being diabetic
At Autism Voice, we would like to continue to find ways to support one another through focusing on food. The literature on autism and food suggests that there is very little research but potentially there is a lot to learn. Many of our families do see dieticians for support with picky eating and some of those with older (grown up) children have a lot to teach. At the same time as carers we need to look after ourselves, and we can do this by eating well. They key to eating well is to feel inspired by healthy recipes and feel part of a community that cares about what we eat.
REDUCED SUGAR SNACKS
Sugar Free Almond Butter Fudge
250g Nut Butter (smooth or crunchy)
110g Virgin Coconut oil
1 tbsp Xylitol
1 pinch Sea Salt
Mix all of the ingredients in a pan over a medium heat until melted and combined.
Line a small container that can be placed in freezer.
Pour into the container and chill in the freezer for 20-30 minutes until set.
Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut into small squares.
Keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Cinnamon Apple Chips
2 Large Apples (Braeburn or Granny Smiths)
1 tbsp Cinnamon
Pre-heat the oven to 100c
Line a baking sheet with parchment
Core then thinly slice the apples (do not peel)
Spread the apples on the baking sheet without overlapping
Sprinkle with ½ the Cinnamon
Bake for 1 hour
Flip the apples, sprinkle with the balance of Cinnamon
Bake for another hour
Let apple chips cool before eating
Sugar Free Chocolate Brownies
60g Rice Flour
1 tbsp flax seed meal
30g Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Xanthium Gum
60ml Sunflower Oil
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 tbsp water
Pre-Heat oven to 180c. Lightly grease & line with parchment a 9-inch square baking tray.
In a medium size bowl combine all the dry ingredients, stir to combine.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine so that you have a batter the consistency of molasses.
Spread in the prepared tin
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.