As a mom it is not uncommon to get frustrated with your kid’s fussy eating patterns. However for moms with kids on the autism spectrum picky eating is an even more common issue.
You may think your child is just being stubborn and unreasonable at mealtime, but there are actually a number of biochemical reasons why a child might have a very limited repertoire of foods that they will consume or are refusing to eat certain meals altogether. In fact, a child’s picky eating could be based on a number of reasons, including:
- sensory issues
- oral motor problems
- nutrient deficiencies
- food addictions/cravings
- chemical addicitions to additives, preservatives and colourings
Children often become “addicted” to foods that their body has difficulty processing. When certain, specific, “addicted” food proteins enter the blood stream, the body creates a compound that mimics the effect of morphine. Common foods that may cause this effect include dairy and gluten as they can create opiate-like response in the brain, making the child feel good in the short term. Unfortunately, that opiate-like response causes the child to restrict other foods to help fuel the addictive cycle and creates very picky eating.
Fear/Anxiety of New food
Being nervous about consuming a new food is a common developmental step in children between the ages of 2 to 3, but if this continues after this then there maybe an underlying issue such as oral motor issue, sensnory issue, or anxiety. One study identified that caregivers tried offering a new food a maximum of 3-5x before deciding that the child disliked it. However, the research shows that a caregiver needs to provide many more repeated exposures up to 8-15 times before the child would accept the new food. (Carruth, Ruth, Ziegler, Gordon, Barr, 2004). So, persevere it might not be enough exposures before the child feels comfortable consuming it.
Zinc is a nutrient that helps increase the sense of taste, smell and appetite. If your child has a nutrient deficiency, food may taste bad or bland, which can take away the pleasure of eating. A Survey of parent’s rating the efficacy with supplementing identified that austistic symptoms improved in 54% of children when the child was supplemented with zinc. It is recommended that blood tests be done to dtermine if there is a defeciencey before considering supplementing with zinc, but if that can not be done then taking a children’s multivitamin with a smaller dose might be a step in the right direction. Foods high in zinc to incorporate into the diet include: mushrooms, spinach, grass fed beef, lamb, summer squash, shrimp, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, broccoli and sesame seeds.
Addictions to Chemicals (MSG, artiﬁcial additives)
Artificial food additives are often consumed in a typical Standard American Diet diet which consists mainly of processed foods that have a long shelf life. Addictions to these chemicals can cause restriction to specific brands or a large preference for processed foods. Addictions to salicylates, amines or glutamates can lead to a focus on foods high in these food chemicals, such as a diet high in fruit or fruit juice, tomato sauce, ketchup, and/or soy sauce (as examples), and avoidance of other food not high in them. MSG, in particular is neurodegenerative and contains glutamate that can excite the brain making the food taste more palatable, so subsequently the child craves that food. Removing these processed foods from your child’s diet may cause some withdrawal symptoms in the short-term, but the pay-off will be well worth it in the long-term with improvements in behaviors and mood
Yeast, Viral and Microbial Overgrowth
in the gut can cause a child to gravitate toward high carbohydrate foods such as breads, pizza, pasta and sugar-based foods. Refined grains such as white bread, pizza and pasta are broken down in the body quickly (due to minimal fiber content which would slow the release down) into glucose. These pathogens thrive on glucose to help them proliferate and flourish. These “bad” or “opportunistic bacteria and microbes” in the gut can affect your child’s brain chemistry causing them to crave refined carbohydrates and sugar, which as a result can lead to avoidance of other foods.
- Make food fun! You can create pictures on the plate with food and create stories from it.
- Get your child involved in the grocery shopping, meal preparation or even in growing foods at home. This can build comfort and familiarity with the food and a sense of accomplishment
- Remember you need to expose your child to a new food 8-15 times before they may accept this into their diet. So keep trying!
- Don’t get anxious or hung up on the outcome when trying new foods. Kids sense stress and anxiety and will feed on this and not the food.
- Sneaking or hiding foods inside other foods can be either a benefit or a detriment, depending on the child. Most childrem prefer to eat foods they are familiar, so pureeing vegetables inside muffins, pancakes, meatballs, or pasta sauce may sneak in a bit of extra nutrition undetected. However, for some children with severe difficulty feeding, this strategy may cause them to lose trust or refuse a previously accepted food because there was something different about it. Hiding new foods or trouble foods inside other recipes is only recommended if that is a strategy has worked before or parents feel confident it won’t be a problem.
If you would like more information on this or would like to speak to one of our nutritionists specialized in working with kids on the autism spectrum please contact us.