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Nutrition

Para ver en español: Nutrición

Disclaimer: This summary is based off of research conducted by Autism Treatment Network members. It is not a summary of the entire body of research literature available on this subject.

Quick tips on managing nutrition issues

Like many kids in the US, those with ASD often eat less healthy food than they should [1]. Over half of children with ASD (56%) take vitamins to make up for this. Unfortunately, the multivitamins often have the vitamins and minerals that kids are already getting enough of [2]. This leads to kids having too much of some vitamins and not enough of others. Even when kids take multivitamins, parents should watch how much vitamin D and calcium their child eats because both vitamins are important for bone health [3][4].

The strength and thickness of the bone (bone density) at the hip and lower back of boys with ASD is lower than in boys without ASD. Boys with autism and boys without autism are about the same size and weight, but boys with autism get less exercise than boys without autism. To help make bones stronger all kids with ASD need more exercise and need more protein (meats), calcium (milk products and leafy greens), and phosphorus (meats, milk, beans, and nuts).

Another important nutrient for children is iron because irons helps the body use oxygen and grow properly. Children with ASD are not more likely to be iron deficient than those without ASD [5], but it is still important to look for signs of iron deficiency. Signs include being more tired than usual, feeling dizzy and having skin that is more pale and dry than usual.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHILD/TEENAGER?

    • Children with ASD may not eat enough foods with Vitamin D and Calcium [3][3].
    • This can lead to bones that are thinner and weaker [3][3].
    • Vitamin D, Calcium, Phosphorus, and exercise are important for building strong healthy bones [3][3].
    • Iron is also important to help the body use oxygen and grow properly.
    • All children, with ASD or not, need to be checked for signs of not eating enough iron [5].
  2. WHAT ARE SOME FOODS THAT CONTAIN THESE VITAMINS?

    • Vitamin D – milk, cheese, yogurt, tuna, salmon, and egg yolks
    • Calcium – milk, cheese, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables
    • Iron – red meat (beef), dried fruits, and beans
    • Phosphorus – milk, cheese, yogurt, meats, beans, and nuts
  3. WHAT ARE SIGNS OF A CHILD NOT GETTING ENOUGH VITAMINS?

    • Not enough Iron – feeling too tired, dizzy, pale skin, and dry skin
    • Not enough Calcium – thinner weaker bones, broken bones
    • Not enough Vitamin D – thinner weaker bones, getting tired easily
  4. WHAT SHOULD A PARENT DO?

    • Children with ASD can have very limited diets. Parents can learn ways to help their child eat healthier foods and make sure they are getting enough vitamins.
    • Talk with your doctor about healthy eating habits and tests to show if your child is missing important vitamins.
    • Keep track of what your child eats and how much they exercise.

Additional Tips

Take your findings to your next appointment. All children and teenagers with ASD need to eat healthy foods and get enough vitamins to grow and your doctor can help identify vitamins and foods that can help your child with autism be healthier. To learn more about individual manuscripts referenced, please click on the title of the article (in dark blue) in the reference section below.


References

  1. Hyman SL, Stewart PA, Schmidt BL, Cain U, Lemcke N, Foley JT, et al.. Nutrient intake from food in children with autism. Pediatrics. 2012 ;130:S145-53. NLM Journal Code: oxv, 0376422
  2. Stewart PA, Hyman SL, Schmidt BL, Macklin EA, Reynolds AM, Johnson CR, et al.. Dietary Supplementation in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Common, Insufficient, and Excessive. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015 ;115:1237–1248.
  3. Neumeyer AM, Sokoloff NCano, McDonnell E, Macklin EA, McDougle CJ, Misra M. Bone Accrual in Males with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatrics. 2016 ;181:195–201.
  4. Neumeyer AM, Gates A, Ferrone C, Lee H, Misra M. Bone Density in Peripubertal Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2012 ;. JID: 7904301; aheadofprint
  5. Reynolds AM, Krebs NF, Stewart PA, Austin H, Johnson SL, Withrow NL, et al.. Iron status in children with autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics. 2012 ;130:S154-9. NLM Journal Code: oxv, 0376422