By Julie Matthews, Certified Nutrition Consultant and Autism Diet Specialist
Digestive issues are common in autism spectrum disorders, and fermented foods are a helpful dietary component for supporting and balancing the digestive system. In fact, beneficial bacteria in these foods support many body systems and processes through the body.
Studies by researchers: Horvath, Wakefield, Levy, and Kushak highlight a myriad of gut problems present in children with autism, including abnormal stool (diarrhea, constipation), intestinal inflammation, and reduced enzyme function. There are many causes for these imbalances—one of the most problematic is the use of antibiotics. While they kill off bad “bugs,” these lifesaving drugs also wipe out the good bacteria in the gut, which wreaks havoc on the entire digestive system. When the good bacteria are eliminated, pathogenic organisms can take hold, creating inflammation and inhibiting digestion that can result in malnutrition and food reactions.
Beneficial bacteria colonize the digestive tract and replenishing these probiotics is essential. However, most people (and particularly children) don’t eat enough of the foods that supply these beneficial bacteria and help them to thrive. Even though many consume yogurt and sauerkraut, these are usually commercial varieties that have been pasteurized and are devoid of good bacteria.
Good bacteria bolster health in many ways: they support digestive and elimination function, breakdown toxins and used substances, support immune function, and produce helpful compounds to support good health.
Digestion and Elimination
Good bacteria digest lactose and breakdown protein into amino acids. These bacteria regulate peristalsis and bowel movements. They also balance intestinal pH. Adequate levels of beneficial flora in mothers help infants establish good digestion, while preventing colic, diaper rash and gas.
Breakdown toxins and used substances
Beneficial bacteria break down harmful substances from the environment as well as substances our bodies produce that are “spent” or no longer necessary, such as bile acids and used hormones. Good bacteria break down the bacterial toxins created from harmful bacteria. They protect us against toxins like mercury, pesticides, and radiation.
Support the Immune System
Good bacteria produce antibiotic and antifungal substances that prevent colonization and growth of bad bacteria and yeast/fungus. Probiotics support the immune system and increase the number of immune cells. They have anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. Probiotics also reduce inflammation and food reactions.
Produce helpful compounds to support good health.
Good bacteria produce vitamins that our bodies need such as B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Probiotics produce essential fatty acids, specifically short chain fatty acids, which support gut health. Probiotics promote healthy metabolism, and help normalize serum cholesterol and triglycerides.
Kid Friendly Fermented Foods
Live lacto-fermented foods such as yogurt contain these live bacteria that are so important for good digestion and health. Fermented foods can be either made from dairy or casein-free. Fermented foods include: yogurt and kefir, cultured vegetables such as raw sauerkraut and kim chee, non-dairy coconut kefir, non-dairy yogurt, and kombucha.
Some children love fermented foods right away, others need time to get used to the sour and “fermented” flavor qualities. They can be crispy and sour as with raw sauerkraut and other cultured vegetables, creamy as with yogurt, or sweet/sour and fizzy as with fermented beverages. Here are two favorites to make fermented foods more enjoyable.
Apple Kraut. Grate apple with a cheese/vegetable grater. Mix equal parts apple and raw sauerkraut. Serve as is, or add to a salad. It’s like a shredded fruit salad.
Smoothie. Add nut yogurt or young coconut kefir to a smoothie with fruit and other any other desired ingredients. A smoothie is an easy way to get fermented foods in.
For those with autism, for whom digestive challenges and nutrient deficiencies are commonplace, adding fermented foods to the diet is essential. It doesn’t matter which diet you following, these natural probiotics are a perfect boost.
Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Autism Diet Specialist, and author of Nourishing Hope for Autism. Visit: NourishingHope.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
For More info read Julie’s article “Fermented Foods” on Healthful Living HERE.
Photocredit: “a full jar holds almost two pounds” by fishermansdaughter on flickr. May 4, 2011.