Replacing Calcium in the Casein-free Diet

Calcium | Casein-free Diet

Before embarking on a casein-free diet, consult your child’s doctor. Because dairy products are one of the main sources of calcium in children, you’ll need to make sure the child’s diet has other good sources of calcium, and vitamin D, in order to meet their nutritional needs.  Talk with your child’s doctor about whole foods, fortified foods (ie. calcium-enriched rice milk or coconut yogurt) and/or supplementation to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.

Calcium | Casein-free Diet

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Over 99 percent of the body’s calcium is found in bones and teeth. The skeleton serves as a reservoir of calcium for fundamental calcium-dependent functions throughout the body.

Apart from maintaining strong teeth and bones, calcium is essential for sending messages between cells and supporting tissues throughout the body. Calcium plays a major role in proper muscle function, nerve transmission and hormonal secretion. Since children with autism spectrum disorders commonly have low muscle tone, sensory integration issues and varying levels of anxiety, maintaining the proper level of circulating calcium is critical for the body to function at its best.

The body’s endocrine system—a system of glands that secrete hormones and provides a series of feedback mechanisms to the body, is charged with keeping calcium levels in check. The endocrine system includes a major role for calcitriol, the hormonal form of vitamin D, which is required for absorption of calcium in the small intestine. (Vitamin D post coming soon – learn about the importance of Vitamin D in this system and its link to Autism.)

Food Sources of Calcium

In the United States, an estimated 72 percent of calcium comes from milk, cheese and yogurt and from foods to which dairy products have been added (e.g., pizza, lasagna, dairy desserts). The remaining calcium comes from vegetables (7%); grains (5%); legumes (4 %); fruit (3%); meat, poultry, and fish (3%); eggs (2%); and miscellaneous foods (3%).

Since the casein-free diet requires removal of the foods that supply most of your child’s ingested calcium, I recommend you consult a licensed dietitian or nutritionist who can help tailor a menu to your child’s taste preferences as well as ensure that your child’s nutritional needs are being met.

Not all consumed calcium is absorbed once it enters the gut. Studies show that our intestines absorb about 30 percent of the calcium present in foods, and this varies with the type of food consumed. Therefore, to promote the best absorption, it is best to avoid processed foods and obtain vitamins and minerals from natural, whole foods.

The recommended daily allowance for children ages 1-3 is 700mg of calcium per day. Children 4-8 years old should take in 1000mg per day and children ages 9-18 should consume at least 1300mg per day. Based on those numbers, try to tailor your menu to include calcium-rich foods. Below are some examples foods high in calcium.

Vegetables
Kale (1 cup contains 180 mg)
Collard Greens (1 cup contains over 350 mg)
Turnip Greens (1 cup contains 250 mg)
Broccoli (1 cup contains 95 mg)
Raw fennel (1 medium bulb contains 115 mg)
Artichoke (1 medium artichoke contains 55 mg)

Fruits
Blackberries (1 cup contains 40 mg)
Black Currants (1 cup contains 62 mg)
Oranges (1 orange contains between 50 and 60 mg)
Dried apricots (1/2 cup contains 35 mg)
Figs (1/2 cup contains 120 mg)
Dates (1/2 cup contains 35 mg)

Grains
Tempeh (1 cup contains 215 mg)
Amaranth (1 cup contains 275 mg)

Legumes
Great northern beans (1 cup contains 120 mg)
Soybeans (1 cup contains 175 mg)
Adzuki beans (1 cup contains 65 mg)
Navy beans (1 cup contains 125 mg)

Other
Blackstrap Molasses (2 tablespoons contains 400 mg)
Fortified non-dairy milk (ie. Almond, Soy, or Rice) (1 cup contains 200-300 mg)
Hemp milk (1 cup contains 460 mg)
Fortified orange juice (1 cup contains 300 mg)
Tahini (2 tablespoons contains 130 mg)
Almond butter (2 tablespoons contains 85 mg)
Roasted sesame seeds (1 oz. contains 35 mg)

Calcium Supplements
If you don’t think your child is getting enough calcium from food sources, consider adding a calcium supplement. While excess intake of calcium is almost never due to calcium intake from foods, the use of calcium supplements could lead to excessive calcium intake as a result of improper dosing.

Because calcium plays a major role in virtually every cell in the body and interacts with a large number of other nutrients, too much calcium may give rise to a variety of adverse effects. That is why it is recommended that you consult your physician before implementing any supplementation for your child.

The most common forms of supplemental calcium are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Generally fewer tablets of calcium carbonate are required to achieve the desired dose, thus, costs tend to be lower with calcium carbonate than with calcium citrate.  However, calcium carbonate is more often associated with side effects including constipation, flatulence, and bloating . If you choose calcium carbonate (which is also available as a chewable) monitor your child for those side effects.

When choosing supplements, make sure it is a casein-free formula. It should say so on the label. Select a form suited to your child’s age and abilities. Is it better to find a liquid, chewable tablet, capsule or powder?

Check the label to find out what kind of calcium the supplement contains. If the supplement contains calcium citrate, you can take it with or without food. If the supplement contains calcium carbonate, take it with food. Stomach acid produced while eating helps the absorption of calcium carbonate. It is also better to take calcium not at the same time as a multi-vitamin since some other minerals can interfere with calcium absorption.

Whatever supplement you choose, incorporate it into a schedule. For example, in our house, we take calcium in the evening after dinner. The routine helps us to remember to take it. Also, since calcium has been shown to help the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin, taking it in the evening hours helps prepare the body for a restful sleep.

 

This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.  

Sources:

National Research Council. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13050&page=R1

Vegan Sources of Calcium
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/25-vegan-sources-for-calcium.html?page=2

Insomnia: Studies Confirm Calcium And Magnesium Effective http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/163169.php

 

How to go Casein-free

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If you are considering implementing a casein-free diet for your child, be prepared. Some parents are made to feel that removing cow milk from a child’s food choices is a form of child abuse. Naysayers are unaware that a large percentage of the world’s population does not consume animal milk once childhood has passed. In fact, humans are the only species that drink milk as adults, and the only “animal” to drink the milk of another animal. Cow milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, but it was not meant to sustain humans.

If you are wondering whether a casein-free diet will benefit your child, consider this: children who crave dairy, and who eat a lot of it, are most likely to benefit from going casein-free.

Casein is the most abundant protein in milk. It is also found in dairy products and other foods containing dairy or lactose (including milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream). Because this milk protein is commonly used in processed foods, even foods proclaiming to be “dairy-free” or “lactose-free” will contain casein.

So why is casein a problem? The most studied theory proposes that children with autism, or other neurobehavioral disorders, process certain proteins (in this case the milk protein casein) differently than typical people do. Incomplete digestion and this difference in processing leads to high levels of protein by-products, called casomorphines, which exacerbate undesirable symptoms commonly associated with these disorders.

Similar to how the brain reacts to gluten in these individuals, it is believed that the brain reads these proteins as if they were opioid-like chemicals, like heroin or morphine. These by-products may then affect behavior like a drug would. They can affect speech, reduce the desire for social interaction, increase confusion, delay cognitive and auditory processing, and decrease the ability to feel pain.

This opioid reaction can also become addictive.  For some, the craving for dairy foods can be so intense that eating a yogurt or ice cream produces a feeling analogous to “getting high”. Removing casein usually produces benefits within a month, and sometimes within a week. In some children there is a worsening of symptoms for a few days (similar to a drug withdrawal) followed by improvement. In fact, one mom said that her child adapted to going gluten-free without skipping a beat but upon removing dairy, he started “raiding the fridge for yogurt and cheese” and became aggressive during his withdrawal period. This subsided as the days passed so don’t be surprised if you have a similar experience.

The idea behind removing casein from the diet is to heal inflammation in the gut caused by casein, reduce the level of casomorphines in the system and remove the opioid messaging to the brain which will lead to a reduction in symptoms and improve social and cognitive behaviors and speech.

Before embarking on a casein-free diet, consult your child’s doctor. Because dairy products are one of the main sources of calcium in children, you’ll need to make sure the child’s diet has other good sources of calcium and vitamin D.  Talk with your child’s doctor about fortified foods (ie. calcium-enriched rice milk or coconut yogurt) and/or supplementation to avoid any nutritional deficiencies. Because it is best to get vitamins and nutrients from natural whole foods, I recommend you consult a licensed dietitian or nutritionist who can educate you about the casein-free diet and help tailor a menu to your child’s health needs and taste preferences.

If you choose a casein-free diet you must become aware of the ingredients of everything in your grocery cart. Read labels carefully, because milk or milk products can be present in surprising places, like non-dairy creamers, soy cheeses and soy yogurt and even sausages. Caseinates, such as calcium caseinate, potassium caseinate and sodium caseinate are derived from casein. If you really want to see if a casein-free diet is going to help your child, avoid purchasing any food whose label lists either casein or caseinates, even if it is not a “dairy” food.

In to avoid casein in your cooking, use olive or grapeseed oils instead of butter, or simply omit the cheese in certain dishes (ie. garnish tacos with avocado instead of cheese).

Source of Casein include (but are not limited to):

Animal Milk (all forms: cow, sheep, goat, etc)

Butter

Butter flavor

Casein

Caseinate

Cheese

Cheese powder

Non-dairy cheese (check the label for caseinate)

Cream

Custard

Flavorings

Half & Half

Ice Creams

Milk fat

Milk hydrolysate

Sour cream

Whey

Whipped cream

Yogurt

 

How I Jump Started the Casein-free Process:

When we removed animal milk from our diet, I bought 1 carton each of Rice milk (Costco has the best one, it tastes very much like skim milk and not very much like rice), Almond milk (get the Original, Unsweetened version) and Coconut milk (Unsweetened, Unflavored). I made a taste testing game of it. I blind folded my boys and had them taste each kind and tell me which one they liked the best. Then I used that one for cereal and for drinking. Not one to waste, I used the milks they didn’t like in protein shakes or to make hot cereal (cream of buckwheat or oatmeal). Please remember to purchase unsweetened and unflavored products. There is no point in loading your child up with sugar and artificial flavors as those are implicated in behavioral disorders as well.

 

When it’s time to transition out of dairy yogurt, I would recommend doing the same thing. Keep in mind that if you choose a soy product, make sure it is made with NON-GMO soy beans. It will say on the label. A lot of children are sensitive to soy, so we try to avoid it in our house.

For ice cream – there are non-dairy ice creams available in pints. You could taste test those as well and use the ones you don’t like in smoothies, etc. However, the non-dairy ice creams are pricey. I make my own popsicles (see Popeye Pushups) or I buy sorbet which is usually non-dairy. We live near a Trader Joes and their sorbets are delicious!

 

It’s important to note that while I stick with their preferences for drinking and for use with cereal, I do purchase a variety of different milks and keep them on hand for different culinary purposes. This gives their bodies the best of all worlds in that we aren’t too heavy on one kind of product over another (almond milk vs. rice milk, etc).

 

If you have gone casein-free, please share any tips or ideas on how you implemented the dietary changes in your home. We have many parents who could use your input and support as they attempt to remove casein from their children’s diet. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section in order to benefit our readers.

 

Thanks!

 

This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.  

Sources:

http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/03/03/gluten-free-casein-free-diet-shows-promise-for-autism-symptoms/35555.html

 

β-Casomorphin Induces Fos-Like Immunoreactivity in Discrete Brain Regions Relevant to Schizophrenia and Autism http://aut.sagepub.com/content/3/1/67.short

 

Stanislaw Kaminski, Anna Cielinska, Elzbieta Kostyra (2007). “Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on health”. Journal of Applied Genetics 48 (3): 189–198. doi:10.1007/BF03195213. PMID 17666771.

 

Kurek M, Przybilla B, Hermann K, Ring J (1992). “A naturally occurring opioid peptide from cow’s milk, beta-casomorphine-7, is a direct histamine releaser in man”. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 97 (2): 115–120. doi:10.1159/000063326 . PMID 1374738.

 

Review of the potential health impact of β-casomorphins and related peptides  European Food Safety Agency , Scientific Report (2009) 231, 1-107

 

beta-Casomorphin-immunoreactivity in the brain stem of the human infant. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8351411

 

Effect of casein and beta-casomorphins on gastrointestinal motility in rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2319342

 

http://nutritionfacts.org/video/cows-milk-casomorphin-and-autism/

 

3 Things You Can Do at Home to Help a Special Needs Child

3 Things You Can Do at Home to Help a Special Needs Child

3 Things You Can Do at Home to Help a Special Needs ChildParents of children with special needs, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ADHD, sometimes feel powerless when it comes to helping their children. Most of the therapies available to treat these and other neurobehavioral disorders need to be administered and monitored by professionals such as physicians, psychologists and occupational therapists.

Yet, the day-to-day challenges often faced by parents of these children can be overwhelming, especially while waiting to determine if professional therapies are producing desired results.  The good news is that parents do have the ability to implement a treatment modality that will affect a significant part of a child’s life – their diet.

According to the Journal of Pediatrics only 1 % of young people between the ages of two and nineteen eat a healthy diet. While there are increasingly more behavioral therapies available, there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how poor eating habits are jeopardizing the development of a healthy brain. Many children are fussy eaters and exasperated parents will allow their kids to eat anything, “just so they eat”.

However, poor nutrition is a big threat to brain development, because without the necessary building blocks, the brain can’t function properly. When the brain isn’t optimally equipped, the success rate of traditional therapies is reduced and, in many cases, undesirable symptoms commonly associated with neurobehavioral disorders are exacerbated.

Despite mounting evidence, many physicians still dismiss dietary intervention as an adjunctive treatment of these disorders. Some suggest that a healthier diet “won’t hurt,” but they may not necessarily encourage or recommend dietary changes even though it remains one of the safest, least invasive interventions available.

Anecdotally, parents around the world have reported dramatic progress after implementing a specialized diet. Such progress includes improvements in bowel function, behavior, attention, language and sociability. For a large number of children, a specialized nutritional plan is a critical piece of the therapy puzzle. For others, the results may be less dramatic. In a minority of cases, dietary changes do not seem to help at all. But there is no way to determine how dietary changes will affect your child until you implement the changes and allow a few weeks to properly evaluate whether there has been any  improvement.

Here are the 3 ways you can help your child at home:

1)      Eliminate

Eliminating known “food offenders” and suspected offenders is the best place to start. Stop stoking the fire. When the brain is continually irritated by these foods, it can’t focus on tending to its functions.  The most common culprits are gluten and casein but there are several others as well. (I will be covering them in upcoming posts. Subscribe to the blog to have the information delivered to your email once it posts).

Consider having your child tested for food sensitivities. This is different than common allergy testing which may not pick up on milder sensitivities. Food sensitivity testing is usually done by holistic physicians who practice alternative medicine.

If you cannot or choose not to have this testing done, you can try following the “elimination diet” protocol. This involves eliminating certain foods for a period of time, usually three or four weeks, then slowly reintroducing  individual foods and monitoring your child for reactions or return of behavioral challenges.

Once you discover which foods your child is sensitive to, eliminate them from their diet for an extended period of time.

2)      Add

Replace missing nutrients and restore depleted vitamin stores either via food replacements or supplements. For example, if you are removing gluten, you will replace wheat bread with gluten-free bread. If you have eliminated casein by removing dairy products from the diet, add a calcium supplement until you learn which vegetables are rich sources of calcium.

Seek the advice of your physician or nutritionist if you need help developing a balanced diet.  There are also many books available on the market which can help with your meal planning and guide you to boosting brain power through food.  (Again, I will be posting more on this topic in the near future, so stay tuned.)

3)      Teach

Children are inundated with fast food, candy and soda. So the earlier you start teaching them the truth about the foods they are eating, the better. Instilling an understanding of vitamins and other basic nutritional principles can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating habits. This will also help them make better food choices when you are not around.

Use language that your child will understand and can relate to. Explain that food isn’t just fuel it is also information.  Every bite of food you eat sends some sort of message to your body.  And your body responds accordingly.

The thought of implementing a specialized diet can seem overwhelming until you have a simple plan to guide you. By following the E.A.T. model (Eliminate, Add, Teach) you will have the power each day to improve your child’s quality of life and set them up for long-term success. Pacing yourself as you learn and apply the changes will lead to giant leaps for your child. Once you recognize the impact certain foods have on your child’s success in other therapies, you just might be inspired to continue on the journey.

Parents are notorious for saying they will do anything for their child. Even though it seems daunting, would you be willing to try a specialized diet? Have you already embarked on this journey? Have you noted improvements?

To encourage other parents who are considering this option, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.

 

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